Begin a Mindfulness Practice with Brett Hill (2/2)

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Welcome to episode 192 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of an interview with Brett Hill, discussing his shift in focus away from technology to his current business, some misconceptions of mindfulness, using mindfulness in interviews, and how you can get started with your own mindfulness practice.

Original Recording Date: 09-06-2022

Brett Hill is currently a coach’s coach, teaching coaches how to better serve their clients – stressing topics such as being mindful and present, good communication, and specific somatic techniques for personal improvement. Catch part 1 of the interview with Brett in Episode 191.

Topics – Tipping Toward Mindfulness, Walking away from Tech, Misconceptions of Mindfulness, The Mindful Interview, The Body as a Biological Host Machine, Parting Thoughts and Resources to Get Started

4:12 – Tipping Toward Mindfulness

  • The technical jobs were hard to leave and really fun. And they paid well.
  • Brett says the interpersonal connection and consciousness raising (helping people be more real and integrated beings) were always more interesting to him as well as a place where his real strengths were.
    • Brett felt like in a way he was playing his B game all this time.
  • Brett had done tech for a long time and finally decided if he was going to do the other piece and put his focus there, he needed to go for it. Life on this earth does not last forever.
  • Brett decided to focus on helping people in a very direct 1-1 / 1-many way.
  • There is a difference between having a strong interest in something / being skilled at it and being good enough to have people pay you to do it. What was that shift like for Brett?
    • It was a huge shift. The cool thing about technology is you can demonstrate a truth (i.e. click this and something happens). Telling someone learning to work with their breath will improve their life requires the person believe you. They have to try it to know and understand (i.e. no way to demonstrate that to someone).
      • For the vast majority of people, learning to work with their breath does in fact improve their life and proves to be solid advice.
      • It’s very hard to convince people of neurological facts.
      • Navy Seals do box breathing to calm themselves, for example. It affects the amygdala. This can also help you make better decisions, can prevent you from saying things you might regret, and can help you see solutions which would otherwise be missed.
      • The scope of impact cannot be overstated. If people knew, everyone would be doing it. "That’s the mission I am on these days…to help people wake up to the opportunity that is just right at their feet." – Brett Hill
    • Brett’s business is called The Mindful Coach Method.
      • Brett has taken all the things learned over the years and crafted a process such that if people do it, it will help them.
      • Certainly one could take meditation training or mindfulness training, and those things will be helpful.
      • This specific process is about helping people discover their own natural, native resourcefulness and grounding themselves in it.
      • Brett suggests this is like identifying personal truths and acting and speaking from that place all the time, remembering the answers to questions like:
        • Who are you?
        • What’s important to you?
        • What matters to you?
      • The question is why people don’t do this.
      • We don’t because we get hurt. Things happen to people. If you get slapped by your parents for asking to go to a fair, for example, you might internalize that hopes and dreams need to be kept to yourself and that they are a problem for others.
      • Later in life as an adult you may want to reach out but expect to be slapped. Internally you may feel expansive and somatically you expect to be slapped.
      • Somatic means in your body.
      • If you’ve been on a roller coaster before, the next time you get in the seat for one you start to feel a little anxiety / anticipation because your body knows / remembers what the experience is like.
      • These things get wired together for us. A roller coaster means you’re going to tense up a little, it will be exciting and fun.
      • As we grow we encounter overwhelming obstacles to our natural expansiveness. There are many forms of this, and they are not all bad or because someone slaps you.
      • Brett gives another example of growing up in a family with 10 kids where there isn’t enough food despite parents being as loving as they can be. What might be happening in the minds of those children, and what kinds of decisions might they be making about the world? It might be something like there isn’t enough here for everyone and wondering how to balance your own needs with what your family members need (very tough choices).
      • This might cause someone to organize around the idea of "I’m going to get mine."
      • Or perhaps they organize around having small needs so there is enough for others (which results in minimizing needs). Fast forward a number of years to a time when you’re hurting and someone asks how you’re doing. You might say everything is fine because you are minimizing your needs and don’t believe it’s ok to have needs and talk about them to others.
      • This is a little bit of transported learning (taking what we learn as children into our adult life). We are not the objective machines we think we are. There’s an entirely different conversation about coloration of consciousness and how nothing really ever comes to you unbiased in a way.
  • Brett spent a lot of years studying how all of this works with people and trying to get somewhere with it.

12:49 – Walking away from Tech

  • Brett didn’t have to volunteer to start his own business in this way and get out of the tech industry. There were some natural inflection points.
    • At Microsoft he was hired as the IIS Technical Evangelist. At the time he did not know that meant he could have this role only as long as Microsoft was actively developing a new version of IIS server in active development.
    • Once a version was released and adopted, they didn’t need an evangelist for it. They wanted an evangelist more for what was about to come or brand new.
    • The role was not extremely sustainable, and Brett needed to find a new job at one point. Online services were new and cutting edge, so he placed his focus there. Once they were released there would have been a new wave of assimilation, and at that point he decided to leave. If someone in that type of role didn’t find a new spot they were out of a job. You don’t get fired in this case (when the job goes away) but volunteer to be laid off.
    • Brett moved on to Riverbed, and then Riverbed went through a transformation in their technical marketing department. It kind of collapsed and was a decision point for Brett to do something else.
    • Brett was hired by a company in Redmond after leaving Riverbed to help write more Microsoft content. Then they had a bit of a pre-COVID collapse, and Brett found himself in the unemployed workforce as a result. That was when he made his pivot. It was either go back into technology or transition into something else.

15:16 – Misconceptions of Mindfulness

  • There are many misconceptions of the term mindfulness.
    • Many people think it’s something woo-woo. They think you have to believe in past lives or be a Buddhist, but it’s really none of that.
    • It is also a misconception that you need to spend a ton of time in daily meditation (i.e. 30-45 minutes per day).
    • Some think it’s about stopping your thoughts and that thoughts are bad / we need to get rid of them.
    • There are many more misconceptions. There is a kernel of truth in all these things in a way, but they are blown out of proportion to the degree that they are used as an excuse to not engage in a mindfulness practice.
  • "The number one thing you can do to improve the quality of your life and the life of those around you is to have some kind of commitment to a mindfulness practice." – Brett Hill
    • The only exception to this would be medication needed to stay alive (then that would be the number 1 thing).
    • Starting a meditation practice can help your career, your relationships, and every aspect of your life.
      • This is all about the brain and our executive function. This is where the potential to be mindful about your experience exists.
      • We are not very good at it (being mindful). And the reason people stop practicing is because it’s hard.
      • Brett speaks to riding a bike and how no one knows how initially. It takes a while to learn, and when you fall off, it hurts.
        • Do you fall over after trying to ride a back and decide it hurts and isn’t for you?
        • If you persist a little longer, you can begin to manage riding somewhat better. Then pretty soon you’re cruising the town in a way you could not before. You’re going places you could not go before and having experiences you couldn’t have previously…because you persisted.
        • It’s no different than what Brett suggests with a mindfulness practice.
      • The more you practice mindfulness the easier it gets and the more your brain learns what you are trying to achieve (building neurology to make it easier to do in the future).
  • The things Brett does as part of his own mindfulness practice probably are not what people who are just getting started should do because he is in a different stage of his development. One of the most helpful things for Brett was learning a technique he calls body sensing:
    • Find something that you like, something automatic and easy.
    • Brett asks Nick to identify something that makes him light up (and think "oh wow, that’s great"), something simple and easy. Nick selects his daughter.
    • What happens during the "oh wow, experience?"
      • Nick is amazed at how she is growing up and in middle school now (thinking).
      • Nick also starts to feel anxious and think that it won’t be too long before she moves out of the house and on her own. Nick thinks about paying for college, a car, or something else. On the heels of feeling joy and excitement at seeing her there is an awareness that it isn’t going to last.
      • Brett suspects these may be wired together inside of Nick (something he appreciates and something that will not last).
      • Brett speculates that Nick knows something about things important to him which don’t last which is a possible reason these are so close together.
      • Here’s another scenario – suppose Nick sees his daughter, is filled with joy, and the neural network about things being temporary does not fire (just the best feeling in the world to have a daughter).
      • Brett speculates Nick may have a fear that the things he really appreciates could be gone from his life.
      • Nick points out losing a parent a few years ago and the possibility of it impacting these feelings.
    • In Brett’s work, he would try to encourage Nick in this scenario to take a breath and let it be good.
      • In addition to that, notice the other feelings. They are still legitimate. "I have these concerns, but the reason I have these concerns is because I care so much."
      • Brett’s guidance to Nick is let yourself be in the richness of that moment and experience what it feels like.
  • One of Brett’s practices is to step out of his house and look at the sky.
    • Brett loves the sky. He looks at it and his mind is blown. He thinks to himself that it is miles and miles of gas. It is gorgeous the way the light reflects on it, and it’s incredible that we are on this earth. The sky is an amazing experience every single day.
    • When Brett looks at this and says "oh wow" and slows it down a little, in that exact moment he’s not thinking anything. That moment is a pristine moment of mindfulness. You are not thinking. You are just directly connected to your in the moment experience.
    • You can have that experience as many times per day as you wish. There is nothing stopping you from appreciating the sky, a car, a dog, a tree, your daughter, a color, a sound, the way a body moves.
    • There are so many things you can give yourself the pleasure of having if you just permit it.
  • Brett likes to take an inventory of things his clients like and create a practice around letting themselves steep in these experiences (not in a dramatic way but letting each moment be what it is).
    • Your brain will begin to notice you’re making an effort to pay extra close attention to certain moments and begin to light them up in such a way that moments of joy begin to surface more often.
    • Pretty soon you are adding all these moments to your life without it costing you a thing.
    • There’s no subscription to a cult, no forced meditation for a million years, no belief in anything other than your direct experience.
    • Taking time to notice and making a conscious decision to stay with that experience for an extra few seconds…that’s the magic.
      • Notice that you’re lighting up, realize it’s one of the moments Brett talked about, and staying in the moment for an extra 3 seconds to really know what it feels like to be there.
      • It’s like going back for a second taste of really good food after you’ve had a taste.
    • Making the conscious choice to do it / stay with an experience for an extra 10 seconds, for example, is what makes it a mindfulness practice.
    • The power of this cannot be overstated.
  • There’s a lot more to it than this. It’s not just feel good about your day and avoid all your problems. It is only step one.
    • You’re providing space for yourself to appreciate ordinary things.
    • Brett would argue that by providing space for yourself in this way, when it’s time to work on your technical project (or whatever else you may have been worried about), you have more resources available (more creativity and resilience) to see solutions that you didn’t see before.

26:38 – The Mindful Interview

  • Nick references Brett’s participation in AmpNavigator 2021 (a conference put on by Don Jones) and speaking to mindfulness techniques in interviews.
  • Brett says it’s fun to be who he is in interviews because in a way he is able to turn the tides on the interviewer. It’s almost subversive mindfulness in a way.
  • Brett says walking into the interview room and listening well lets you listen for what the interviewer wants in a person.
    • Brett is not shapeshifting himself to be that but measuring answers to questions he knows they (interviewers) are listening for.
    • By doing this honestly and authentically it is a good fit for Brett. If he has to bend himself too much into what they are looking for / asking for, it’s not a good fit.
  • Think about it from the other side of the room. Many are worried about what the interviewer will think. Instead think about what it’s like to be the interviewer.
    • People get asked to interview candidates in addition to doing their day job, and it can add a lot to someone’s place. As the interviewer, you are hoping the person you interview is the right person and is perfect for the job.
    • As the interviewee, it’s a complete mindset shift when you realize they want you to be the right person. They have other things to do in addition to the interview.
    • Since interviewers want you to be the right person, they are looking for you to give them information that excludes you. It is yours to lose rather than yours to win in many cases.
    • All you have to do is figure out what they want and be that person. They will tell you what they want, and you give them examples of things you have done.
    • You will also need to understand the context of the job. This is something Brett learned at Microsoft.
      • In any role, you connect with other teams and other people, and your ability to do that is a big influence.
      • When you go to work for someone (a manager), your job in many ways is to make that manager look good. This manager will be held accountable for you and your performance. Showing up in a way that demonstrates you can help them meet their goals and measurements can make them want you on their team.
    • Many times you have to ask questions. When the time comes to do so, try this: "let’s say everything works out."
    • This is a subtle way of getting the interviewer to imagine saying yes to you as a candidate. Then say "what would success look like in my role a year from now?"
    • You will find out what the interviewer believes a person in the role should be doing in a year, and all you have to do is be a person who can do those things.
  • For further reading on mindfulness in interviews check out this article Brett wrote on the topic.

31:26 – The Body as a Biological Host Machine

  • In addition to being a network architect, Brett is an inner architect.
  • Brett subscribes to a notion that most people (including him) were kind of fractured in a way. We’re not born this way but end up in this state.
    • In the moments of fracture (being hurt / wounded) a piece of you kind of peels off. You become someone has a piece of them kind of shunted away. Something good that should be celebrated and encouraged becomes toxic because of your context (not because of you), which cases a split in a way.
    • We spend our lives in a way trying to reintegrate these splits.
    • There’s an analogy here to virtual machines in that we ourselves are a host server.
    • Inside of us there are a series of semi-partitioned "selves."
    • There are parts of us that want to expand and be happy and others afraid of this, and then there is a part that is managing the interplay between those.
    • It’s like a hypervisor managing the interplay between all the various virtual machine operating systems all of which are competing for resources. But they don’t know they are competing for resources. They are self-contained.
    • If you don’t believe this, ask yourself if the you that wakes up on January 2nd not following up on New Years’ commitments (like getting healthy / hitting the gym) the same one that made the commitments.
    • These opposing forces (the part of you that wants to get healthy and the part of you that does not want to do that right now) compete for resources like virtual machines.
    • We have only one body that can be either in the gym or not in it. You are now time slicing between the focus points with the operating system managing the time slice.
  • Nick likes the analogy. He hears Brett saying this is a way to improve your focus and do deep work.
    • Brett says this is deep work.
    • The problem is people switch into a virtual machine (i.e. one version of the self / perspective) and think that is who they are much like a virtual machine thinks it is the only thing running on a host system (not realizing the physical resources are shared amongst all virtual machines running on the host).
    • Our brains are the same way. We switch between these fractional identities. We have an experience of being a unified being but clearly have these identities that are in conflict with one another. There is a host operating system that can be aware of both of these at the same time.
    • Mindfulness is the process of giving the host operating system more attention. Instead of letting your attention get sucked into one of the "virtual machines" you pull it back and realize a specific virtual machine is taking up too many resources (which you will free up and provide back toward the goal of operating all parts harmoniously).
    • We are biological machines, and because of this we have to create the capacity to do this within ourselves.

36:35 – Parting Thoughts and Resources to Get Started

  • There are many ways to get started with a mindfulness practice. On Brett’s website, check out the Begin a Mindfulness Practice section for some of the basics.

  • Brett can’t say enough how important this work is for each of us.

    • If you’re not doing it, you’re like a 16 core CPU operating on only 4 cores.
    • You have the opportunity to light it all up but have to do the work it takes. That is really how we become the people we can be, and without this we cannot create the kind of world we want to be in and the relationships that sustain us and help us be happy people.
  • For other ways to get started you can look up some of the classic masters like Jon Kabat-Zinn.

  • There are also a number of free resources you can lookup from the Mindful Awareness Resource Center.

    • There is an app as well as training you can download.
    • The way you go is not as important as going. You have to get on the bike and ride the bike to learn how.
  • Brett’s deepest wish is that you simply begin and don’t stop.

    • It’s ok to be a little uncomfortable doing a practice, but if you are frightened / terrified, you may need to stop.
    • He’s not suggesting meditate for a long time. You can do it for 5, 10, 15 minutes a day.
  • Even if you don’t do a focused meditation with your breath, the "light me up" exercise we went through in this episode will still be helpful to you.

  • For breath meditations…

    • Focus on your breath
    • Take a breath, then relax
    • Take a breath, then relax
    • Pay attention to what it feels like
    • In around 30 seconds you will start thinking about something else, which is totally ok.
      • There is not enough material in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain to sustain our attention.
      • Think of it like a capacitor. As soon as it drains you can no longer hold your attention.
      • When you relax, the capacitor fills up again, and you notice you are no longer paying attention to your breathing. That’s the mindful moment (the moment you came out of the virtual machine into the host operating system).
    • Go back to your breath without getting frustrated over and over. Notice how you feel without judgement, but keep doing it.
  • Eventually what happens is a spaciousness opens up in you. After a while when someone makes a comment to you, instead of reacting, you have a moment where hard wired reactivity is not so hardwired.

    • There is a pause, and in that pause there is an opportunity to choose. And in that choice there is freedom.
  • In the end, mindfulness is about freedom and having the potential to make a different choice than the one you would make otherwise.

  • You can reach Brett via his website mentioned earlier or e-mail him at bretthill@outlook.com.

  • Mentioned in the intro:

    • Mindfulness may be one of those topics that on the surface is easily dismissible in the tech worldp (but should not be, of course).
    • Perhaps our series on concentration and Call Newport’s book Deep Work (Episode 141Episode 147) may produce a similar initial reaction in listeners.
  • Mentioned in the outro:

    • Good instructors can frame the topic in something the person you’re talking to will understand.
    • Short term effects of starting a practice might be harder to detect than long term effects. John mentions asking Nick about the benefits of morning pages after Nick had been doing it for some time.
    • Nick mentioned it’s like Brett read The Practice by Seth Godin and applied the same concepts to mindfulness (i.e. keep doing it, benefits come even though not immediate).
    • Check out Peak Mind by Amishi Jha in which the author says 12 minutes of a mindfulness practice per day can provide benefits. She did studies with military personnel and how a mindfulness practice helped them make better decisions in combat and high pressure situations, improved attention and focus, etc.
    • Check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph to see if we’ve ever mentioned swing dancing on the show.

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

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