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Damian Soong: “How You Can Slow Down To Do More”

We live in an Attention Economy. Facebook, Google, Publishers, everyone, all compete for our attention. If these very clever entities are all trying to grab our attention, attention is currency. It follows that successful people today will likely be those that are most able to protect their attention and direct it correctly to those tasks […]


We live in an Attention Economy. Facebook, Google, Publishers, everyone, all compete for our attention. If these very clever entities are all trying to grab our attention, attention is currency. It follows that successful people today will likely be those that are most able to protect their attention and direct it correctly to those tasks of most benefit. Slowing down, if that means becoming more present and focused, can help achieve this. Remember. Doing more isn’t necessarily achieving more, by focusing on what really matters one can achieve more.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Damian Soong, CEO & Co-founder of British challenger brand, Form. An experienced MBA educated entrepreneur, Damian has always run, started and raised funds for businesses driven by social purpose. Men’s Health named him a Nutrition Maverick and Protein Pioneer. He has brought a social conscience to a self-obsessed industry, positively impacting the lives of some of the most underprivileged communities in the world.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’d always been a problem solver. I studied Engineering, went on to do an MBA and I think an innate entrepreneurial drive took me on a fortunately very varied path from a FTSE 100 Investment Bank through to running/turning around smaller companies and to start ups of which I’ve been involved in a few. As the companies got smaller I got happier — I love seeing the immediate impact of the things I do, something only possible in smaller companies. I’d always had an interest in wellness, well before wellness was a thing. I started practicing yoga well before Instagram, and was into training and nutrition as early as my teens. That was before Instagram too 😉

In nutrition, I saw a challenge. The space was extremely crowded but there were no brands with an aesthetic or values that spoke to me, especially in the plant based space. I wanted to elevate the idea of nutrition to be more than just a protein shake after the gym, rather how we nourish our whole selves. In practice this meant developing not just supplements for the body, but nootropics and cognitive supplements for the brain and not just selling products but building out programs of education, events and community.

Importantly, no one was acknowledging that thinking about our nutrition is a massive luxury when nearly a billion people don’t have enough food for a healthy life. It was all about the self (and selfies). I wanted to turn that on its head. This was how we introduced our one-for-one giving model — with every product purchased, we feed a family in need via our Form Feeding Fund at Bansang Hospital in The Gambia.

We brought all these ideas together under our brand vision, ‘We believe we can realise the greatest version of ourselves while being mindful of others.’

This was all back in 2016 when plant based, nootropics and mindfulness were not such a big thing as they are now!

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I read the study, it’s quite old and self reported data. Almost everyone could answer ‘I sometimes feel rushed’ and of course some people feel always rushed, others never. It’s interesting statistically that while 23% of the whole sample always feel rushed the exact same percentage also never feel rushed. So equally your question could have been the other way around. Why the prevalence of people not feeling rushed?

Taking your wider point though that some people feel rushed, I think there are two reasons.

On a Micro level there is bad management both of the self and of others. Presenteeism and proliferation of meetings are examples of this. And on the Macro level I see being rushed a little like consumerism or consumption. Rushing around being busy and telling ourselves we’re achieving things is analogous to consuming things and telling ourselves we’re happy. It’s a construct of society. How many people do you meet and ask ‘how are you doing’ and they say ‘busy’?

The interesting research in this area is actually that studies show spending time helping others leaves people feeling as if they have more time, not less. That giving your time to others can make you feel more time rich and less time poor is a fascinating insight.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Rushing, or trying to do too much is counter-productive. Multitasking is myth. There is an inertia or cost to switching tasks and studies show that people who try to take in multiple sources of information aren’t able to filter out what’s not relevant — this irrelevant information slows them down, meaning they’re less effective. Anecdotally, everyone intuitively knows when they rush they make more mistakes.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

We live in an Attention Economy. Facebook, Google, Publishers, everyone, all compete for our attention. If these very clever entities are all trying to grab our attention, attention is currency. It follows that successful people today will likely be those that are most able to protect their attention and direct it correctly to those tasks of most benefit. Slowing down, if that means becoming more present and focused, can help achieve this.

Remember. Doing more isn’t necessarily achieving more, by focusing on what really matters one can achieve more.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

The first point to make is that what works for me might not work for someone else. We’re all different and need to be aware of our own biases and tendencies. These are some things I’ve learnt that work for me.

  1. I work best in short sharp bursts. It’s just how I learned I work best. Subsequently I found out there’s a whole technique — the Pomodoro Technique, so named because the guy that developed it used a tomato shaped kitchen timer to time his 25 minute bursts. Needless to say there is an app for that now.
  2. Massage. Resets my body and mind.
  3. Hippocrates said ‘Walking is a man’s best medicine’ and it certainly is for me. Everything is better after a walk in the park.
  4. Sleep. A whole other topic but improves almost all health markers, increases productivity, increases creativity. What’s not to love about sleep?
  5. No notifications. I don’t have any notifications on my laptop or phone. My phone is always on silent. Try calling me, I won’t answer! Of course I check my phone for messages and email — but I prefer to do that on my terms, no one else’s.
  6. I try keep my schedule free on Monday and Fridays to allow me to focus on my work priorities and kind of book end the ‘week’. Obviously there might have to be occasional exceptions it’s something I try to maintain.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

I defer to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

For me it’s about trying to be focused and present moment to moment. Trying is the operative word, one needs to be kind to oneself when one falls short. As I often do. Though a wise teacher told me that even noticing when you are not mindful is a way of exercising awareness. So I am winning!

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Aside from meditating some simple things I try to do:

  1. Notice at least a few breaths before I get out of bed
  2. Just stand in queues, not get my phone out
  3. Note down three things I’m grateful for each day
  4. Look out of windows on journeys (I’m really good at this!), I don’t need to be constantly stimulated and am actually quite good alone with my own thoughts.
  5. I have a daughter, when I play or interact with her I try to be fully present. Though as every parent knows this is often difficult!
  6. Running a business you’re drawn from task to task, meeting to meeting. It’s important to reset between. Sometimes this is as simple as following a few breaths with your eyes closed.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

At Form our whole brand vision is about being mindful of others and we’re fortunate that my Co-Founder Natalia Bojanic is a meditation teacher and certified Search Inside Yourself (SIY) teacher, a program born at Google and developed by thought leaders in Neuroscience, Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness. I’ve attended the SIY course which looks at how leaders can inspire and manage in more human way. One of my favourite takeaways was ‘A minute to arrive’, we start all our meetings at Form now with simple one minute meditation to allow people to arrive, not just physically but mentally.

Other things I like are naps and massage. People need to start to see things like this not as downtime but as investment in uptime.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

Books

Meditations — Marcus Aurelius

The most powerful Roman Emperor Aurelius was also a trained Stoic philosopher. Originally a private journal on his thoughts on running an Roman Empire it’s a fascinating insight and I can’t think of a more interesting job! This was the most powerful man on Earth and he displays amazing compassion and humility. If you look at the Form Instagram feed it’s littered with quotes from this book

Obstacle is the Way — Ryan Holiday

The title of this is drawn from Aurelius’s writings (“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”) and Holiday’s is a book essentially about Stoicism for the masses with modern relevance. He shows how Stoic principles were applied by various people of note to challenges they faced.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage — Alfred Lansing

Shackleton’s family motto was “by endurance we conquer” and by God did he have endurance. A Stoic, probably without knowing it (how else could you eat nothing but seal blubber for over a year?!). This is an insane story of human drive, endurance and survival — no words I write can do it justice. Go read.

Can you tell I think I might be a Stoic?

Podcasts

Rich Roll
 Ex-addict turned plant-based ultra-athlete, Rich’s is one of the most popular podcasts out there right now. With such a wide range of amazing conversations it’s hard to characterise, but common themes are addiction, recovery, feats of endurance, entrepreneurship and health. Always an inspiring listen, there is life changing material in there, go listen.

How I Built This
 Succinct, well produced interviews with founders of companies as varied as Instagram, Spanx, Clif Bars and Patagonia. Listening to these you realise there’s no one right or wrong way to build a great company, how important culture is and, more than anything else, that you make your own luck.

Awake in the World

Beautiful talks made more beautiful by Michael Stones teachings and voice. The podcast covers a range of mindfulness and meditation practice as well as Buddhist teachings and discussions.

App

Headspace — like many, I started meditating with this app back in 2014. I’m a fan of Andy’s voice and still use the app doing the same guided meditation every time. My daughter also loves the kids meditations. I’ll often do one with her at bed time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m big on quotes so I need three.

Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat — Fortune Favours the Brave

Every time I make a decision, take a risk or feel fear I say this to myself. I think it helps but have no proof!

There are no shortcuts, only reps, reps, reps — Arnold Schwarzenegger

A great reminder from a childhood hero that, in life, there really are no shortcuts.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face — Mike Tyson

Plans are great but it’s more important to be able to adapt. Tyson’s a bit misunderstood but he’s a bit like Bruce Lee with a lisp.

I need a Bruce Lee quote. “Be water my friend”.

If I could have any dinner party it would be Bruce Lee, Arnie, Dalai Lama and Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps Lady Gaga if one of those couldn’t make it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would hope that we, through Form are playing at least a small part in people making more conscious decisions about consumption that are not just focused on the self but on giving back to others. For Form and our Feeding Fund of course a specific cause is malnutrition as food, along with education, are essential in terms of lifting people out of poverty.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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