In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about mindfulness.

They highlight how mindfulness can be used to benefit you in your everyday life and business.

Mindfulness can be defined as the process of bringing awareness to your experience as it occurs in the present moment. Often linked to the practices of meditation and yoga, Steli and Hiten look at how it can be redefined and introduced into all areas of your life.

Tune into this week’s episode of The Startup Chat to learn about mindfulness, having a positive perspective in reaction to challenges and how to remain present in your business and life.

Steli and Hiten, also highlight how negative emotions, have the power to disrupt productivity in your business. They show how mindfulness, could increase your awareness of these negative patterns, and share some simple action steps to get you started on eliminating them.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

01:01 What is mindfulness.

04:17 The importance and benefit of breathing.

05:23 Why mindfulness.

05:48 Benefits of mindfulness.

06:10 Steps to mindfulness.

07:20 Mindfulness for business.

07:36 The benefits of mindfulness for your business.

10:10 Mindfulness techniques to get you started.

11:43 Obstacles to practicing mindfulness.

14:50 The questioning technique.

18:02 The benefit of seeing opportunities in everything.

3 Key Points:

  • If you think of a business challenge as a negative then you are missing the opportunity.
  • When you have positive thoughts they manifest, When you have negative thoughts they also manifest.
  • Everything can be viewed as either a problem or an opportunity, and both provide opportunities to learn.


Hiten Shah: The clouds are moving. It’s kind of nice. There’s a lot of dogs everywhere. It’s kind of funny.



Steli Efti: All right. Well, this is going to be the topic of today’s Startup Chat. Mindfulness. This is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today, as Steli said, we’re going to talk about mindfulness. What is mindfulness, Steli?



Steli Efti: Well, you know, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have looked up the definition. I always love when you do this. You’ve . So, I just typed it into Google, and I just-



Hiten Shah: It’s called “training”, Steli. It’s called training.



Steli Efti: Yes, you have trained me very well.



Hiten Shah: I’m just kidding.



Steli Efti: I’m doing this, not just when I talk to you, but especially when I do talk to you, to be fair. So, all right. So, here’s the dictionary definition of mindfulness, right? “Mindfulness: The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”. The second definition is: “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness of the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Used as a therapeutic technique.”



Hiten Shah: I like how it mentions the present moment, and then calls it therapeutic. I think people confuse mindfulness and meditation and relaxation and all these things almost together. So, I’m glad you started with the definition. It’s, to me … Like a lot of this, just to give my thoughts on it for a second is … I think we are very judgemental as human beings. Judgmental of each other, of course, but also judgmental of ourselves. For me, mindfulness is very much so about being what they call “the observer” to the experience of life, versus being so judgmental about everything. That’s what you’re developing as you become more mindful of everything. Things, whatever it may be, even a lot of the exercises. I’ve studied this for a while now. Even a lot of the exercises that are out there are very much so about becoming an observer. I can point them all back to that. In meditation, you’re supposed to observe your thoughts, at least that’s one approach and one way that people think of it. When you’re eating, there’s this thing called “mindful eating”. What’s “mindful eating”? Well, actually thinking about what you’re eating, not just chowing down. Even if you’re at a McDonald’s eating a burger, you can probably think about it a little bit. Maybe it will gross you out a little bit when you think about what it went through, you know, to get you to that place where that burger’s sitting there in front of you and you eat it. I think if you’re into salads, or even if you are forced to eat salads, or whatever. Thinking about the plants and everything that was grown and what came about it that, honestly, you didn’t have to do. To me, that’s an observation. That’s a deeper observation than most people would do when they’re eating. Those are the kind of practices that I associate with mindfulness of what I call being more of an observer. Even less of a participant, or less judgmental about things.



Steli Efti: Yeah. To me, mindfulness is really about being an observer of your thoughts, your emotions, your physical sensations, and your surroundings instead of just being reactively going with the waves of those external stimulations, or even internal stimulations. So observing those, to then get “in touch with it”, to really just have a moment where you realize, “Oh. My body is very tense. Oh, I’ve stopped breathing.” Like, I have this … You know, I’ve learned … An example. We talked about this on a prior episode, where I was flying the fighter jet in Serbia. And one of the things I realized immediately, because I’ve practiced meditation and hypnosis and many, like, mindfulness techniques that have to do with breathing. And I’ve realized how much breathing affects our body sensation, and how our body sensation then affects our thought patterns, and vice versa. It was, like, the moment I got the stick to fly the fucking thing, I tensed up so much and I stopped breathing. This is something that a lot of people do. Even if I do boxing, or kick-boxing, when I get super-tired, or when people tense up when they box, they stop breathing. They just punch, punch, punch, punch, punch, and they just hold their breath, they’re tensing up their body. Well, when you hold your breath and you’re tensing up your body, you’re going to exhaust yourself very quickly. You’re going to be stiff instead of loose. It’s going to … A lot of negatives, and the best boxers are people that are really good at breathing, and relaxing in the middle of those exchanges, and staying loose. If you’re a really good fighter pilot, you need to stay relaxed and loose and keep breathing deeply, even in very stressful situations. Because that’s going to keep your mind calm. It’s going to keep your body focused, but also it’s going to allow you to go through some really physical pressures without exhausting and fatiguing too quickly. So, for me, mindfulness, when I stop for a moment, just living life, and I observe how I do it, and what life around me looks like, and what my thoughts are, and what my body is. A lot of times that observation allows me to pick up on what’s really going on. It’s like taking stock of life, and slowing things down for a second just to get back in touch with what’s really going on. Sometimes when you do that, it’s very easy to actually affect the quality of your life, or the quality of the things you’re doing because you realize that there’s maybe a negative thought pattern that you want to stop, instead of just keeping it going. Or maybe there’s a certain emotion that you’re carrying around with you through the day that’s impacting all your thoughts, and all your interactions, and how you talk to people, and how you think about things, and how you write emails. Then when you stop to be a bit more mindful and to get in touch with yourself and to observe yourself, you realize, “Holy shit. I’m actually so angry. I’m still having this emotional anger that stems from an argument I had yesterday. And I’m still carrying it around today, and I’m now screaming at people, and I’m angry at people that have nothing to do with this. And it’s affected me in a really negative sense.” So, I think that that observation is Step One. There’s many techniques to observe oneself, one’s emotions, one’s thoughts, and all that. But then the second thing is, once you’ve observed it, to realize, “Wow, this is what’s really going on with me and here’s what I want to do with it, if this is really what I want or don’t want.” Sometimes it might be that you observe yourself and you realize, “Wow, I’m really in a good mood.” Or, “Wow, I really have beautiful thoughts, and I love it, and life is beautiful, and I’m grateful for the good things that are happening and the well-being that I’m experiencing right now.” So, you have a moment of heightened satisfaction and gratitude and appreciation, which is a beautiful thing. To me, that’s kind of what mindfulness signifies. And I think mindfulness within the business world, a startup role, is just the idea that … I mean, at the end of the day, all challenges and all problems and all things in business to me are people problems, and people challenges, and people business. And if you learn to be more mindful, you’re going to be more effective. If you learn to be more mindful, you’re going to be a better negotiator, you’re going to be a better CEO or leader, you’re going to make better strategic decisions. You’re going to be less reactive. You’re going to be able to deal better with the stress, the highs, the lows, the crazy ups and downs of startup life and founder life if you’re not just always reactive. You know, kind of being thrown around in this storm of the world, but you are in control of your own mind, body, and soul, and your emotions. It’s going to make you a better human, and it’s going to make life better, at least that’s the experience that I’ve had. But in the context of this podcast, for business, it’s going to make the crazy startup experience a little more sane. And I think that can a long way.



Hiten Shah: Let’s think about … I think there’s a lot of people that don’t know how to be more mindful, and don’t know how to start. There’s other folks that tend to have started, or thought about meditation, or walking meditation, or even being in silence for a few minutes and found it difficult to have a habit. So what I’m curious about is, what can we tell people, how can we give them something to do when it comes to business and being more mindful? Because I think the benefits, in general, are out there, there’s a lot of content on mindfulness. There’s a bunch of apps for meditation, and stuff like that. But, like, people-



Steli Efti: Yeah, let’s give them some alternative techniques to be more mindful, right? Or practices that are not just meditating, which is something I’d love to talk about because I think there’s a lot of misconceptions on that as well. But, let’s put that aside. It’s something people have heard, learned, or can be exposed to in many other areas, and share some of our practices for techniques we’ve learned that help with mindfulness.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. So, I think if we go that route … Sorry, there’s a very loud motorcycle. Okay, that went by. Well, I’m being mindful by doing this podcast outdoors, so that I can be more present in the moment. It’s working, except for motorcycles. Basically, I think one thing that I think about a lot is, and feel really, is energy. We’ve talked before about things that give you energy, things that don’t. I’m talking more about something that’s more of a nuance. Can you, when you’re talking to somebody, whether it’s on the phone or in person or just in general thinking about somebody if you want to go this far. What feelings come up for you, and how can you … ? The whole goal, here, would be just do some exercises to figure out what feelings come out for you? And if you’re alone right now, just think of somebody while you’re on this podcast listening, and think about what feeling came for you when you thought about that person. And then start feeling that. Start really understanding the difference between the different feelings that different people give you, that you might not be aware of. Or different thoughts give you. Anything, right? But, really, if you start with people, that one’s the one that’s very crisp and clear, at least in my experience, to start with. Then you can go further and think about even the space around you, and what feeling that gives you. This takes some kind of internal awareness that, like I said, when you think about the people you talk to, or the people … You know, just think about someone, and how that person makes you feel all of a sudden immediately. I think that awareness doesn’t really exist in most people, and that’s really a key for me on how to be more mindful, but also how to get out of your own head, get out of the negativity, and really push yourself to understand these nuances. Because a lot of the mindfulness experience is nuanced, and that helps this exercise of just , can really help you in so many different ways, but it’s one simple thing you can do.



Steli Efti: I love that. I think one I would add to that is that oftentimes, when you do any kind of mindfulness practice, you’re going to see, or sense, an urge to stop and get distracted. We are so not used to stopping everything. You don’t … Close your laptop, no phone, no watching television, no listening to the radio, no talking to people. Just, like, sitting there, or walking somewhere and being in touch with your emotions. That can be very uncomfortable in the beginning. Actually, that can be very uncomfortable at any time, especially when you don’t feel well. When we don’t feel good about a person or a situation or in general don’t feel well, we don’t like to be fully in touch with that feeling. That’s why people go to drugs and alcohol and all kinds of other suppressants, right? Because they don’t want to deal with the emotion they are feeling, so they’re trying to find a way to get around, or suppress that, or ignore it. What I’m always looking for, and this is actually on top of mindfulness technique, what I’m always looking for is that, when I try to be mindful, how strong and how quickly will I have an urge to get distracted? And if I have a strong urge to being distracted, if I have a strong urge to keep noise and not have any quiet to be able to listen to my thoughts or feel my emotions fully, to me that’s a very strong indicator that shit is going in a bad direction in life. That there’s something I don’t want to deal with, that there’s something that’s uncomfortable and I don’t want to face. And so my advice is that when you feel that urge, instead of reactively giving into it and just going, “Yeah, I wanted to think how I … I wanted to sit here and see how I feel about studying, but I want to go Twitter real quick.” Or, “Let me open my Inbox real quick.” I mean, we have that urge. That’s the moment where you can learn something. That’s the moment to resist that urge, and go, “Well, I’ll push back. I might go to Facebook or Twitter or my Inbox, but not now. I’ll go in one minute.” See how long that minute can feel, and what you feel in that minute. Fighting the urge to get distracted when you’re trying to be mindful, is really part of the practice. It doesn’t make you bad at mindfulness, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be mindful. It is one of the most valuable things about mindfulness to me, is sensing that urge, seeing that urge, you know, “Wow. What is going on here? Like, something in my body or mind that wants to run away from something. Let me stay here for a second, let me fight that urge. Let me be a detective and explore what really is going on and how to deal with this, right? How to deal with this emotion or these thoughts.” To me that’s a really … That was a big key to making mindfulness a bigger part of my life. I love the just sitting down and seeing, “How do I feel when I think about a certain person?” It’s super-powerful. I’ll add something to this. A really simple practice and idea is to … I mean, going outside is a really good idea, all right? So, that’s why you are outside already, Hiten. But just like being able to leave your laptop, your computer, anything that can distract. Leave it wherever your desk is, or wherever your home is, go outside and sit down somewhere, or walk. And ask yourself the question, “I wonder what my next thought will be?” Right? That’s a really nice little mindfulness technique, a practice that I love to play with, which is just sitting down on a bench and telling myself, “Huh. I wonder what my next thought is going to be?” And then I just wait to see what my next thought is going to be, and it’s a funny question to ask. It kind of messes with your mind, because your mind is now aware that you have thoughts, right? You’re not thinking just reactively, you’re not thinking … You’re waiting for a subconscious thought to pop up, which is kind of a funky thing to do. Then whatever that thought is, I go, “Huh. I wonder why this is the first thought that comes up.” Like, just asking basic questions about my own thoughts and the things that are going on in my mind. It’s a weird thing to do at first. It might seem silly, but why not be silly at times? But to me, oftentimes, it leads to very powerful things or even more powerful questions on what is going on in my mind right now. What is really keeping me busy? Well, sometimes something pops up that’s just like, “Wow. I haven’t thought about this in years. It’s so interesting. Why do I think about this now? Maybe there’s a big opportunity here. Maybe there’s something I need to do.” So, just asking yourself, “I wonder what my next thought is going to be?” is a simple question, but a really funny and powerful mindfulness technique, in my experience.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think that relates a lot to awareness. Even just being aware of your thoughts can help you instantly be mindful of them, right? This idea can spread to so many different things. What I’ve just generally found is, even if you’ve never thought about the things we talk about in this podcast today, you’ll probably take it away and start thinking about them. In my opinion and, Steli, I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s all we really need to do. That’s the funny thing about mindfulness. If you are given enough opportunities to think about it a different way than you are today, you’re going to start thinking about it more and more. The reason I say that is, we’re all interacting with other people. We’re all thinking about other people. And we’re all constantly just thinking about things. So, all you have to do is think about that thinking of just a little bit extra, ask some of these questions, and you’ll actually be on your way to starting that process of just being the observer, being more mindful, and being more conscious to yourself and your thoughts. And, honestly, over time becoming a generally happier person. And happier doesn’t mean you’re happier on the outside. I’m really talking about the inside, and the thoughts you have. Because the thing is, when you have negative thoughts, they tend to manifest. When you have positive thoughts, they tend to manifest. It’s that simple, and yet many of us are sitting here for minutes, hours, weeks, months, days, sometimes years, having way too many negative thoughts about things. This extends to business. Yesterday, I did a quick Q&A on Instagram Live, and somebody asked, “Hey, how do you deal with the sort of equivalent of ups and downs?” And for me, what I realized more recently, I know we’ve talked about this here and there, I don’t know what an up and a down is anymore. I’m not really sure if it matters. It’s just another thing.



Steli Efti: People. Hiten lives in the upside down, all right?



Hiten Shah: Yeah, the upside down. There you go.



Steli Efti: That’s where Hiten lives.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Like, I don’t really … I wouldn’t consider a business problem a “down” anymore. And I wouldn’t call a business success an “up” because I really think about, “O.K., great. We achieved something. What’s next? What are we going to do next?” In fact, everything either can be viewed as a problem or it can be viewed as an opportunity, as many people say, right? So for me, if I’m down, and I think about a business problem as a “down”, then I’m not thinking of it as an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to do better, an opportunity for whatever. But definitely not a problem, and not a “down”. When I look at an “up”, if I’m looking at it like, “Oh, it’s time to celebrate, or it’s time to just take a moment, or anything, for me personally, the way I think about the world, it doesn’t help me. It makes me actually lazier. It makes me think, “Oh, I did something.” Instead, for me, it’s like, “Okay, we did that. Great. Now what?” You know? Immediately. And I know some people are, like, celebrating and partying, and this and that. That’s just not how I think about it. That’s not how I have learned to think about it, because as many people say and believe, the “ups” are high, and the “downs” are low. Like, very low. I don’t want to be either one, because then I’m imbalanced and I’m not ready. I’m not prepared for what’s going to happen next. And preparation, for me, isn’t like expecting it. It’s more like being in this even, mindful place where I can deal with it regardless of what it is. An “up” or a “down” is equally as … Is equal to me, because all of it is just an opportunity. An opportunity to see what impact I’ve had, whether it’s good or bad. Or what our team has had, and then learn from it. So, to me, I value the learning. That’s an “up”. And the learning comes either way. That’s the way I think about business and mindfulness, and where at least I’ve gotten to in this moment, in the present moment, Steli. Right, right, now.



Steli Efti: Right, right now. I fucking love it. I’ll just say one thing, and then we’ll wrap this episode up. You know, when I think about the highs and lows the way you were describing it, Hiten, a lot of times founders and startup people think you need to be super-enthusiastic, right? You need to be super-excited about things, because it’s part of the fun. But then, because you play that game, you also tend to be super-crushed and depressed, or stressed, or fearful when things go really bad. So that makes that roller-coaster ride so taxing, emotionally. When I think of a great founder, the metaphor that I’m using in my mind today, is I’m thinking about one of these slackline geniuses that go up to Yosemite, and they have this little line that goes from one fucking mountain top to the next. And it’s unsecured, and it’s windy, and it’s like, I don’t know how high up, but you’re definitely going to get crushed and die if you fall. And they walk up there, and the line is going back and forth, because it’s windy, and they walk the line with perfect balance, right? That person, that person is not super-excited, emotionally, that person is not partying in his mind. “Whooo. I’m doing it. You know, I’m going to be fucking amazing and famous.” Because he would fall and die. Nobody would expect him to be celebrating, laughing, taking selfies, being super-excited. Or even taking in the moment from a, “Wow. Look at this view. I’m doing it. I’m a slackline …” Like, nobody would imagine them doing that, because you know the next image you have in your mind is them falling and dying. Conversely, when there’s wind or something weird happens, something … You know, the line shakes and the person has to rebalance and it’s a dangerous little moment, they’re not fearful in that moment. They’re not stressed, they’re not worried, they don’t start thinking, “I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall.” Because, as I told you, that’s what their inner … That’s what somebody was thinking, you knew the next thing that would happen, they’re falling. Right? What that person does is, they’re completely here. They’re present in the moment. They have to be positive, they have to be optimists. Nobody goes on the line, and goes from one mountain top to the next if they’re not optimistic about their chances of making it. Right? Most of these people are optimists, these people are adventurers, these people are skillful. But more than anything else, they are focused, they are mindful, and they are concentrated on the task at hand. Never too high, and never too low. Just focusing one breath at a time, one step at a time, no matter what happens. And to me, that’s what the model for the perfect founder, for somebody that is really effective in business, as well. Positive, optimist, enthusiastic, excited, skillful. But when you are going on that journey, you’re focused one step at a time. Nothing else really matters to you no matter how good something is going, and no matter how bad something is going. All right. With that being said, let’s wrap up this episode. Let’s take one last breath together, and let’s try to be a little bit more mindful today and see how much of an impact it can have on our life, but also on the lives of people around us in our teams and our business and in our families.



Hiten Shah: Whatever you’re doing, do it with a smile. That’s what I’ve got.