In this week's episode, Billy and Brian talk to mindfulness coach Brett Hill about:
--how he learned at an early age that what we can achieve and the quality of our life hinges on our ability to communicate well with others
--how understanding the somatic experience of emotion can lead to better communication, awareness, and self-regulation
--what mindful communication looks like
--how mindfulness fosters growth and freedom
--the five phases he uses to guide his clients through a mindfulness practice
--how judgements get a bad rap
--his time as a "technical evangelist" for Microsoft
Like what you heard from Brett Hill? Contact him at:
Podcast: The Language of Mindfulness (How to Start a Mindfulness Practice)
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Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches as we share our life experiences, both the good and the bad, in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy, and, as always, I’m joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am radical today, Billy.
Brian: But not like radical in like an extremist beliefs kind of way, more like the 80s kind of totally radical, like meaning cool.
Billy: Did you see the BMX movie, Rad?
Brian: Duh. Of course.
Billy: That was an all-time classic right there. That was a good, good movie. What have you been up to this week?
Brian: You know, camping and living.
Billy: You were down in Minneopa State Park.
Brian: Yeah, it was really literally a lot of fun. Yeah. We took the kids down there, they all got to bring their friends along, and so we were down there with five kids and it was — between the ages of four and twelve so it was pretty exciting for us, yeah. There’s a lot of — I think it was about 115 dB pretty much the whole time but, other than that, it was really great.
Billy: dB, decibel levels.
Brian: Decibels, right —
Billy: Very loud in the bus.
Brian: Check, check, yeah, they just — they keep going, you know?
Billy: And you took the bus, I’m guessing?
Brian: Oh, of course, yeah. Took the bus down there.
Billy: And if you are not familiar what we’re talking about, you can follow Brian and his wife Cathleen’s adventures on their schoolie at @wejustboughtabus on Instagram. It’s pretty amazing. They took that school bus, they turned it into an RV, they travel all over the United States with it. It’s a really, really cool bus that they have.
Brian: Kept us busy during COVID, really, is what it was, so every weekend during the shutdown, we would simply go to my office where I could pull it in. In Minnesota, it’s super cold here so we were able to get it every weekend. So we’d leave Friday night and we do a little bit Friday and then we wake up early Saturday and do it all day Saturday into the evening, same with Sunday, and that’s what we did through the entirety of the shutdown.
Billy: It was a great project to watch unfold throughout that, about a year, six months? How long did it take you to —
Brian: Oh, took me about six months. We started in September of 2020 and took our first trip in May.
Billy: Yeah, you guys did a great job with that. I have taken our recent guest’s advice, Jill Dahler, life coach, and I’ve been going to yoga routinely here every other day since she has been on the show.
Brian: How are you feeling about it?
Billy: Yeah, yeah. Once again, Jill Dahler is always right. So if you’re looking for a solid life coach, I highly recommend Jill Dahler, she will not steer you wrong.
Brian: In a way, she life coached you without actually being a full-blown client so she’s so good at it, she can do it even without — she’s just amazing.
Billy: Yeah. She’s been an amazing part of my life for a long time so I’m very fortunate to have her and it’s great that all of our listeners have access to the amazing guests that we have on this season. And, once again, we have another amazing guest. Our guest today is Brett Hill. Brett has a degree in interpersonal communication and his fascination with technology has led to a career as an author, storyteller, blogger, speaker, and mindfulness instructor. Brett also founded the Quest Institute in Dallas and is the host of the podcast, The Language of Mindfulness, which I’m actually going to be a guest on. I’m looking forward to that. And that’s why we have Brett here today. He’s going to discuss with us the language of mindfulness and how we can improve our communication and quality of life through being more mindful. We have all sorts of links to Brett’s website and to his podcast and to how to start a mindfulness meditation practice as well. Brett will get you going on that. So, Brett, we want to thank you very much for being here today.
Brett: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Billy: So, Brett, we always like having our guests tell us the 10 roles that they play in their life. So what are the 10 roles that you play in your life?
Brett: Okay, 10 roles, let’s see. Husband, father, teacher, mentor slash coach, writer, podcast host, I’m doing a couple of those, mystic, entrepreneur, technologist, a friend to dogs. That’s 10, isn’t it?
Billy: Yeah, yeah. If you’re a friend of dogs, you’re a friend to both Brian and me because we do love dogs. We each have dogs. Technologist, can you just elaborate a little bit more on that? Because you talked about you had a fascination with technology so what does that mean to be a technologist?
Brett: Well, it means that I have a really, really broad and usually deep understanding of a lot of different technologies, just because I’ve been around since the whole internet thing happening, maybe you’ve heard of it, and it kind of grew up, I grew up with all of that, like I’m an older character so it’s like the PC and technology and the birth of the cell phone and mobile and wired up applications, I kind of saw us go from when the fax machine was a new thing to instant messaging to SMS messaging and have been along for that ride and it’s a pretty amazing ride along the way. Because I started getting interested in computers before they were a thing, people would keep coming to me going, “What are these computers? What’s this all about?” and it occurred to me really early on in the game that these personal computers were going to change the world. I remember, like some people, some of the leaders were going, “I don’t even see personal computers being a thing. It’s just a fad,” that’s what IBM said at the time. Well, oops. So, when it occurred to me that this was actually going to be a thing, I started studying them and have been using technology my whole life. Wound up being hired by Microsoft to be what they call a technical evangelist and so I flew around the world speaking about Microsoft technologies to people, consulting with clients, and I worked for another company doing a similar role where I was pretty deep in the weeds in how all this tech works and internet protocols and the whole ball of wax.
Billy: Did you say technical evangelist?
Brett: Yeah, there is such a thing. Can you believe it? There’s a thing called a technical evangelist and they’ve kind of morphed a lot of those roles now to be different kinds of, now they’re like storytelling things or customer success storytellers and all kinds of crazy names like that but there are roles like that, you evangelize the technology and you try to make it — it’s not just, “Hey, if you get one today, you can buy two cloud services for the price of one,” but it’s more like, “With this service, your business could be more productive and you could be more productive and here’s how,” and then you show people so it was a little more in the weeds than commercials, like actually understanding. They asked you technical questions and you’re pretty deep with it, because, in the end, Microsoft sells a lot to very, very, very, very big customers and they have very complicated questions and you have to be able to address them.
Brian: I did not know that people would pay you for that. So like a sucker, I’ve been walking around talking about technology for nothing.
Brett: For free. For free. I know. Who knew you could get paid to do that? And they flew me all around the world to talk to people. It was a ton of fun.
Billy: Brian, do you have room on the payroll for a technical evangelist because I would like to apply for this job right now?
Brian: You know, I think you got to be over $100 million to even start to open up that position but we’re getting there, we’ll be there.
Billy: Oh, my goodness. What a cool role.
Brian: That’s neat, though. That really is cool. That sounds like a lot of fun, first off.
Billy: So, of all the places then you traveled, we love talking about travel on the show, what are some of your favorite cities that you got to visit while you were doing your travels?
Brett: Oh, they’re kind of the same cities everybody loves, I think, Barcelona, Rome, those were amazing. Oh, my God, I can’t wait to go back to Rome. The problem, though, is when you go to these cities and you’re working for a corporation, you’re not on vacation. So, I went to Paris, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, okay, my experience in Paris, flying in from like — I’m on 10 cities in like 14-day kind of trip, so you fly into Paris and I get off the airplane, get into the taxi, it’s like 10 p.m., get to the hotel, wake up the next morning, teach all day, lecture all day, I have two and a half hours between the time I finish to get to the airport, I drive by the Louvre. “Oh, look, there’s the Louvre.” Can you imagine anything more painful than driving by the Louvre and just waving? And then there’s the Eiffel Tower. Uh-oh, waving goodbye. And it’s like that was — that killed me. That just killed me.
Billy: So you didn’t get to spend quality time in the cities, you just got to visit them.
Brett: Well, in this case, I just had to just literally drive by and it was maddening, because I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and at least hang out like any ordinary tourist would. But in some other cities, I did have a little bit more time, like I had a weekend in Rome and that was amazing. Amazing. Amazing.
Billy: So you also said that you’re an entrepreneur. Can you talk about what is the Quest Institute in Dallas? What did you found there? What was that?
Brett: That was not entrepreneurial, that was a meditation center. In that case, I was teaching meditation and it just sort of organically unfolded. I had learned meditation from an obscure teacher who had about 100 students and I moved to Dallas and just one person said, “Hey, can you show me how to do meditation?” Sure, and then he told a couple friends, they told a couple, pretty soon, we had like a hundred people and I’m going, “We can’t keep meeting in this house,” so we got a place and we just called it the Quest Institute, and I had just a little organization where people could come and learn to do these particular types of meditations that were pretty involved, pretty complicated, but, nevertheless, really powerful. It’s in the lineage of Yogananda, for those of you who know anything about those kinds of things, gurus and lineages and all that kind of stuff. He started the Self-Realization Fellowship and has a pretty famous book called Autobiography of a Yogi. So, the guy that I learned from, it’s one of those things where in the guru industry, if you want to think of it like that, there’s like families of gurus, it’s like, “Oh, you were initiated by the person who was initiated by the person…,” so it’s kind of like you are in — so you have —
Brian: A lineage.
Brett: — a pedigree, if you will.
Billy: Just out of curiosity, I think a lot of people unfortunately attributes mindfulness and meditation to yoga to which they attribute to women and, I’m curious, as you were kind of founding the Quest Institute, did you find that, “Hey, we actually have quite a few men who are interested in doing this”?
Brett: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of men that are interested in meditation and it does have, you might want to call it a feminine side in the sense that if you hang out a sign and say, “Mindfulness meditation tonight,” you’re likely going to have more women than men but you definitely will attract some men.
Billy: Well, I’m really impressed that you founded the Quest Institute and I imagine that goes along with two of these roles here that you listed that you’re most looking forward to. You talked about mentor and coach. So, can you talk about what is it that you’re most looking forward to in the second half of life in terms of mentoring and coaching?
Brett: Well, I’ve had the luck, well, good fortune, you might say, of having some really fabulous teachers and so I’ve learned some amazing things and it’s really helped the quality of my life. And some of it is through a lot of practice, but there are quite a few things that once you really drill down on them, they get down to just two or three basic skills that almost anyone can learn and those skills will dramatically, or have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of your life. And that’s what I’m into these days is sort of like what are what I call the foundational practices, things that help people in a million ways that are simple to approach and easy to learn and helping people explore developing and adopting and getting better at those practices.
Billy: And you also talk about here being a mystic and I feel like that’s been a reoccurring theme this season, because we’ve had Kristen Brown come on and talk about being an energy expert and Jill Dahler came in and talked about her experience with a shaman and she does a lot of Reiki work and does work with crystals along with Kristen as well, and so where do you fall in the world of mysticism? Because that’s also one of the things that you’re most looking forward to the second half of life.
Brett: Well, mystic is one of those things, who knows what it means really, but it’s like I started a long time ago with this meditation thing, I mean, with the Quest Institute and all of that, and so in that practice, you had — I mean, it was an intense meditational practice with a whole lot of inner work associated with it and, in that, I had some pretty amazing experiences that some people might call religious experiences or awakenings. And it’s like I don’t walk around talking about that all the time, but what it did do is sort of open me up to a bigger world and a bigger realization of the world that we’re in, at least for me, and so one of the things that happens is I look at people through that lens of, you know, we’re in a really much bigger storyline, a big picture here than a lot of people are connected to, including me a lot of the times when I’m talking to people, and so what I say is a mystic really is just sort of landing in the beauty and the mystery of life and just trying to stay connected to that when I’m interacting with people because that helps me to appreciate the beauty and the mystery of us all. And that whole notion of this framework of mystery and beauty and connection, that’s a very sort of woo-woo-esque sort of thing but, for me, it’s actually a really — it’s an experience. It’s not an idea. It’s something I actually feel and experience. So, again, this is the kind of thing I lead with a lot and it’s not what I try to get people to do in my practice and my coaching. It’s not like I’m saying, “Well, if you do these things, you’re gonna have an experience where we’re one with everything.” It’s like I’d be happy if that happens for people but that’s not the objective. The practices are to learn how to open a door where some kind of connection to something and a notion or experience of you as being bigger than you thought you were, and whenever that happens in a real way and not just an imaginary way, not just a thought but you actually experience it, oh, my god, my world, my moment, my experience of myself, there’s so much more about me than I realized, then that’s in the direction of what I would call mystical growth. But I don’t call it that. Did that make sense?
Billy: Yes, it did. It did. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Brian: It’s a practical experience for you. I was going to say that doesn’t sound like mysticism at all to me, that sounds very practical. Your connection to it is very practical.
Brett: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s sort of like in a very fundamental way, like one of my teachings is just appreciating small little moments, like you go out and you see a flower, you go out and you see a mountain and you look at it and when you see it, you go, “Oh, wow,” so I give this assignment to a lot of my clients, I say notice what lights you up because there’s magic in just the noticing. Just the noticing. “Oh, this is one of those light up moments that Brett talks about.” Notice, “Oh, wow. Yeah, that feels really good,” and then when you do notice it, you just make a conscious choice to just hang out with the beauty that you’re experiencing, that lit experience, for an extra two or three seconds so just take a breath and breathe into it. You don’t make it like the roof is blowing off but you don’t make it too small either. You don’t go, “Oh, look, that’s the best thing I ever saw,” and now what about this other thing, you don’t just move on to your phone. Just say, “Oh, wait. I’m just gonna hang here with this mountain or this sunset or this sky or this puppy or this face or this music or whatever it is for an extra moment, take a breath, and go, yeah, that feels really good.” Now, that moment of connection, if you really dive into it, is a purely mystical experience because you’re really connecting to beauty or something bigger than you, because beauty is way bigger than me. You look at a mountain and you go, “Whoa,” that whoa is because you’re connecting with something that is fundamental, that’s simple, that’s primal, and that is universal, in a way. It’s like magnificence. Majesty. That majesty will be here long after I’m gone, it was here long before I was here. You connect to that, like it expands you for a moment. You just hang out with that and you yourself then become expanded. So that’s how it’s practical embodied to me.
Billy: That all sounds so poetic and the way that you say the beauty and mystery of life I think ties in perfectly to the language of mindfulness. What we’re going to do is we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue talking to Brett Hill about the language of mindfulness. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with mindfulness coach Brett Hill and, Brett, you have said that, in college, you decided the limits of what we can achieve and the quality of our lives is dependent on our ability to communicate well. Tell us how you came to that conclusion and how you see that play out in our daily lives.
Brett: Oh, wow, that was a really big decision. I was in college and like a lot of college young adults, I was really confused about what the heck am I going to do now. It’s like, you’ve got a giant amount of future in front of you and a lot of potential ways you can go and so I’m thinking, “Well, how do I even go about figuring this out?” Now, my parents had a path prescribed for me. My dad took me aside and said, “Son, I really don’t care what you do as long as you’re a doctor,” and so it’s like, oh, okay, well, thanks for the freedom —
Billy: At least he didn’t care what you did.
Brett: I’m not making that up, that’s literally what he said. And so it’s like, and so I set out to be in premed and I started taking organic chemistry and I took about one week of organic chemistry and I said, “No, this is not just chemistry, this is abuse.” I mean, these guys were abusive. It’s like, “Okay, read the first 150 pages, come back with 4,000 of these formulas memorized and there’ll be a quiz,” and I’m going, “No, wait, wait. This is a setup, I can tell.” They’re trying to weed us out and I’m going — and this is just the beginning of a gauntlet that’s going to last about four years and I’m going, “I am just not down for that.” And so I thought, you know, what makes sense? And I started thinking really, really hard, it’s one of those like what is the nature of reality sort of obsessions, kind of like what really matters, and I was really deep into it and I just remember walking down the street on campus and looking around and thinking, the thing that makes this all work is us being able to talk to each other and communicate with each other. If I can’t express my feelings or complex project or how well we do that, if we couldn’t do that very well, we’re not going to be able to do anything and I just decided that’s the foundation. So I’m fascinated with these foundational concepts. If you could wave a magic wand and improve every conversation in your life, would that make your life better? Yes. Would it make the world better? Yes. So there’s not a lot of things you could wave a magic wand that would improve everything like that and so I said, “That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna focus,” and so I got a degree in interpersonal communication and had been focused on how that works, how communication works. And not only that, how do we communicate with ourselves, like the technical term is intra-psychic, that doesn’t mean like woo-woo psychic, it’s like psychology, the intra-psychological part, like how do we work inside ourselves as well because what goes on in here turns out a lot of what goes on outside as well.
Brian: Fellow com major, I’m giving you a shout-out.
Brett: Man, yeah.
Brian: I was also a communication major, yeah.
Brett: Nice. Nice, so did you take like persuasion and —
Brian: Yeah, all that, most definitely.
Brett: Oh, man, that stuff is amazing.
Brian: I know, it really is. Did you have the soap opera classes at all where you had to watch soap operas and then report on the styles of soap operas?
Brett: No, we never did that but that would be a great example.
Billy: It sounds like Brett went to a real college.
Brian: Maybe that’s true. I wondered why the diploma was written on a napkin.
Billy: What college in Wisconsin. So, Brett, with all due respect, you’re a few years older than we are and so, for you to have this epiphany in college, that seems such light years ahead of where we’ve been here, even the last few years, like it feels like interpersonal communication and mindfulness is coming to the forefront here maybe in the last 10, 15 years or something like that, and it sounds like you were so far ahead of the curve. So, as you had these conversations with people around you, I’m curious, what were people’s responses to it?
Brett: Well, when I was in college at the time, obviously, you’re in a little bubble when you’re in communications classes because everybody there is committed to learning more about communications and so you lose a little bit of grounding in the way other people are thinking, which is very practical, or I should say very pragmatic about, “Well, let’s get these things done. Let’s figure out these formulas. Let’s figure out the latest, let’s say, political theory.” It’s all very, very focused. In college, you get these big bubbles of these schools of thought and you really get meshed in it and immersed in it and that’s what it’s for, that’s what you’re supposed to do. So it’s not ’til you bust out of that that you start walking out in the world and going, “Oh, you know what, people don’t really care about persuasion theory out here yet,” and now it’s called marketing, but, back in the day, it was like, “What do you use this for?” So you’re right in the sense that I was kind of thinking a little bit of out of the box but I’ve always kind of been that way. Like I said, with the computers, I kind of jumped on early and I’ve always been sort of a really early adopter. Now the problem is, I started doing somatic psychotherapy, mindfulness forms of therapy before it was a thing. It was like mindfulness was this woo-woo thing that was considered basically a religion, no one had even heard of that. There certainly weren’t any books on it and no one taught it in college. And now, after doing this for 30 years, basically, 20, 30 years, now they’ve got these certifications coming up and you can be a certified mindfulness coach. So, I’m not certified, because they didn’t have the certifications whenever I studied this stuff. And so it’s kind of like, well, should I go sit through a $17,000 certification class so I can get a stamp on stuff I’ve been doing for two decades? I don’t know, it’s a little bit backwards. So that’s the problem with being an early adopter is the industry grows up around you and you’re looking back and you’re going, “Hey, wait, I don’t qualify for these new gates,” which to me seemed like they’re new things but to a lot of people, they’re like — and I’m not really complaining, that’s just the way it works whenever you’re kind of on the first wave, so to speak.
Billy: So you brought up the somatic experience and you also focused on the somatic experience and the importance of identifying just how an emotion physically feels. So, can you explain what the somatic experience is and why do you feel these are so important to developing a growth mindset?
Brett: Wow, that is a great question. Here’s a quote from Eckhart Tolle, “The body is always in the moment,” and so you can learn to reference a feeling or a physical experience that’s happening right now as a way to sort of short circuit a lot of mental noise. So, if I’m dealing with a lot of anxiety myself or my head is racing, if I can just focus on my breath and notice something beautiful and connect with that and notice how that feels, it just interrupts this train, this freight train of emotion and thought of worrying and freaking out about whatever and it’s a neurological thing, it’s a way of interrupting the circuitry that’s just on automatic, by, on purpose, focusing on my in the moment experience. So I can just notice, “Oh, man, I’m having this freight train of emotion just kind of carrying me away,” and that doesn’t feel very good and I’m really just imagining things about tomorrow or yesterday that aren’t happening right now and if I notice what’s happening right now, there’s really nothing bad happening right now. And if I can just connect to that, and maybe I can feel like, “Oh, this tension feels bad,” I mean, if I feel into it, I noticed I don’t really like it, I could take a breath and begin to relax it because I took a moment to sense into this constriction that I have or the way I’m walking down the hall and I noticed my shoulder is kind of up in the air and you go, “Hey, that really doesn’t feel good.” Breathing into that and it wants to be a different way but it can’t be a different way unless I notice it. So that’s one thing is just paying attention so that you know what kind of water you’re swimming in. And when you do, very often, people start to notice, “You know, I’d really rather have a different experience and I can if I would just relax or let go.” There’s no harm, no foul in doing that. You’re not letting go of — you’re not saying that the things that you’re concerned about aren’t worthy of being concerned about, you’re just changing the way you relate to that concern.
Billy: It’s amazing that you bring that up because that’s exactly how I was able to identify when I was having anxiety attacks and I talked about this in episode 3 where I could feel it stir up in my stomach and then it would make its way up to my chest and before I learned how to manage that through mindfulness, it would just go all the way up right into my neck and it would go into my thoughts, into my brain, and then I would just spiral around in this —
Brett: Yeah, then the whole thing is wired up and you can’t get out of it, yeah.
Billy: Yeah, yeah. And then there were times when I finally was able to manage it after having established a mindfulness practice, as soon as it would start to bubble up in my stomach and it would rise up, I’d be like, “Oh, hey, wait, you’re having an issue right now, you’re having an anxiety attack right now,” so now that you know that, let’s just kind of keep it where it is and then —
Brett: So what do you do? What exactly are the mechanics of keeping it where it is?
Billy: Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, it was the acknowledgment of it because I would be standing in front of my class doing a presentation or leading a lesson and the next thing I know, all of a sudden, I can start physically feeling it bubble up. And a lot of times, we are running on automatic and because we run on automatic and we don’t listen to our body, then we just blow right by all the signals that our body is trying to communicate to us and so I would have these inner monologues and I would say, “All right, you’re starting to feel this. Now just keep it where it’s at. So let’s keep it where it’s at. Let’s breathe. Let’s get through this explanation of this lesson and then once you get the students working, go back and sit down at your desk and let’s do some breathing exercises so that we can lower the level of that stress,” or whatever was causing me the anxiety.
Brett: And so you say the words to yourself, “Let’s keep it where it’s at,” and you breathe and that is sufficient to cause it to not jump out at you and take over?
Billy: Correct. I name it, that was one of the strategies that I learned was name it to tame it.
Brett: Naming it. Huge. That’s so huge, because in that naming, you begin to create separation between your experience and you. It’s not like, “I’m having a panic attack,” it’s kind of like, “Oh, something in me is anxious and nervous and it feels like this,” rather than I am someone who has a panic attack, because once an identity is I, the me, I’m associated with this thing and they’re kind of glued together, and when you can name it, you can say, “Oh, it’s a thing that’s in my world but it’s not who I am.”
Billy: Exactly. And a lot of times, I didn’t know what it was that was causing the anxiety. It would just pop into me and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, wait, hey, I recognize this feeling. Let’s do what I can here to keep it at bay,” and then you’ll go back and use a little bit more — use a deeper strategy in order to alleviate whatever was causing that stress. And so, as we get better at that, how does that affect the way that we communicate mindfully? And what does mindful communication look and sound like?
Brett: Well, it can look and sound differently, depending on the circumstance and so that’s one of the things I’ll say is that when you’re mindfully communicating, one of the beautiful things, and it’s really beautiful, is you have the range and the freedom to be able to adapt to what is necessary. And that, to me, is the most beautiful aspect of it. It’s like — or one of the most beautiful aspects. It’s like there are times when I need to just be listening and just shut up, and so I’ll notice, I’m like, “Take a breath, just take a breath and let this person talk.” This is a skill I call managing the spotlight. It’s like letting someone else have the attention for a while. I don’t have to take it and make it about, “Oh, that reminds me of…” and, “Yeah, I really get what you’re saying and…” I don’t have to do anything, just be present with what they’re saying and be a friend, be a colleague, be someone who can bear witness to someone else’s experience without making it about you. There’s a time for that. There’s actually a lot more need for that than people realize. So one of the things that can look like is saying a lot less. There can be a lot more spaciousness in a conversation but the weird thing about it is it starts to feel so much more full. It’s kind of like, as the word density gets smaller, the intensity gets higher and suddenly you’ve got this really meaningful, deep connection going on because you created space for that to emerge instead of trying to fill it up with the top of mind responses.
Billy: It’s funny that you bring that up. I know that I struggle with wanting to respond to somebody and like waiting for my turn to speak and I’ve noticed that these season 3 episodes have been shorter because the people that we’ve come on, they just know the material so well and they know their information so well that they’re able to just answer concisely. And, sometimes, they answer so concisely that I miss what they’re saying because I’m anticipating that they’re going to go on and on and on and then, all of a sudden, there’s that pause and it’s like, oh, you just delivered the best answer and I missed it because I was in a headspace where I was like, “Okay, this person is gonna talk more and more about this and give us more and more examples.” They don’t need to, they just gave us a really, really good concise response, which is something that I’ve never been good at.
Brett: Yeah. Well, I hear what you’re saying and I can appreciate that because I have my own podcast and so whenever guests aren’t necessarily — I have this meter or dial in my head, I say how extroverted is this guest, because — and I try to get a read on that right away because if they’re really extroverted, I don’t have to worry, I can ask them a question and they’re going to roll. But if they’re somebody who’s like you’re saying, they’re either kind of middle of the road or they’re concise, then, as the host, you kind of keep it moving along and I notice myself, I have this thread going, “Well, I hope they don’t stop right here because I need a follow-up connection and it needs to take them to the next thing.” I notice that thread going and it does take me out of this rapport and this moment so there’s a difference between this formal podcasty conversation and just a regular sort of, hey, it’s just two people having a brew. It’s a little different kind of context but I totally relate to what you’re saying, if you don’t mind me taking the spotlight here.
Billy: That is spot on because — and it’s funny that you mention the introvert piece, because Kristen Brown is a perfect example. She is a fierce introvert. Dr. Dawn Graham that we had on, she is also an introvert and they gave very concise responses. And Brian knows, when we were talking to Kristen, I was so off my game during that conversation because I’m scanning through the questions that we’re going to ask and then she’s answered so concisely and then I’m like, “Oh, wait, I missed what she was saying and now I don’t know where to go from here.” So it’s funny how you connect that language of mindfulness and communication all together with real experiences we have had here on the podcast.
Brett: Yeah, absolutely. So, Brian, would you say that you’re an introvert?
Brian: I’m most definitely not an introvert. Not at all. But I’m a co-host so I have to kind of reign myself in a little bit.
Billy: Brian knows his role on the show.
Brian: That’s right. I’m cast in a role and I play it well.
Billy: So, Brett, you quote neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who I’ve actually read his book Man’s Search for Meaning, I recommend it to everybody, it’s a beautiful, amazing book, and in it, he says between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and freedom. And if you’re into mindfulness, you’re probably laughing right now because you have seen that everywhere, you probably have it tattooed on your body somewhere because it’s so prominent in the mindfulness community. As a language and mindfulness coach, how do you foster this type of growth and freedom?
Brett: Well, yeah, so when I read that, I thought, man, that just — you talked about succinct, that’s it, because the thing that he named is what I just spoke about a minute ago where I said the freedom to choose is in this space of mindfulness and it just feels so rich when you’re in that space. And so what I try to do first of all is to help people realize, if you’re watching the video, it’s kind of like you got your hands together and what happens is stimulus response, like here comes somebody who says something to you and you just immediately come back with something and there’s no processing that goes, that’s what you mentioned earlier, it’s like automatic mode network, it’s kind of like, and neurologically what’s happening is the circuitry in your brain system, in your neurology, that is the most apt to fire, the one that takes the least amount of energy to respond is the one that takes control. So it’s like somebody comes in and says, “Hey, Brett,” and you immediately turn around and go, “Hey, what?” as opposed to, “Did you know that the TV tonight has got nothing new?” which would be like a really weird thing to respond because that circuit isn’t really ready and cued up, but the one that is the fastest, easiest response if someone says, “Hey, how you doing?” what’s the most likely thing you’re going to say back? “Fine,” right? “I’m fine. How are you?” Because you do that a million times in a year and so that’s the automatic response. Well, what if instead you decided to use that as a mindfulness technique and when someone says, “Hey, how you doing?” you stop and you think about it for a moment and you go, “Well, I don’t know, let me see.” I mean, you don’t say those words but you check in and you go, “I’m doing really great,” or, “You know, I’m not really doing so well,” and maybe you don’t say those words but you still use it as an opportunity to be present with your actual experience. And when you do that, you’re wresting control from this automatic network to creating a little space so that when you hear and you see things, there’s a moment of consideration, of pause, of freedom to choose. And in that moment, you can then consider, well, what’s really true? Okay, this guy or this woman comes in, they’re really angry, “You didn’t deliver this project on time and now this whole thing is behind.” Whoa, you get jangled, you go, “Well, what the heck? You gave me these unrealistic deadlines and these people don’t know what they’re doing,” whatever your defensive reaction is, it’s not that you aren’t right or that she’s right to do that, but you take a breath and you go, “Whoa, I’m noticing,” just like your panic attack, “Just I’m noticing I’m about to have a panic attack. I’m noticing I wanna be defensive.” Is that the best thing to do? Maybe, I don’t know, but let me see if there’s anything else. Maybe I could say, “So, what’s the problem? How is this impacting your world? Where did we get disconnected?” and you ask for information and you find out that she got some date wrong or maybe there’s a whole host of things that could have contributed to the problem. But reacting automatically defensively is likely not to be your best choice in those kinds of challenging scenarios. And that’s hard to learn. And it starts with mindfulness practice.
Brian: I’m likening this, see, I also had psychology along with my communication so I liken this to, I’m thinking of it in framework of id ego, super ego, so it sounds like mindfulness is more training your ego to listen to your super ego a little more to counteract the id a little bit in the example.
Brett: Yeah, so the point there being that there’s a brain function, the prefrontal cortex has this administrative function in our minds where it can kind of sit back and do this kind of like super monitor, kind of like you can turn your world into the theater of your world, like all these things are happening in my world, “Oh, here’s a person who’s standing in my office and they’re challenging me and I’ve got a million things to do and I don’t feel good,” and there’s a part of you that can just be in touch with all of these truths, all these experiences, and not be in reaction to any of it and that’s a prefrontal cortex part of your brain. So, when that is functioning and available to you, you can land your awareness there and you have a lot more range of company, and so now the ego is kind of like, “Well, you chose me,” it’s like, “Well, this is all about me and my project,” it’s kind of like all wrapped up with this identification that if I don’t do well, then I’m bad somehow. Somehow, something in me is not good anymore. And because it’s so fundamentally about me, it’s not just that my project is being examined, it’s my actual nature that’s being examined. Am I actually an okay human now? And that’s why people get so wired up and reactive and defensive about their beliefs is because there’s no separation between what I believe and who I am.
Billy: It’s funny you bring that up because we referenced the book You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero quite a bit and she talks about the ego and how it’s the big snooze because it’s what gets in the way of us loving ourselves because, like you said, we too often either it’s way up here or it’s way down here and there’s no real in between with it and we’re either building it up almost to the detriment to where it’s going to crash down at some point.
Brett: Well, it has to because you can never live up to your ideals, the idea of what you want to have happen, there’s always going to be circumstances that you can’t control and then whenever those things go wild, suddenly your world is a wreck because your identity is associated with having things go the way you think they should. And when they don’t, then, suddenly, it’s not just that you’re disappointed because things didn’t go well, it’s like your world is really trashed and then you’re all bent out of shape and you can’t manage it and life sucks and who wants a life like that? Wouldn’t it be better to be in a world where you know who you are, you know who you are, you know that you’re a good person, you know that you do well most of the time. Hopefully, this is who people relate to, the upside of life as opposed to you know you’re a bad person, which is another problem. But it’s like, you know in your heart you want to feel good about yourself and your world and you want to be the best person you can be, and if you fall short of that, it’s not because you’re not trying, it’s just that, okay, we fall off our bicycle every now that, it happens. It doesn’t mean that I’m a crappy person in the world. And when you start questioning those things and you feel really good about who you are, you step into what I call your embodied authority. And when you speak from that place, it changes the way people relate to you and it changes the conversation. And it’s a big part of what mindfulness is about.
Billy: Well, we’re going to take a quick break because then when we come back, we want to talk about what that process is like when we talk about the language of mindfulness. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you’d like to contact us or if you have suggestions about what you’d like us to discuss, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Instagram at @Mindful_Midlife_Crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we reference throughout the show. Oh, and don’t forget to show yourself some love every now and then too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with mindfulness coach Brett Hill, and, Brett, why don’t you walk us through the five phases that you outline on your webpage here?
Brett: Well, the five phases are basically the process that we go through to learn what I’m calling this language of mindfulness process and it really starts with first helping people get really grounded in a mindfulness practice of some kind and so it’s important that those practices get tuned up for who people are because people are unique and so this is building a mindfulness foundation, I call it, and it’s sort of just the baseline practices that you have to have because, the truth is, it takes some work to build up the capacity to be mindful in more moments in your life than you are now. And that’s really prerequisite for all the things we’ve been talking about. Where you want to create this space, you have to have some capacity to have more spacious moments in your life than you do now or else you’re not really engaged in a practice that’s building mindful capacity for you. There are many techniques that you can use here and so part of what I like to do is to fine tune, like some people, the mindfulness practice might be more taking a walk than doing a meditation, for example, and so it depends on who you are. Then the next part —
Brian: Finding what works for you individually, of course.
Brett: Yeah, exactly, because there are some people who, like meditation is sort of the go-to practice for this and there’s a very basic blueprint for that that works and there are about half a dozen different forms that it can take, but there are some people who mindfulness meditation isn’t an option, like people who have some kind of trauma or they have ADD so much that it kind of is just a really bad experience for them to try to go inside and pay attention. There are other things that those people can do and so I want to be sure to give them the best chance possible by giving them an alternative way of approaching it. Once you’ve done this, though, because here’s the trick, so we talked about, okay, so the person comes in, they start yelling at you or they say something to you and instead of reacting, you take a breath. Wow, now you’ve got this range, now you’ve got this experience of, “I don’t have to be reactive,” but now here’s the question, now what? Now that you’ve got this freedom of choice, what do you do? What choices can you make? And so I’ll talk about various communication skills and techniques that you can apply from this mindful place and these are like superpowers now because you’re really applying them in a very conscious space. The next is to deepen this practice a little bit by using your senses to really fully connect to a bigger picture, sort of reframing the way we normally do communication. Lots of times, people, for example, one of the things that most people could benefit from is becoming really aware of body language so that’s an obvious physical component to our communication and the science says that we actually get like 80 percent of our information of communication and Brian knows this because he took the class —
Brian: And that’s why social media sucks so bad for communicating and why everybody ends up fighting.
Brett: I can’t communicate that to people who’ve been brought up on Twitter and Instagram, it’s kind of like they just don’t understand the differences, because most of my life has been in person and now the last part is in social media. And it’s great but it’s such a shoebox compared to being in present —
Brian: Absolutely. Oh, yeah.
Brett: So saying yes to connection, saying yes to a whole body experience, learning how to read people, so this is really, in a certain way, kind of a masterclass on how to read people in an authentic way, in service of learning how to really understand what’s going on on the other side of this conversation. Next, we talk about conversational detours so this is like phase 4, like things that can trip you up, like getting triggered, and your biases, like how do you know what your biases are, because we all have them, and getting more friendly with that. And then, finally, just deepening every day. So this is the deeper meditation, connecting in a more profound way and bringing in what I call the meta, the meta world, it’s sort of like this is paying attention to the ocean that we all swim in, the air that we all breathe, as a player in the field of what’s going on between us now.
Billy: It’s so great to hear you break all this down because, as you’re doing it, it all just reminds me of so many of the great things that we have heard so far from our previous guests. So, if you’re out there listening and you’re thinking, “I don’t know if this is really gonna work for me,” listen to all these people who all kind of come to the same conclusion and who are really living their best lives and who are doing great things. And I’ll be the first to say that, listen, selfishly, this podcast is kind of for me as well, like it’s kind of like the hair club for men, not only am I —
Brian: I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.
Billy: Yeah, yeah, it’s like that, because I’m listening to this and I’m trying to learn and I’m trying to grow as well because I have a lot of room to grow and I have a lot of room to learn yet. And so, in hearing, especially when you’re talking about navigating conversational detours, I’m reading the book, Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living by Tom Cody who we’re having on next week and he talked about understanding what your indicators are and what your invitations are that bring you below the line, so to speak, that puts you in your worst thought process. So all these things kind of blend in together and it’s really beautiful how you outline those five phases.
Brett: Well, thank you. I mean, you’re right in the sense that there’s a — we talked about my role of mystic, there’s a saying about mystics, that all mystics speak the same language. And so you’re addressing this, like under the hood here, we’re all human beings. We all have a neuro nervous system and they behave — they’re programed a little differently but the wiring kind of works similarly and so if I take a breath and focus on my breath and I pay attention to that for five minutes, that has an effect and if I took 10,000 people and asked them about the effect, 9,900 of them would be very similar because our neurology is the same and so —
Brian: Brett, you’re very wise. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just wanted to say the thought you just had, I just saw two days ago, to add some credibility to what you’re saying, almost word for word from the Dalai Lama. So, I mean, we’re all human beings, in order to get more compassionate, I just think that the person across from me is just like me, that was the gist of his post so I just wanted to give you a little credibility there from —
Brett: Well, thank you. I mean, there’s a mindfulness technique they teach in mindfulness-based stress reduction classes and others and there’s an exercise called Just Like Me, literally, where you, you know, here’s a person who’s got two eyes just like me, here’s a person who walks through the world just like me, and if you really think about it, and this isn’t actually an exercise that I give, it’s a version of that, go into a grocery store or some place where you can see a lot of people and you look around at everybody, every face you can see, and you think to yourself, “That person has a really deep story. They have a family, they have a history, they have a connection, they have hopes, they have dreams. They have things that they wish for. They’ve been hurt, they’ve had successes, they’ve had victories. They have people they care about. They know what it means to be ill. They know what it means to be alive,” and you just look at everybody and you realize we all have this incredible depth and it’s so humbling and connecting. And I’m not speaking a word to anybody, I’m just realizing this moment. Then you go to a cashier and you’re checking out and it’s the same thing about this cashier, there’s a person there with all these, what’s it like to be someone who’s on the other side of this and they see 500 faces a day for 20 seconds. What’s that like? And so whenever they say, “How you doing?” I make an extra point to say, “I’m doing really well,” or whatever is true for me, and I say, “How about you?” And you’d be surprised, just a little like, “Yeah, they said something back, thank you,” you’ll get a little nod, “Oh, god, that guy saw me as a human, not a machine,” and it’s not a big deal but it’s just a little practice I have.
Billy: It’s funny that you bring that up. I have been trying to seek out ways in order to engage our Instagram followers a little bit more and one of the tips I got was send a personal message to your new followers. Each time you get a new follower, send a message to them. And so I just said, okay — and that takes a lot for me to do just because, I don’t know, that’s out of my comfort zone. I can do this podcast all day but to send a message on social media is a little bit out of my comfort zone, especially to someone who I don’t know —
Brett: Well, we can see now — we could drill into that, I get really curious about.
Billy: We might have to do that.
Billy: But for today, I sent a message to five people and one of them responded back and said, “Hey, I just wanna thank you for taking the time to actually look through my profile and send me a personalized message, that really means a lot,” and we’ve connected and just kind of exchanged a few messages here and there but he is doing like a master’s program on higher consciousness and I’m like you need to be a guest on our show because I want to know what a master’s in higher consciousness or what studying higher consciousness looks like. So he sounds like a very interesting dude. I cannot wait to have more conversations with him. So when you’re working with people, where do they usually get stuck when they’re attempting to communicate more mindfully? You’ve talked a little bit about this but can you elaborate on that?
Brett: Well, people get stuck in their habits, basically, so it’s like we all have triggers and we all have habits and so it’s really challenging to bring enough force of change into your neurology to give you the opportunity to behave differently. And so that’s one of the things that happens is that people just have such habituated ways of responding that they’re very difficult to unlearn. And it’s not like you really want to unlearn them, you just want to not rehearse them again and again and again. It’s not like you’ve learned how to dive off a diving board one way and now you have to learn to dive another way, it’s just that it’s so easy for us to say, “Hi, how are you? Oh, I’m fine,” that’s so easy, it’s so hard wired that it’s difficult to breathe in enough space there. So I pick on these very low hanging fruit scenarios like, “Hey, how are you?” because there’s very little risk there. Okay, that’s one thing. It’s another thing when somebody comes in and says, “You know, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the way you do that.” Oh, my god, suddenly, you’re all jangled. Those are more higher risk and there’s more at stake. And so I have a saying that if you want to be mindful under stress, you have to practice when you’re not. And so it’s really important to do the exercises that I give and the practices that we talk about routinely when we’re not freaked out so that you can have them whenever you are under stress.
Brian: It’s exactly the same as if, say, a pole vaulter were to go ahead and just try the world record jump the first time without doing any other jumps, it just doesn’t make sense. You have to practice anything to get good at it.
Brett: You do, absolutely. It’s not rocket science. If you want to play a guitar, you’ve got to practice scales or chords. It’s the same thing. And so we’re training our brain, but this is all woo-woo training, because, what, are you going to watch my thoughts as you’re training my brain? Well, yes, it is, and it’s probably the most important thing you could do in your life because this goes back to communication, this is going to raise all those boats, this is going to improve everything in your life, personally and professionally. So that was part one was the habituated processes. And the other part of it is self-judgment. People think they’re really bad at stuff, like what happens in traditional mindfulness or what often happens with people when they start doing mindfulness work? You close your eyes, you take a breath, you start paying attention to your thoughts, to your breathing, and 2.79 seconds later, there’s a, “This sucks, I don’t know what I’m doing. This is boring. This is bad. I suck at this.” There’s a voice, and you start noticing things are pretty chaotic in there and I’m not doing this right, and so there’s a judgment about that. And if you believe that judgment, then going inside feels bad. And so this is something you have to kind of separate out and it can be hard for people to say, rather than, “Oh, I am bad at meditation,” remember, there’s the identity again, “I am bad at this,” instead, I’m having a voice that isn’t happy about this. I’m having a voice that says I’m bored. I’m having a voice that says I’m no good at this.
Billy: I like how you said that because we often will try and reframe students who say, “I’m bad at math,” to instead say, “I am thinking that I am bad at math.” Okay, what is causing you to think that right there?
Brett: Yeah, yeah. And so, in some ways, I’m not so interested in the cause at this stage because that starts to get into a layer of coaching or psychotherapy because, sometimes, very frequently, when people have these judgments, you weren’t born with that, you weren’t born with the idea that, “I suck at life,” or, “I’m someone who’s unlucky or undeserving,” so somehow you learned that from your experience in life and maybe somebody told you that, maybe you had a super critical upbringing, somebody who’s saying, “Well, you’ll never be good at XYZ,” or, “How come you are always short of…?” and you hear that enough and you internalize that voice. That’s one way, there’s a lot of other ways but that’s one way that that happens. So it’s not really even your voice, you just think it is. And so I try to just get to the place where you can just name it. And if you need to go in and figure out where it comes from, then, we can do that too.
Billy: So it’s interesting that you talk about self-judgment because in one of your podcast episodes, you also talked about how judgment can get a bad rap sometimes and that it can be used for good but there’s always that line where it goes too far. So can you elaborate on the importance of judgment and when too much is a bad thing but then when it can also be a good thing?
Brett: Well, right. There are people who are proud of their snap judgments. It’s kind of like they don’t want to take in any information, they just want to judge it, right or wrong, good, bad, up, down, thumb up, thumb down instantly, and then you can’t get them to move off of that despite the facts, because they’re attached to their judgment. Then there are people who don’t make judgments at all. “I can’t make a judgement. I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.” They’re afraid to declare. So people are always on a spectrum of like, “I don’t wanna make a decision. I don’t wanna make an assertion,” to, “I make too many.” Now, in mindfulness, one of the principles and practices of mindfulness is a thing they call being non-judgmental. Now, the appropriate application of that is, let’s say, again, I’m noticing I’m having a voice, voice says I’m terrible at this, I shouldn’t even be trying, if I’m noticing that I’m having this voice and I just say, “Oh, I’m having a voice,” I’m not judging the fact that I have a voice, I’m not buying what the voice, I’m just noticing. This is a fact. It’s just a fact. The fact is there’s a voice in my mind and it’s telling me I’m no good at those. Versus I’m just terrible because I have this voice in my head. That’s a judgment. So there’s a big difference between the two. Now, people in kind of the be here now crowd, which I’m a member of that crowd, they go a little too far with this notion of being non-judgmental because you have to be able to say, “Well, which shoes am I gonna wear? What plane am I gonna fly on?” You have to be able to plan and make judgments. And our ability to make effective judgments is instrumental to our ability to be effective as people. We have to be able to judge. Is this politician worth voting for? That’s a judgment. And so, these days, I call it a crisis of discernment, actually, more than judgment because I like to use the word “discernment” but they’re kind of joined at the hip, if you know what I mean.
Billy: I would say you are exemplifying the language of mindfulness when you say it like that. I like that.
Brett: Thank you. Yeah. So, I spent a long time thinking about this stuff and one of the one things I had to learn is that thinking about mindfulness is not being mindful. I’m in the shower and I’m thinking about, “Well, now, I can explain it this way, I can’t explain it this way,” and I’m going, you know, Brett, you’re really kind of overthinking and this isn’t being mindful, and I go, oh my god, I have to really remember this.
Billy: Well, Brett, we want to thank you for the thought that you have put into the language of mindfulness. We want to thank you so much for sharing those thoughts with us. Once again, you can go to www.languageofmindfulness.com and learn all about Brett. He’s got tips there for you. The five phases are there. He also has a video clip there how to start a mindfulness meditation practice. And, of course, take a listen to Brett’s podcast, The Language of Mindfulness, and you can find that wherever you get your podcasts. Brett, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
Brian: Thank you.
Brett: Hey, it’s my privilege. Thank you so much.
Billy: So for Brett, for Brian, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.