Helping leaders emerge


How to Deal with Bad Stuff and Be More Resilient and Joyful

This month I’m recommending the book, Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Zen priest, teacher, writer, and poet Norman Fischer (and one of my favorite human beings!).

This gem of a book is a favorite because it helps leaders cultivate resiliency, wisdom, well-being, and compassion in face of life’s difficulties and challenging situations, which are unfortunately unavoidable (ugh!) and part of everyday life. It’s a great resource to help leaders manage stressful emotions and move toward ease, whether in their organizations, families, or communities.

Fischer’s book is based on a 12th century Tibetan text that includes 59 slogans for training the mind and heart. The slogans are to be thought of as short, punchy phrases, (kind of like bumper stickers or advertising taglines), and are practical resources for any leader who wants to develop a more resilient, confident, and joyful executive presence.

How do we change how we think and behave? Fischer explains that the most important factor in mind training is to engage difficult situations and emotions creatively versus avoid them; the slogans will help you do this. In fact, the slogans train the mind (and you!) to move toward difficulty when it arises rather than away from it, a counterintuitive move.

How does it work? Neuroplasticity. We now know that the mind is flexible and trainable. With consistent practice, you can “wash out” old, ingrained, negative habits of mind (like fear and anxiety) and introduce new, intentional, healthier habits (like joy, compassion, resiliency).

How do I practice mind training? Identify one or two slogans you are drawn to and with which you want to cultivate. Meditate on the slogan, think about it, journal about it, talk about it, write it down, and repeat it to yourself. Keep in mind that training requires commitment, repetition, and lots of patience (repetition is magic!). As previously mentioned, you are training the mind to do what it does not want to do, which is go toward, rather than away from, what’s painful and difficult. The result is that you learn to be with and work through discomfort, cultivating resilience, wisdom, and compassion.

Favorite Slogans: with 59 slogans, I chose ten with which for you to start. I encourage you to find your own favorites!

  • Slogan 13. Be grateful to everyone. We are not alone, and we can’t do it by ourselves.
  • Slogan 20. Trust your own eyes. No one really knows how it feels to be you. Only you can determine what is happening in your life and what to do about it.
  • Slogan 21. Maintain joy (and don’t lose your sense of humor). Even in the darkest moments, there is some light.
  • Slogan 25. Don’t talk about faults. Don’t speak of injured limbs.
  • Slogan 26. Don’t figure others out. We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by the effects of their actions on us.
  • Slogan 27Work with your biggest problems first. For a Zen student, a weed is a treasure.
  • Slogan 29. Don’t poison yourself. No, thank you, I don’t eat that stuff (the poison of self-centeredness) anymore; I know it’s bad for me.
  • Slogan 33. Don’t make everything so painful. When something is bad, it’s bad; don’t make it worse by adding additional drama to it.
  • Slogan 34. Don’t unload on everyone. While we should still share our troubles with others (that’s what makes connection and life meaningful), it is for each of us, our own responsibility to shoulder the burden of our own suffering, whatever its cause, and to turn the burden into wisdom and love.
  • Slogan 35. Don’t go so fast. Becoming a grown-up, fully developed, wise and kind human being and leader, is a long, slow process.

In summary, the discipline of mind training is supposed to be gentle, permissive, and easy going! So experiment and have fun. When practicing the slogans, I encourage you to keep Fischer’s advice in mind, “… when your efforts to be good and practice slogans begin to feel like you’re wearing a straitjacket, then I have a slogan for you: ‘Lighten up, relax, maybe go to a movie, have a glass of wine, don’t try so hard, maybe there’s something good on TV.’” (Training in Compassion, page 103).

Monthly Leadership Inspiration