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“Power of meditation” With Daniel Rodriguez & Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

I’m a big believer in the power of meditation, which I’ve done daily for the past four years and have been practicing for the past 10 years. I think that stress is the result of two things: focusing on the future, and experiencing anxiety about an unpreparedness for that future moment. Meditation helps tackle the […]

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I’m a big believer in the power of meditation, which I’ve done daily for the past four years and have been practicing for the past 10 years. I think that stress is the result of two things: focusing on the future, and experiencing anxiety about an unpreparedness for that future moment. Meditation helps tackle the need to bring the mind to the present and also focuses on what needs to get done in order to prepare. I also find that I’m at my most emotionally level-headed when I’m treating my body well. Good energy and positivity are the result of healthy food and not too much alcohol. The bigger the moment, the more it calls for positive energy habits.

Asa part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Rodriguez.

Daniel Rodriguez is an experienced marketing executive, entrepreneur, family guy and musician who uses daily meditation to manage life’s intense moments. He currently is the CMO at Simplr, where he’s leading a team that is redefining the way brands deliver customer service. Before Simplr, he served as VP of Marketing for Seismic and as co-founder of multiple companies including Indivly Magic and PrizeTube. A native of Cleveland, he’s been a Bostonian since earning a BA from Harvard and an MBA from MIT.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m was born in Cleveland and grew up in northeast Ohio. I played soccer and baseball and I’ve loved to sing for as long as I can remember. My sister and brother are a lot younger than I am, so when a selfish moment pops up my wife calls it “Only Child Syndrome” because of the first 8 years of my life. I loved going to Cleveland Indians games with my dad in the 90s — the excitement of a sellout crowd, a team that could win, and an offense that could stage an epic comeback late in the game meant we never left early.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

I’ve always admired leaders who can build things — and do that from scratch. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when I was a junior at Harvard, and watching how that company grew led me towards the software industry. Plus, my dad was a lawyer and worked long hours and my soccer coach was in “business” (I don’t think I ever knew what that really meant) and he had time to coach us, so I thought business was a much better lifestyle choice than practicing law. Although the jury might be out on that (pun intended).

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

The amount of help I have had along the way is almost too hard to quantify. How many of my teachers, from grade school through high school, seemed to take an interest in my development and push me? What if I hadn’t received a scholarship to attend Western Reserve Academy, a prep school in northeast Ohio that fostered an environment where being good at school made you cool? My economics teacher in high school, Mr. Ong, developed my curiosity through his own energy and teaching excitement. I remember one time, out of the thrill of proving an economic theory on the chalkboard, he finished a formula, tossed the chalk into the air and walked straight out of the classroom as the chalk crashed down into the chalk holder ledge.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

My first job out of college was with a consulting firm and the attire was button downs and khakis. The Brooks Brothers non-iron shirt made it possible to travel without needing to always iron your clothes, so I had a rotation of only these shirts. What they don’t tell you about these shirts, though, is that the material that helps prevent wrinkles also makes the shirt easier to rip. In a big group meeting with a client, the SVP pulled me aside and whispered that I had a rip in the elbow of my shirt. I pulled my shirt to the side and noticed a 4-inch gash in the shirt sleeve, on not one, but both arms. I inspected my other shirts and realized that they were ALL like that. I had been going to work in tattered sleeves for weeks.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Very few people have a linear journey, and the ultimate goal just might change along the way. Happiness and fulfillment come from doing things that interest you today, not at some mythical point in the future. You don’t have to have it all figured out. I like to joke that I’ll tell you what I want to be when I grow up when I figure it out.

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?

I loved Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness because it was such a radically customer-centric viewpoint that I still feel is required for a company to have breakout success. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is a great reminder of the “20-year overnight success story.” I find it easy to get sucked into the idea that success happens quickly — when in reality it very rarely does, and just pursuing passions and continuing to keep going is where the magic lies.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I love the phrase “carpe diem” from Dead Poet’s Society. What’s better than today?! It’s gone at the end to never return. Waking up with the attitude of seizing (or plucking) the day is empowering. I choose to make today my own.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I have 3 kids and have written a handful of young children songs over the past few years that I’m going to get onto Spotify under the name Daniel The Banana Bread. My son Simon gave me that nickname 6 months ago when he was two years old and I think that it’s perfect. The songs are fun, lighthearted and hopefully provide a bit of comfort and reprieve during a stressful experience of being a kid during a pandemic.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

I’m a big believer in the power of meditation, which I’ve done daily for the past four years and have been practicing for the past 10 years. I think that stress is the result of two things: focusing on the future, and experiencing anxiety about an unpreparedness for that future moment. Meditation helps tackle the need to bring the mind to the present and also focuses on what needs to get done in order to prepare. I also find that I’m at my most emotionally level-headed when I’m treating my body well. Good energy and positivity are the result of healthy food and not too much alcohol. The bigger the moment, the more it calls for positive energy habits.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

For about five years I was the lead singer of a Top 40 cover band in Boston, where we played to hundreds of people at packed bars on the weekends. There’s a lot that I learned from being in a band that has served me well in my professional career.

First, there is a lot of preparation. We rehearsed our set weekly for almost eight months before playing our first gig. It takes a while to learn 45 songs! I remember the Rule of Three: if I could sing the song three times through without a mistake, I could mark it as off. When I speak at events, I make sure I’ve got three solid runs under my belt before taking the stake.

The 20 minutes before taking the stage are full of nerves. The mental work from meditating gives me the practice to fight back the internal demon naysayer. Those thoughts can paralyze and become self-fulfilling, so being aware of them the moment they attempt to enter the mind and then knowing how to throw them out of the mind is important.

When I take the stage, I’m making a first impression. People reflect what you project. Am I happy, smiling, comfortable and having a good time? If I am, the audience mirrors this behavior. I try to focus on the happy faces and communicate that “we’re having fun together” with my body language.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

Getting your body ready to speak or sing (it’s the same for me) consists of a routine. Being hydrated that day is important, because I naturally get a little dry in the mouth when I am nervous. 20 minutes before taking the stage, I go to the bathroom (note: make sure your body mic is turned off for this) and do some vocal exercises to warm up my throat. Sirens, where my inflection goes from high to low, and then some consonant sound exercises that I learned from being in an a cappella group (“ma may me mow moo”) that get my lips ready to annunciate my words. Lastly, I breathe. I take slow, deep breaths that expand my diaphragm. When I get excited, my breathe can get caught too high up in my lungs, leaving me short of breath and sounding thinner and weaker than I otherwise would. Lastly, I check my posture to make sure my shoulders are back and that my vocal area is vertically aligned (thanks, voice coach!).

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Nothing is more powerful than the focus of the breath going in and out of my nose. It brings me to the present and calms me.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Meditating has been the best and most consistent habit over the past 10 years. I also do 38 pushups (one more than my age) while the shower water is warming up. I’ve had that daily routine for a couple of years — and it keeps me feeling like my age isn’t beating me. I aspire to be a patient person — and admire those that are. While I might not be there yet, I feel like meditation has helped me make progress toward that ideal state of myself.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Habits take commitment at the beginning, because it’s not yet a habit! But after about a month, it’s surprising how the body adjusts to new routines and wants to continue doing something. Bad habits are tricky…because they often have an underlying reason for existing. I still struggle with biting my nails. I’m too old for this habit and it’s embarrassing. I can’t apply No Bite polish frequently enough!

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

There’s a certain automaticity to flow, when your conscious mind isn’t so preoccupied with trying to make your body do the things you want it to be doing. And I agree that it’s achieved when doing something that you really enjoy doing. I’ve experienced flow in playing sports, songwriting, and performing onstage. It’s an all-body high and I actually have had goosebumps at times in that state. In all of these situations, I am profoundly present — my mind is only here and now, and my body has enough muscle memory to know what to do without me having to focus on what it needs to do in order for it to do it. Find the things you enjoy and push yourself outside of your existing comfort zone. To not let yourself down, you might end up preparing enough that flow is the byproduct.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think that the greatest legacy of our time will be whether or not we make meaningful progress in ending the racial bias and discrimination that exists in our country. I am not convinced that anything has improved in my lifetime and inaction leads to status quo. And the status quo is not ok.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

In high school, our basketball team played against St. Vincent St. Mary’s, and LeBron James hit his growth spurt as a sophomore when I was senior — and he has brought Cleveland sports fans immeasurable joy. But what he has done off the court, with his endowment to the University of Akron and, most recently to unite influential players to promote causes that lead to greater access to participation in our democracy, well, that’s someone I want to partner with to affect change.

How can our readers further follow your work online? I’m most active on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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