Tag Archive for: wellness

Recharge in large, quick steps: the benefits of running well

We were born to run: to escape danger and bring down prey; to achieve protection and sustenance. Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, like good runners, would probably agree with this argument, but the one who defends it with the loudest voice is Christopher McDougall. Christopher is an American journalist and frequently writes for Runners World magazine; his masterpiece, however, is the intriguing book Born to Run, released back in early 2010’s. I just finished it and I strongly recommend it: for runners and the curious in general. Among his theses, there is one that I have personally been testing for over 4 years: running frequently is an excellent way to relieve stress and recharge your battery. Below what science has already shown to be true about the benefits of hitting the road with long (or short) and fast (or slow) steps:

Improve your health: increase the level of good cholesterol (HDL), boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and, for women, decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.

Boost your self-confidence: This is one of the most important non-physical benefits of running. Setting goals and physical challenges can dramatically impact your psychological self-esteem and self-confidence. Completing a run is an easy and inexpensive way to feel that your day was productive and that personal goals were achieved. Also, running releases hormones and neurotransmitters that function as natural, endogenous antidepressants. Some say running is the best cure for depression.

Bye bye stress: Decrease your appetite, increase the quality of your sleep, and feel that your entire body has been used according to its original design: not for sitting all day, but for moving, as Christopher would say, in search of protection or sustenance.

In addition to these obvious advantages, running outdoors is also, above all, an act of expression of freedom and citizenship. It’s free and requires little equipment; serves everyone, of all ages. It’s also an excellent means of exploring new places. It was on the run that I got to know avenues, corners, parks, lakes and views in places like London, New York, Paris, Ljubljana, Jakarta, Shanghai, San Francisco, Bali and so on. Specifically, it works well in the morning before the heat picks up, around 7.30 am: I drink a black coffee with sugar and I’m off on the road. The advantage of exploring a new place on the run is that you see a lot, from a unique perspective, in a short amount of time. As touristy as the city is, early in the morning is the time for local residents to occupy streets and parks, allowing for authentic observations of local life. In Ubud (Bali), for example, I run down a street covered in smoke that mixes the smell of burnt coconut and lotus incense — religious offerings — with, ah not romantic, burnt garbage — an ancient practice still used by much of the village. The best of all is to hear from ladies and children a friendly and humorous Salamat Pagir!, good morning in the local language.

Finally, I share a remarkable passage from Born to Run, about the training method of Coach Vigil, one of the most important running coaches in the USA:

“…Coach Vigil’s magic formula for running well had nothing to do with running, it was basically:

Practice abundance by being generous;
Improve your interpersonal relationships;
Demonstrate integrity in your values.”

His diet recommendation for Olympic marathon runners was simple and straightforward: “Eat like you’re poor. Coach Vigil believed that one had to become a strong person before becoming a strong runner.

If you’re still not convinced that we were, in fact, born to run, check out Christopher McDougall’s TED talk as a last resort.

Mindfulness for leadership, focus and creativity

According to Wikipedia, mindfulness, translates as full attention, alert mind or full awareness. If we are strict about the origin of the word, mindfulness means the essence of the Vipassana measurement stream. Whereas other types of Buddhist measurement aim to empty the mind of any conscious reasoning or direct attention to a single image or idea, Vipassana practitioners seek to uncritically gain awareness of all thoughts and emotions experienced in the moment.

Attention: this rich and delicate philosophy cannot be explained in detail in just a few lines. The objective here is just to expose the concept to those who are interested in the subject or have heard about it but do not know what mindfulness means in practice. Personally, I believe that the frequent practice of Vipassana meditation can bring more focus, calm and energy to the mind and body. Specifically, Vipassana followers believe that our minds are constantly busy re-processing the past or anticipating the future, allowing little time and energy to truly live in the present. Theory comes to practice through simple exercises that can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. The principle is to focus on the breath, for example, and indirectly increase awareness of what goes through the mind, always in a non-critical and detached way.

Although a monastic life dedicated exclusively to the contemplation of the moment is light years away from the world most of us live in – that is to say the rush, the hustle, the emails, the pressure (external and internal) – there is a growing interest in how the principles of this practice can be applied to our lives in a pragmatic and realistic way. American psychologist and professor Ellen Langer has been studying mindfulness for a number of years, and her main theory is that practice plays an important role in the learning process. For her, meditating often increases her ability to see the world through constantly new angles. New angles, of course, require curiosity and commitment, as well as letting go of past concepts.

Letting go of old ideas, she warns, is especially difficult because possibly these “ideas” are already part of our DNA and we are not aware of them. With greater awareness of what we know and what we don’t know, we become more open and creative to new solutions.

Meditation & Leadership

In March of 2013, an important American newspaper dedicated a page to this topic: what is the interface between mindfulness and leadership? Who responded was Bill George, professor at Harvard Business School, former CEO of a billion-dollar company, and strong advocate of a productive, creative and authentic lifestyle. Bill argues that the subject is so much in evidence that at the last World Economic Forum in Davos the most attended lecture was given by the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. The latter, French and scientist with a doctorate in the West, is a scientific adviser to the Dalai Lama and author of the book Art of Meditating.

What is causing this dramatic shift in the way we think about what it takes to be an effective leader today? Well, it starts with the changes taking place in the world. We live in an era where globalization and advancing technological change create volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity. This impact grows exponentially through a job market in constant transformation and the new world where communication is present 24 hours a day. Seven days a week.

See how interesting: companies like Google, General Mills, Genentech, Target and Cargill, for example, have developed training programs for their employees focusing on mindfulness and leadership. The expected (and achieved) benefits are summarized in more creative, focused and determined managers. The correct word is resilience, but other adjectives help color the impact of meditation practice.

Following Professor George, practicing meditation for 20 minutes a day (I practice 10 and I believe it already has an effect) is essential to increase your effectiveness and sense of well-being. He has been doing it since 1975, and the result can be measured through his resume.

“Meditation allows me to forget about unimportant things and focus clearly on the important matters. My most creative ideas come from meditation. Also, meditation improves my energy level and allows me to have more compassion for others”, says Bill.

You see, it’s not just sitting down for 10-20 minutes a day, every day, that brings you the benefit of mindfulness. Praying regularly, keeping a journal, interesting and intimate discussions with people close to you, and solitary exercises such as running, walking, or swimming make us live in the present. The most important thing is to have a form of introspective practice that allows you to calm your mind and focus on what really matters.

Advancing towards the “what can I do?”, is the suggestion, scientifically proven, to practice meditation for 10 minutes daily. The important thing is to have discipline and follow the plan regardless of the context. Establish your routine as you see fit. Personally, it works well in the morning, after showering and before breakfast. Having a dedicated chair or cushion for practice also helps. And for beginners, guided meditation is an excellent tool to help “tame” the mind.

Article originally written in December 2013

Resilience: what, why and how

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, an individual’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who falls along the way. That’s true for cancer patients, it’s true for Olympic athletes, and it’s true for executives and entrepreneurs in the boardroom,” states Dean Becker in a 2002 Harvard Business Review article.

Resilience, therefore, is the ability to control your response to physically or mentally stressful situations. Science shows that the more resilient the individual is the further he will go in his personal and professional life. It makes sense. Success is the reflection of countless falls and defeats that were seen as opportunities for learning and growth.

In my experience living with and working with extremely talented individuals – at Harvard, McKinsey, as an investor and around the world – it is clear that the most interesting are those who have gone through adversity, sometimes heavy, and had the strength to rise again even greater. They have a contagious inner energy, empathy and humanity while demonstrating strength and unerring determination. Example? Liz Kwo, my colleague and co-coach in the program that we concluded in 2013 in Shanghai through Fullbridge: born in Taipei to a poor single mother, she illegally immigrated to the United States with her mother and sister when she was still a baby. In San Francisco, where they arrived by ship, they lived in a garage while their mother sweated in simple jobs to bring food “home”. She had everything to go wrong in life, but today her walls illustrate diplomas from Stanford, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School, simply the best educational institutions in the world. How? Because she knew that her only chance would be through education and merit, which she demonstrated by always being the most engaged, curious and determined student. Listening to her talk it is clear that her journey was not easy or romantic, but she says

“every time I felt like a loser, someone marked for bankruptcy, living in poverty and being a victim of an unfair and cruel world I closed my eyes and I remembered that my mother’s effort had to be worth it, and then I released the beast inside of me”.

It’s inspiring to hear that from her, even more so because her words come without pain or rancor; she tells her story with pride, softness, humanity illustrated with vulnerability and determination to keep going.

Clearly, the resilient individual is not the one who avoids stress in any and all forms, but the one who learns how to manage it and turn it into productive energy. The resilient person is likely to bend, but not break, when faced with adversity, trauma, tragedy, and threats. She is, most of the time, active and not passive in relation to what happens around her and in her life, always believing that she is the author of her present and future, and not a victim of her past.

Well, fortunately, many of us have not gone through dramatically impacting situations that shake our values and make us question our mission in the world, which is often heard from extremely resilient people (have you ever heard the story of someone who survived a serious accident or illness? ). So what if your life is comfortable and relatively linear? Scientists Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney of the Yale University School of Medicine recommend 4 scientifically proven strategies to boost your resilience:

Work with your physique: Physiologically, moderate physical activity promotes the release of endorphins and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which reduce symptoms of depression and improve mood. An animal experiment has shown that frequent running decreases various phobias and increases courage in exploring new environments. The recommendation is one hour and 15 minutes per week of intense aerobic activity such as running and swimming, or two hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity such as walking, for example.

Embrace Challenges and Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Taking a step beyond what you normally would, whether on vacation, on the weekend, or at work, stretches your comfort zone and potentially increases your security. There are no limits and everyone knows what that means for them, but it can be overcoming a fear, making a presentation in a new language, exploring another country with few resources and infrastructure, or starting to say no instead of always molding yourself to please others.

Meditate, and develop a positive view of the world: Meditating often can bring you clarity, focus, and make it easier to prioritize where to invest your energy. Meditating connects you with the present, avoiding regrets about the past and excessive worries about the future. This is proven to reduce stress and allow you greater control over your life and decisions, making you a more confident and determined person.

Friends and your relationships: Finally, the last tactic for increasing resilience encourages you to spend more time with people with whom you show mutual acceptance, respect, and admiration. It only works, however, if you’re really connected to that person and can count on them for advice, tips, or just a shoulder to lean on. It helps if your network is filled with individuals who are examples of resilience in person, as you will have role models to observe and follow. Mimicking behaviors and practices that make others stronger can also be of high value. For example, when you are discouraged and ready to give up, remember that there is a “beast” inside each of us, as my colleague Liz would say.

Finally, writing your story with the knowledge that you are the author and protagonist, that you decide to spend more time celebrating small victories than lamenting how the world is unfair to you, increases your motivation, determination, productivity and, ultimately, happiness. That’s why the most competitive universities and companies in the world expect to hear stories of overcoming and resilience in their selection processes. Given all this, I ask you, the reader, as well as myself: what’s next?

Article originally written in Sept 2013

On fear of failure

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears,” wrote Les Brown. Fear is a natural human emotion that helps us stay alert and protected in dangerous situations. However, when fear becomes excessive, it can prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. It can hold us back from pursuing our dreams, taking risks, and experiencing new things. In this self-serving article, I would like to explore strategies for conquering fear and living a more fulfilling life, particularly the fear of failure, which can impact our lives by preventing us from following our hearts and achieving our full potential.

Conquering fear has been a major theme in my own life. Leaving my hometown of Florianópolis, Brazil, to explore the world with no money, learning new languages despite ridicule, and leaving comfortable career paths to find what truly makes me come alive, are all examples of how conquering fear has stretched my possibilities in unimaginable ways.

The fear of failure is a common and powerful fear that can hold us back from pursuing our goals and dreams. I have met many overachievers who have put several ambitious personal and professional projects on hold due to the fear of not being able to deliver on these new paths. However, science shows us that with the right mindset and strategies, we can learn to overcome this fear and achieve our full potential.

A learning opportunity

One of the first steps in overcoming the fear of failure is to change our perspective on what failure means. Instead of viewing failure as a negative outcome, we can reframe it as a learning opportunity. Every failure is an opportunity to grow and improve, and by embracing this mindset, we can reduce the power of our fear of failure. It is important to remember that everything that has been created in this world was created by people similar to you and me, and they all had to go through a learning process with very few getting it right on the first attempt.

Set realistic goals

Another effective strategy for overcoming the fear of failure is to set realistic goals and break them down into smaller, achievable steps. By focusing on incremental progress rather than perfection, we can reduce the pressure we put on ourselves and increase our confidence in our ability to succeed. Perfectionism is a powerful enemy if we want to design and execute new projects; the best path is to get it done little by little and then iterate and improve it, like in the Design Thinking process.

Revisit your beliefs

It can also be helpful to identify and challenge the underlying beliefs that contribute to our fear of failure. For example, we might have a belief that success is only achieved by those who are naturally talented or lucky. By challenging this belief and recognizing that hard work and perseverance are also key factors in success, we can reduce the power of our fear of failure. As Angela Duckworth has shown, grit is a major determinant of professional success. It is a matter of trying, iterating, learning, and doing it again and again.

Be kind to yourself

Practicing self-compassion is also important when dealing with the fear of failure. Rather than being overly critical of ourselves when we experience setbacks or failures, we can practice self-kindness and remind ourselves that everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. For type A overachievers (like myself), it’s much easier to be kind to others than to ourselves, as our bars are always set high. However, by talking to others, changing contexts, and expanding one’s life through multiple genuine relationships, we gain perspective on what we’re trying to accomplish, allowing us to detach from perfectionism.

Share where you are heading to

Seeking support and accountability from others can be a powerful tool in overcoming the fear of failure. By sharing our goals and progress with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor, I have gained encouragement, guidance, and motivation to keep pushing forward even in the face of obstacles. I have three people in my life that I call my personal board of advisors, folks who are present to me when I need them and who ask me the right questions at the right time, making me accountable for my decisions and actions while encouraging me to go further.

Accept that life is short and the others’ opinions don’t matter

Lastly, I would like to recall some of the lessons from Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich states that “without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free”. When reflecting that most of our fear of failure is based on how others will judge us, I found helpful to highlight the five remembrances from Buddhism that Thich elaborates on his book “Fear”:

  1. I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature to have ill health. I cannot escape having ill health.
  3. I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.
  4. All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  5. I inherit the results of my acts of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.

Recognizing that life is short and that change is the only certainty, allows me to see life in perspective and to not care to how others will potentially judge me for a project that fails. Not caring about others’ opinions is a form of freedom, and the path to listen and be your authentic self.

In summary, conquering the fear of failure is essential to our evolution as human beings. Conquering fear is expanding our comfort zones, learning new things about ourselves, connecting to our authentic selves and allowing us to dream bigger and do more of what makes us unique. This, ultimately, is what the world needs: a community of people who are living their unique strengths, collaborating with each other and making the world a better place.