I may get axed from being considered a successful entrepreneur if I admit how many mornings I wake up, planning to get started on work right away, but instead sink into my couch and watch an episode of my soap opera (Days of Our Lives, for anyone who cares). I’m not a morning person anyway; my brain takes quite a bit of time to start functioning once I’m awake and it doesn’t peak usually until nighttime. But what I find by giving myself the time to watch an innocent 40 minutes of TV before I require myself to do anything productive is that it relaxes my mind before work is able to stir it up. Once my mind is stirred up, it’s sometimes hard for me to chill it back out. And when it’s stirred, I don’t accomplish as much as gracefully. When I start into something more relaxed, and having the added bonus of just having expressed major gratitude for having the ability to watch an episode of my soap opera anytime I want to, I’m able to flow with everything more gracefully and get more done. When I barrel into work as fast as if my shorts were lit on fire, I tend to get more tangled up and not get as much done.
Unique ideas about how to slow down come from all kinds of unexpected places. This interview is chalked full of them, but I especially love the idea of giving yourself permission to do what works for you — even if it’s watching a soap opera!
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Ali Boone, lifestyle entrepreneur, real estate investor, author and speaker. She left her corporate 9-to-5 job as an Aerospace Engineer to follow her passion for being her own boss and creating the ultimate freedom for herself. She went from being on food stamps in her first year of entrepreneurship to facilitating more than $18 million in real estate transactions in her first five years of business. She has Master’s degrees in both Aerospace Engineering and Spiritual Psychology. Ali also teaches flying and can often be found snowboarding or volunteering in prisons. Her ultimate goal is to one day challenge Tim Ferriss to a lifestyle design duel.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’d call it a little bit of drive and a lot of random. Growing up, I followed the traditional “go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a secure job” formula. That led me to Aerospace Engineering, which was really a replacement job for being a professional pilot because I thought I could make more money as an engineer. From the minute I walked into my very first engineering cubicle, I knew I needed out. I wasn’t a corporate person, I hated the business casual clothes I was wearing, I’ve never liked anyone telling me what to do, and I had a suspicion engineering just wasn’t my gig. I spent five years desperately trying to figure out how to get out of my corporate job. I read a million books, went to weekend seminars, tried various little side ventures, and even looked into investing options. Eventually, a real estate investment opportunity landed in my email inbox. I was bored at work, so I checked it out. It sounded fun and adventurous, so I pursued it, having no idea what it was going to lead to. As luck would have it, the contacts I made through that opportunity were just the right people I needed to meet and less than two years later I started my own company in the same field. I’ve now had my real estate investing company for six and a half years, and through that company I’ve begun to build my personal brand helping other entrepreneurs grow their businesses and working with people on mindset, lifestyle design, and passive income. My drive for freedom was definitely what started it all, but I never knew where that was going to take me and the next thing I knew, real estate investing was sitting in my lap.
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?
Is that all? I feel like everyone I know feels rushed (maybe it’s because I live in LA…)! No, I don’t think it’s always been that way. If I think back to earlier decades that didn’t involve cell phones (or even landline phones), social media, the internet, and loud societal pressures, I can’t imagine much of any kind of rushed feeling. Life used to move a lot slower before all of those things. Now, not only do we have technology creating attention deficit issues in just about everyone, but we also have social media creating a feeling of pressure to be someone, who were not, as quickly as possible. While maybe it’s not a conscious message, oftentimes people see everyone else on social media and think they aren’t living up to that themselves and they try to ‘rush’ to get to that place, in order to be on everyone else’s levels. Either way, there’s so much information out there and everyone is talking so fast, I’m really surprised the numbers were only 26% and 21%. Personally, I like traveling internationally where my phone won’t work, so I can purposefully force myself to slow down and take a breather because it feels sometimes like it’s impossible to avoid ‘the rush’.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
Productivity: it’s the idea of working smarter, not harder. When we rush, we tend to work harder rather than smarter. When we are flying through various opportunities, we’re likely to not hear messages or see signs about what might make the opportunity better. Or we’re so busy working fast that we completely miss other opportunities that may be good for us. 40 hours of rushed, nearly-unconscious work likely has much less effectiveness than 10 hours of smartly-focused work in which we’re taking our time to get through.
Health: there are arguments that we create our own diseases. With rushing, comes stress. With stress, comes health problems. With health problems, comes less effectiveness and productivity. Rinse, and repeat.
Happiness: what about stopping to smell the roses? What is anyone really appreciating if they are rushing through an opportunity or rushing through life? Being able to stop and feel the joy in the little things is a primary contributor to happiness. The same goes for meditation. You can’t rush through meditation, and it’s proven now that meditation contributes positively to happiness. Why does it contribute positively? Partially because you get to take a break from life and from your thoughts… and from rushing. And then rushing to become someone you’re not because social media suggests you should — that’s just a happiness-killer waiting to happen.
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?
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
I see mindfulness as presence and awareness. Presence is really the primary quality — because if you’re present you will have awareness — but I think specifying awareness is helpful in understanding mindfulness. I believe we are all born with mindfulness as part of us, but it’s easy to be tapped out of and there are ways to help us strengthen our levels of mindfulness. I know for me personally, it’s certainly been a practice and I’m not always exercising it! An example of being out of mindfulness would be being caught up in some rampant thought or emotional rabbit hole. When your thoughts or emotions have taken over, you are not operating from a place of mindfulness. Something related to this would be ‘neutral observation’. Buddha would refer to it as ‘witnessing’. This concept is actually what meditation teaches and is really a practice of. When you’re meditating, you aren’t supposed to not have thoughts, which would be almost impossible, but rather it’s to learn to watch your thoughts. The app Headspace has what I think to be the best visual explanation of this idea. It shows a cute little cartoon video of someone sitting on a hill watching cars drive down the road below. Each car has the name of a thought or emotion on it. All the observer is doing from the hill is watching the thoughts and emotions drive by. He’s not engaged with them; he just watches them. That’s what you learn to tap into in meditation — the ability to step outside of your thoughts and emotions and watch them do their thing. The thoughts and emotions don’t suddenly stop doing their thing, but now you’re outside of them and can just observe what’s going on. Being in a place of mindfulness doesn’t always have to be that elaborate or skilled, but meditation and what you learn in meditation is strengthening your ability to exercise the practice of general mindfulness. A less elaborate version would be going for a walk and being able to be so in the moment that you can feel the sun on you, you acknowledge the wind hitting your skin, you can feel your feet hitting the pavement with each step, and you can hear the noise around you. That’s presence. You are in the moment. You’re not thinking of the past or the future, but you’re just feeling what is right then. ‘Stopping to smell the roses’ is a mindfulness practice. The ‘here and now’. Being with ‘what is’. It’s all mindfulness, and the reason it’s such a thing is because it’s when we are outside of mindfulness that we feel stress, or that we worry, or that we feel anxiety. When we can truly learn to be in the moment and feel what is, there is no place for stress or worry. We can simply be aware.
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
Once someone is familiar with mindfulness and can begin to practice it in order to get it more in their muscle memory (assuming it’s been lost from their muscle memory just because none of us are taught to practice our innate mindfulness skill as we grow up), there’s really no end to how mindfulness can be incorporated into our everyday lives. Here is only a short, and certainly inconclusive, list of easy things someone can do in their everyday life that demonstrates mindfulness:
The list is endless, and mindfulness can be demonstrated with the smallest things in our everyday lives, up through the biggest things.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
Mindfulness for me is not necessarily different for when I’m working than it is any other time. The same principles apply regardless of whether I’m working or playing or running a marathon (which I in no way do…). But as an example of mindfulness in a work setting: an easy yet effective mindfulness tool would be pausing before responding to a stressful email, for example. Your boss or your co-worker sends you an email and you’re immediately irate or you catch yourself in a full-on tizzy over it. It’s so easy to react in that moment of emotion. And let’s be honest, it’s fun to react in that moment because it’s way more dramatic and it’s a bit of a release of that unwanted emotion! But reacting from those emotional places have never done anyone any favors. Reacting to emotion with emotion is only going to deepen the problem. So how can you break the cycle and potentially come up with a creative resolution to this issue? Don’t respond right away. Scientifically, it only takes 90 seconds for an emotion to pass through us. So if all of a sudden you are lit up with rage, if you just pause for 90 seconds or count to 90 slowly, that emotion will pass and you’ll be on the other side of it. So at a minimum, try to wait 90 seconds. But more optimally, let the 90 seconds pass, let your heart rate adjust back to normal, and then reflect more carefully on the situation. What’s the reality of what your boss or co-worker said or is proposing? What upsets you about that specifically? Can you see any reasons why that proposal on their part might make sense from their end as to why they proposed it or said it? Was your reaction proportionate to the problem? That’s all reflection. Now that you’ve answered some of those things, how might you respond in a way that de-escalates the situation rather than escalates it? Can you come up with a creative solution that might make both parties happy? Or, can you come up with an objective explanation that you can relay to the person as to why what they’re saying might not work? Think about it: if you’re taking the time to pause, let the emotions run through, reflect with a clearer head about the reality of the situation, and you make objective observations about the situation as a whole… isn’t that exactly presence and awareness? In other words, mindfulness? Mindfulness means you aren’t being controlled by your thoughts or emotions, and now instead of reacting you’ve just paused and let those thoughts and emotions run by without latching onto them. In that scenario, you weren’t in a place of mindfulness the whole time obviously because your emotions fired up. That’s okay; let’s not forget we’re still human. The key is to respond from a place of mindfulness, once you’re in that place. Once you are practiced more with mindfulness too, you are likely to get to a place where you’ll be able to exercise mindfulness, while being in that upset. The thoughts and emotions are flying and you’re screaming every cuss word possible about whoever wrote that email, but you have the presence of mind to be able to watch yourself have these feelings and acknowledge it’s happening. It doesn’t mean you should suddenly respond to that person while you’re in the upset, but you are being present to and aware of the upset. Again though, we’re human and we won’t always be perfect with this practice. But it is just that — a practice.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
For me, the more motivating thing is experiential practices. Like if I go to a meditation class or I go to a spiritual weekend workshop or I do something in service to others, I leave those places motivated and inspired to want more of that. In all of those places, I’m extremely present and aware, and I’m essentially alleviated for a short time of my responsibilities in the world (or at least that’s how it feels). It’s when I’m experiencing the joy that I feel from being present that I want more of it. So for me, it’s more about action than hearing someone talk about mindfulness. However, I believe a lot of the books I have read have helped lay the groundwork for me to be able to better understand and to practice and appreciate mindset. Some of those books are:
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Easy. “Don’t take advice from someone you wouldn’t trade shoes with.” I live by this quote nearly every day. It helps me solve problems, it helps me know when I should and shouldn’t take someone’s advice, and it’s been one of the driving factors as to why I am where I am today. The idea is — you want to be taking advice from people that you would trade shoes with. For example, if someone has been proven to be the happiest human alive, and that person wants to offer me advice on how to be happy, I’m probably smart to listen to that advice. If someone sitting behind a desk with only a half-smile on their face wants to offer me advice on how to be happy, I’m probably smart to be leery about taking their advice. If I’m working out at the gym and I want to take it up a notch and get really fit, I’m probably smart to take advice from someone who has notable muscles and appears to be very healthy. It’s probably not as smart of me to take advice from someone with very little muscle who I just saw finish drinking a soda and throw it in the trash can. Some notable times I took advice from people I would trade shoes with and when I didn’t take it from someone who I wouldn’t trade shoes with:
When I first started studying money and business, I read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I would hands-down trade lives with Robert Kiyosaki — I felt that as I read what he was saying in that book — so I continued reading more of his books and taking his advice seriously. Also when I was starting to pursue money and business, my dad and his sister both were offering me advice. My dad was a traditional Baby Boomer — went to work every day, worked hard, saved every penny, lived frugally in order to achieve financial success. His sister, my aunt, was a much bigger risk-taker and pursued a lot of investments. She quit working 30 years before normal retirement age. She traveled a lot, went to lunch with her girlfriends, and didn’t worry about what she spent. As they were both giving me advice about money and how to become wealthy, I had to decide who I would trade shoes with in that equation. My dad is one of my favorite people on the planet, but I never wanted to live frugally and not have fun until I retired and I certainly didn’t want to go to work every day. I wanted to travel and go to lunch with my girlfriends and not worry about what I was spending. So, I decided to take my aunt’s advice. Why? Because I would trade shoes with her in a heartbeat. I didn’t want to trade shoes with my dad when it came to finances and work life.
The biggest game-changer for my career was when I met a guy who was offering an investment opportunity. I was meeting him to go over the contract before I made the investment. What I wasn’t expecting out of the conversation was to meet someone who was literally living my dream life. We met on a rooftop pool deck in LA, he was wearing shorts and flip flops, he had his own company and got to choose his work hours, and he had just gotten back from some international travel. As he was talking about the investment contract, all I could do was stare at him and wonder how he got to that point. I needed to know more. I ended up cutting him off about the contract and told him I need to understand more about how all of this was happening — as I pointed to the pool deck and his shorts and flip flops and absence of a briefcase. How had he gotten to that point? He ended up becoming my primary mentor through starting my business. I listened to every single word of advice and help he offered me because I would’ve traded shoes with him in a heartbeat. His life was exactly what I wanted; therefore, I was all ears to him.
As for everyone else in my life at the time who was working 9-to-5 jobs with little to no freedom — I wasn’t really interested in their advice. I always listened to it, because you never know, but in times where I wasn’t sure what advice to follow and what advice not to follow, I always follow the advice from those I would trade shoes with. (Note: maybe I wouldn’t trade shoes with someone in one aspect but I would for another. For example, I likely don’t want money advice from my dad but I would certainly take his advice in other areas of life. So know that different people may be the people you want to or don’t want to trade shoes with in certain arenas, while not in others.)
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. 🙂
When I went to the University of Santa Monica and went through their Master’s program in Spiritual Psychology (now it’s just a certificate program), the program was structured such that it was experiential and all exercises were conducted in what they called “trios”. Three chairs: the “client” and the “facilitator” faced each other, and the “neutral observer” sat facing the client and facilitator chairs so they were able to watch the interaction between the two of them. The client chair was basically where you get free therapy. The facilitator chair was for practicing the different skills we would learn, things like: active/respectful listening, perception checking, giving and receiving feedback, etc. The facilitator was facilitating the “client” through whatever the process was. The neutral observer silently watched/observed the interaction. Once the process was over, all three people would rotate seats so everyone got to be in each chair. The entire Master’s program was built around this structure. The prison project that I volunteer with is set up in the exact same manner. We get to “trio” directly with the inmates, in the same roles as we did in school. There’s an endless amount of magic that happens in these trios. But to highlight a couple of them: trios are one of the only places I’ve really felt heard. I get to express or say anything I want and the person across from me engages with me without judgment.
This is especially powerful in the prison when an inmate can talk about some of the most horrendous things on the planet and the person across from them listens and responds, truly, without judgment. For some of the prisoners, and some of us even out in the free world, this is the first time in our lives we could be heard without judgment. That concept allows people to feel worthy. To feel like they are worth something. To feel important. To feel like they are apart of the world. To feel connected. To feel loved. And to feel like they are okay.
While all of this is going on, the person in the neutral observer chair is practicing everything that was talked about earlier with learning to separate from what’s going on and learn to just sit back and witness. This practice taught me that I’m actually not a required entity in solving all problems in the world, it taught me to be able to sit outside of stressful situations and remain in a place of calm and non-judgment, and it taught me how to be more peaceful inside of myself regardless of what’s going on around me. The way these trios work, and the skills that are brought out in them, have changed people’s lives right in front of my face. I’ve seen true hopelessness shift to hope. I’ve seen people get rid of demons that have been holding them back their entire lives. And I’ve seen people experience true joy and worth. As of right now, the prison and the University are the only places that conduct trios in this manner which is unfortunate because those are two very distinct populations of people and with no real in between as to who else gets the chance to experience these trios. If I could ignite a trio movement, I would do it. I’m convinced that if the whole world could trio, we would reach world peace (pipe dream?)
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the Author:
After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.
Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12.
Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects. Ashley is also a nationally syndicated columnist on Thrive Global and Medium Magazine.