Search Inside Yourself: Mindfulness at Google

Chade Meng-Tan (Meng) was a software engineer and employee number 107 at Google when he founded the “Search Inside Yourself” mindfulness program at the company. 

In this talk above, Meng offers a standard definition of Emotional Intelligence (EI), which can be achieved through mindfulness practice:

Emotional Intelligence: The ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)

Then Meng follows it up with his own, simpler definition:

Emotional Intelligence: a collection of emotional skills

Meng claims that developing EI happens when you practice mindfulness which will change your brain via neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity relies on the assumption that what we think, do, and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brains. Meng claims we can change our brains in 6-7 weeks, 20 hours of practice. 

WHY change your brain? Meng offers an interesting analogy about the relationship between our emotions and our thoughts.

Think of a horse and rider. The horse is emotions and the rider is the thinking mind. With practice, the rider can steer the horse. Learn to influence where the horse goes. And eventually, master that control.

The first step to achieving emotional intelligence is to practice ATTENTION TRAINING. The goal here is to “bring the mind to a state that is calm and clear and to be able to do that on demand. If you have the power to calm the mind on demand, that space becomes reliably accessible. You get choice, power, and freedom.”

Meng suggests a simple practice for attention training: Focus on the breath for ten minutes. When your mind drifts away, bring it back.

The second step for achieving EI is SELF KNOWLEDGE AND MASTERY. Here, Meng claims that the focus is on clarity. Moving from seeing things in a low-resolution way to a higher resolution. Meng articulates subtle yet important shifts in mindset such as a shift from, “I am angry,” to “I am experiencing anger.” From there is even a more profound shift from, “I am experiencing anger” to “I am experiencing anger in my body.” When you experience pain in your body, Meng argues, then you can do something about it. You hurt your hand, for example, then you have choices: you can ice it, massage it, distract with ice cream (his joke).

The third step in Meng’s schema is to CREATE USEFUL MENTAL HABITS. One he recommends trying out is that whenever you walk into a room, without doing anything, wish for two people in that room to be happy. This is a habit of kindness. “Habit becomes personality. Personality becomes you. You become a kind person.” (again, neuroplasticity at work).

Note that Meng is sometimes critiqued for applying mindfulness to what can be viewed as a corporate leadership program. Do with that whatever you will. But hopefully, you can pull some useful gems from his work.