It is an experience of joy that you bring about, a way to calm yourself in that big meeting or to relax the moment before getting the final exam handed to you. Learning mindfulness techniques gives you the ability to better handle any tense or stressful situation, leading to better responses and an overall improvement in happiness.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Higgins.
Sean has been leading technology companies since 2012. He is the CEO of BetterYou, the digital coach that helps people make better health and wellness decisions. Through BetterYou he’s helped thousands of people build better health habits and improve their mindfulness along the way.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
In2012, I started a video software company with 2 of the sharpest people I knew (The company was called ilos). My initial job was to do finance. In a 3-person tech company, the finance person doesn’t have a job. I remember looking over at my cofounders as one of them frantically coded and the other drew product features, thinking “But who’s going to talk to the customers? Raise capital? Recruit people?”
I’ve been leading technology companies ever since, taking ideas and turning them into businesses.
With BetterYou I found a problem that I experienced every day. As of last year 90% of our free time ends up on devices. But as our time on device has gone up and up our satisfaction with how we use that time ahs gone down. Today we spend 3x the amount of our time on device on apps that make us feel less happy and less productive.
We set out to create a way for people to retake their time and apply to the things that move them forward from a health and wellness perspective.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ll never forget the first time a customer called up to cancel their ilos videos service. Rather than shutting them off, I asked, “Why do you want to cancel?” They proceeded to tell me that they wouldn’t make use of the service for two months and since they had been paying monthly, they didn’t want to pay for those months.
At this stage in the business, we were brand new and cash flow mattered more than monthly revenue. I thought for a moment and said, “Well if that’s that case why don’t we move you to an annual plan? We can your account on so you don’t lose your content, and you won’t have to pay for the 2 months you don’t use”
The customer agreed. This was the 1st time I learned that it’s possible for both sides to truly win. We got more cash upfront and they didn’t get billed for the months they didn’t use.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
You have to be intentional about the place you’re making, the people you hire and the type of skills that you value. If you say you value diverse teams but hire your friends and family, your people know that when push comes to shove you value familiarity over diversity.
If you catch yourself with a pool of applicants that all look and think alike, rather than assume that’s all there is, mix up your hiring. Go to a different candidate pool. Look at different networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Angel.co).
You can’t just talk about making a great culture, your actions have to match.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one”
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius reminds us to focus on that which we can control and the power of our thoughts and actions. In building a company you always need to find ways to move forward. Mediations can be your guide.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Being mindful is being attentive to that which is happening around you and to you. It is feeling, it is sensing, all while not judging the feeling or sensation.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Chade-Meng Tan taught me the power of one mindful breath.
It is an experience of joy that you bring about, a way to calm yourself in that big meeting, or to relax the moment before getting the final exam handed to you. Learning mindfulness techniques gives you the ability to better handle any tense or stressful situation, leading to better responses and an overall improvement in happiness.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
We measure how people use their time toward health goals every day. With the recent pandemic we’ve seen physical isolation lead to social isolation, free time into more time to stress, and challenging situations into mental health challenges.
We’ve also seen a great community of people rising above the moments around us. Here are what they have in common and the steps that you can take to get there:
1. Keep track of your top people: Life moves fast and it’s easy to fall out of touch. Use apps or reminders to stay in touch with your friends or family. Facetime them, Skype them, call them.
2. Take time for yourself: Set aside time in your day to do things that bring you a sense of fulfillment (reading, learning a new skill or instrument). This sense of achievement will enable you to take pride in your day.
3. Practice mindfulness: Take time for yourself to just be. You can use this time to practice mediation, spirituality, or to simply check in with yourself.
4. Keep track of your health: The path to serenity requires not only mental wellness, but also physical wellness. Focus on getting sleep each night to feel rested. One easy tip here is to leave your phone charging in another room so that you can’t get on it in the middle of the night. Our research among college students suggests that over 30% of them engage in phone related sleep disruption.
5. Have a time set to be distracted: The time we intend to waste is not the same as wasted time. If you are trying to cut out Instagram or News from your life to be more focused on the moment you don’t need to go to 0 immediately. Give yourself time where it’s okay to be distracted or not mindful. This time will help you focus on the other steps and make it easier to start your mindfulness journey.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
1. Use Behavioral Design: Most choices we make in life are hard. One reason for this is something called the menu problem. Imagine the last time you were at a restaurant. How did you order? Most likely, the server handed you a menu and you picked something. But which choice is most important? The one you made? Or the person who picked the options you had to choose from?
In life, it’s often easier to pick the options in front of us than it is to think of options that aren’t “one the menu”. When helping others build mindfulness habits keep this in mind. Can you provide a book to your friend that they see on the nightstand before they go to bed? A coaster that they have on their table so they’ll get a reminder when eating breakfast? A calendar highlighting a different mindfulness practice each month? Physical objects can be great triggers to spark action.
2. Be Candid and Vulnerable in communication: Sharing moments when you aren’t feeling particularly mindful, moments of stress, and anxiety can bring people forward to share their own challenges. There’s still stigma today around anxiety, so creating a safe environment you’re talking with others lets the other side bring these issues up without fear or worry.
3. Talk about habits that you’re having success with: If you used to have an issue of going to sleep and felt anxious at night, you may have tried setting up a time to be distracted. If that tactic is working for you, share it with others. You might be able to help friends and family members distance themselves from the things triggering their anxiety (news, apps, etc).
4. Set goals together: If you want to practice guided mediation more, set a goal as a group. This helps you build accountability and even enables you to run some group activities. Like any type of activity if you’re looking to go far, go together.
5. Use loss aversion: People dislike losing things more than they like getting things. Use that same concept of loss aversion with your group. Maybe you have a hangout fund that starts at $200 (this can go into movies, dinner, etc.). Whenever one of the members of the group breaks with their mindfulness practice they take $5 and donate it to a completely random charity. This way you can add a bit of behavioral psychology.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan is a phenomenal way to start your journey in mindfulness
Sherry Walling and the Zenfounder podcast also talk about what it’s like to be a leader in an organization and practice mindfulness
Headspace and Calm and other guided mediation apps can also be a good starting point.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
On that I tell all our new hires:
“Every day the clock resets. Your wins don’t matter. Your loses don’t matter. Fight for the future, don’t dwell on the past.”
When you think about building a habit of mindfulness it isn’t always easy. You will make mistakes. Fixating on those mistakes makes it even harder to start again. The same can be said of victories. If you focus too much on the fact that you’ve meditated 100 days in a row are you really mediating to improve your mindfulness, or are you doing it to improve your streak?
The mistakes and successes of the past are past. Be present and focus on what you can control.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Today our time on the device is optimized, not for what we want, but for what we’ll watch, time on page. My movement is creating a world where your time on the device isn’t optimized by apps or advertisers, it’s optimized for the things you care the most about.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!