The Secret to a healthy mind

Imagine someone who absolutely needs to be in the moment.

For safety’s sake.

Say someone like a surfer who is out there in the ocean hanging ten.

Picture this surfer riding a huge wave.

Can you see how thoughts don’t help the surfer?

What’s the surfer doing? Paying attention to the wave!

Information about what to do comes via insights arising in the moment.

There are no predetermined, premeditated actions or thoughts that can help.

What happens if the surfer on that massive wave focuses on what coulda/woulda/shoulda been done or worries about what will happen later in the day?

That’s right. Wipeout!

I love this observation that Alex Mill shares in his book, ‘Meditation and reinventing yourself’.

We can all relate to his example of the surfer wiping out, right?

Because it is dramatic and potentially life-threatening.

But what about wiping out in much more ordinary, everyday, non-life-threatening ways?

Wiping out is living in our heads and trying to wilfully think our way through life.

Living in our heads is when we worry about the future, chew over the past, fret when things do not seem be going our way, over-analyse and many other ways of over-employing our thinking.

Why do we do it?

It is the illusion of control, fueled by insecure thinking. We think that if we do not try to control our world then something bad is going to happen.

But do you see the paradox?

The attempt to control IS the bad thing happening!

Life does not lend itself enough to control to make it a viable way to live.

The secret to a healthy mind

On an almost daily basis I see articles in the media about how to have a healthy mind.

The one I read today was called, ‘Lockdown brain; how to talk yourself out of a negative thought’.

How can you experience a quieter mind by doing more thinking?

The more thought you use to try and get rid of thought the bigger the problem will seem. The advice dished out by many so-called ‘experts’ does not work.

So, what does?

Several years ago, I was working with my coach, Annika Hurwitt, and she said to me:

‘John, you get present really easily, but I also notice that you tend to drift off sometimes and I wonder to myself, “where is he going now?”‘

When she said that I remember both laughing and feeling a little embarrassed too, but it was also incredibly helpful.

I realised that noticing when you are not here brings you back into the here.

Michael Singer wrote in his wonderful book, ‘The Untethered Soul’:

“There is nothing more important to true growth than realising you are not the voice of the mind – you are the one who hears it. If you don’t understand this, you will try to figure out which of the many things the voice says is really you.”

For our intellectual mind this is way too simple – surely there must be a process or some steps to follow?


There are no techniques, no steps to follow and no talking yourself out of your thinking

Just notice.

This is enough.

As we notice and come back into the present, just as Alex points out:

‘Information about what to do comes via insights arising in the moment’.  

The intelligence is built into the system.

P.S. If this resonates with you then I would love to hear from you. 

Being unapologetically you

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Joseph Campbell

Just recently I came to the end of a six-month coaching programme I have been participating in.

To close the programme out we did a final Zoom call and there we about 35 of us on the call. We were each given a little time to share what brought us the most value.

It was super inspiring to hear from everyone but the one that I remember the most was my friend Nathaniel saying he realised he could live his life being ‘Unapologetically me’.

He said he no longer compared himself to others. He was now only working with clients he truly wanted to work with. He was listening more deeply to himself and following his own wisdom, rather than the well-meaning advice of other people.

I was reflecting on this and it seems to me that we are at our happiest when we are being ourselves.

This is why children spend so much time being happy. They have yet to create a ‘self-image’ and so spend no time and effort trying to live up to one.

Spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, observed that as soon as we enter the world we go into ‘Somebody training’. He wrote:

What happens to most of us, and I say most of us, is that when you and I were born, we were born into a social-psychological world, a world with feelings and thoughts, that was inhabited by people who were very identified with their separateness. They were somebody. They were mummy or daddy. They were also this and this and this and this, and they were all the different identities they had, and they trained you about those realities, because those are the realities that were real to them.’

So, you start to identify with your thoughts about who you are and present to the world an image of who you think it should see.

And the more invested you are in this image, the more stressful and exhausting life becomes because it takes a huge amount of effort to try to stay in line with it. For many people it becomes a full-time job.

The gift of service

The ability to deeply touch and serve people emerges from your willingness to be you.

Otherwise we are just game playing.

To be yourself means that you are making yourself vulnerable. Being honest not only about your successes but also your struggles, mistakes, and insecurities. You own it all.

The ego sees this as weakness, but it is really strength.

When you look at other people what do you see?

Do you see their ‘somebody’ or can you see through the separateness and connect with your shared humanity?

If you experience someone who seems sharp or abrasive does this bring up judgement in you or can you see through that to the human being behind their defence mechanism?

A more wonderful experience of being alive

Isn’t this what we are all looking for? It is just that we are looking in the wrong place.

You can work hard to acquire material wealth, money, or status and that is all fine, but none of it will bring you closer to who you are.

Being unapologetically you is the willingness to surrender the illusion of the ‘somebody’ and connect with your true identity.

P.S. If you want to explore this more deeply two favourite books of mine are, ‘Second Chance’ by Sydney Banks and ‘The book of Secrets’ by Deepak Chopra

Imagination – it’s useful but can it predict the future?

I will never forget 15th October 1987.

Michael Fish, the BBC weather man, said:

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way… well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”

I left my house the following morning to go to work and whilst driving down the road I saw a tree down and thought, “Wow, that must have been a strong wind last night!”

Then a few hundred yards further on I turned the corner and was greeted with the most extraordinary scene. Hundreds of trees down. Cars smashed up. Houses with roofs torn right off.

Here we are again, decades later, and amid another extraordinary situation.

Yet something has not changed.

Despite technology, huge amounts of data, and some of the brightest minds in their fields, we are still not able to predict the future with any certainty. The variation in predictions of the virus and its effects have been enormous.

This is not a criticism of people who are undoubtedly doing their best, it is simply an observation.

Our gift as humans is that we have this extraordinary ability to imagine the future.

This can be an intelligent thing to do. It can help us anticipate, prepare, and get through situations better.

Yet as soon as we begin to add uncertainty into the mix, we can end up scaring the living daylights out of ourselves.

Why does this happen?

What the mind will do when we feel uncertain and insecure is create thoughts about a future that we do not want to experience. Such as catching the virus, having no money, or losing everything.

Thoughts can and do create very powerful emotional experiences and this is why we forget that we are experiencing thought and instead it seems that our circumstances are directly responsible.

But do circumstances directly cause feelings? Is this even possible?

Surveys have shown that for many people, public speaking is more frightening to them than death. Jerry Seinfeld joked that people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy!

But it is also true that many of those people taking part in these surveys have never spoken in public. So, what they are responding to is their thinking about speaking in public.

They really do not know how they would respond in a real public speaking situation. For all they know they could be amazing. I have seen this happen… people who have got up for the first time in front of an audience and were brilliant!

This goes for everything else in life too.

How many times have you allowed your imagination to run wild with uncertainty and felt terrible as a result?

We can worry about money, work, relationships, health, the state of the country and all manner of things. When we try to predict the future, we will often pick the worst-case scenario and use this to make decisions.

You do not have to do this.

When we see the nature of thought and how it is creating our moment to moment experience of life it brings us back into the present.

When you are ‘in the moment’, rather being than lost in a load of erroneous thinking, you are well equipped to make wise, intelligent decisions.

You can be present to what is and not what might be.

The future is uncertain. How can it be anything but?

Yet rather than this being something to fear, by understanding the true nature of the system we are part of, we can navigate through life with ease, intelligence and, for the most part, enjoyably.

Why I stopped meditating

‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I remember getting curious about meditation, probably twenty years ago or maybe even longer. Reading the local newspaper one day I saw that there was going to be a local talk on Transcendental Meditation (TM) and so I went along with a friend.

I was inspired by what I heard and in 2001 was taught TM by Jonathan Hinde. From then on, I meditated, as you do with TM, twice a day, every day.

The purpose of meditation is to experience the meditative state. To allow thought to drop away and to experience a more silent, peaceful state of consciousness. There is extensive scientific and credible research on the many benefits of TM.

It certainly helped me.

For example, about six months after I began to meditate, I decided to sell my financial business and become a coach. I had been unhappy and dissatisfied for a while and yet it wasn’t until I got clearer in my mind that I decided a change in course. I attributed my decision to the increased clarity of mind I got through meditation.

I was very committed to my twice a day practice and I was utterly convinced that I would continue it for the rest of my life. There were times when my meditations were so deep that I got a truly extraordinary feeling of presence, connection and peace.

And there were also plenty of times my mind was so busy it felt like I got nothing, but Jonathan said that the regularity was the key.

In 2012 I attended a three-day seminar being given by Dr. Dicken Bettinger on the Three Principles. Dicken has a wonderful presence and way of talking and on that first morning, I had an incredibly powerful insight into the nature of being present.

I cannot convey the feeling I got with words. All I can say is that I realised that being present is a wonderful feeling and has nothing whatsoever to do with time. That feeling I got lasted for weeks and weeks. It was like one long, very deep meditation.

When I got back after those three days, I stopped the practice of meditating. There was no thought about stopping. It was not a decision I had to make, it just didn’t seem to make sense to do it anymore. I have even tried to go back to it a few times and even though I do very occasionally meditate I have not gone back to it on a regular basis.

What I have seen is this. The wonderful feeling of presence is what we all have when our personal, habitual thinking drops away. Every single one of us has the potential to drop thinking so that we are left with a quiet peaceful mind. Even when our thinking is at its very worst, we are only ever a thought away from complete inner peace and harmony.

I realised that I didn’t need to follow a practice to experience a quiet mind. This is not to say I have a quiet mind all the time, because I don’t, but I now see that a quiet mind is a result of not doing rather than doing. The less attention I pay to my personal thinking – thoughts like worry, tension or simply over-thinking – the quicker I return to the present.

The understanding of what is creating our state of mind, moment by moment, is all we need to see. The understanding, rather than a practice, does the work for us.

The little understood power of the present moment

When we truly understand the power of the present moment, then it becomes the most important thing in our life.

I learned that to truly connect with others I had to be fully present with them.

I learned that happiness and contentment are not circumstance dependent; they are a function of how present we are in our lives.

I learned that to perform better in anything I do then the quality of my attention is the most important thing of all.

How much time do we spend in our heads?

I was listening to an interview with the renowned scientist Bruce Lipton when he said that research has shown that most of us spend only 5% (or less) of our time being present.

So, for a staggering 95%+ of the time people are thinking about the past or the future.

They are habitually chewing over lots of unnecessary thinking rather than being present with who they are with or what they are doing.

Of course, it is sometimes useful to remember the past or imagine the future, but Bruce was not talking about that.

He was talking about how disengaged most people are from being in life.

Holding a space for someone is when we are willing to drop all our thinking and be there for them completely.

This is a game-changer yet how many people practice it?

Most people ‘steal’ a conversation. They just can’t help jumping in with what they think.

Someone tells us they would love to retire to Spain and the next thing we do is get out our Spanish holiday snaps because we just know how interested they will be!

I have just returned from Phoenix where I met the legendary Steve Hardison.

Steve is coach to billionaires, pro-athletes, CEO’s. People pay him upwards of $200,000 per year to work with him.

They don’t pay him this because of what he knows. They pay him because of his extraordinary quality of presence.

I listened to him speak for a couple of hours and one of the things he said was:

“You get to choose – heaven or hell – every thought you have.”

Every single one of us experiences negative thinking and low moods, but as someone I know astutely said:

“The ultimate in narcissism is believing every thought because I thought it.”

When we identify with our thoughts, we create anxiety and our life becomes a living hell of separation from what we want.

But thoughts only have any power if we give it to them.

Fear and anxiety are thoughts of what might happen, not something that is happening in the present moment.

Eckhart Tolle in his book, ‘The power of now’ said:

“As long as you are identified with your mind, the ego runs your life.”

I have found that being present makes sense to almost everyone, but they then say:

“Ok, I get it but how do I do it? What’s the technique?”

But just as you cannot slow your bike by peddling faster you cannot experience a quiet mind by doing more thinking.

Your mind already knows how to return to presence and clarity without your conscious intervention – it is an allowing rather than a doing.

P.S. I have posted this short clip (about the present moment) before (1m45s) but it is genuinely funny. Click here.

Towards a fearless life

Very few people live a fearless life.

In fact, I only know of a tiny number of people who live truly fearlessly.

Byron Katie is one of them.

I’ve never met her personally, but I have read her books and been to see her speak in London.

At one time she suffered from depression, agoraphobia, overeating, and addiction.

Then she experienced an awakening at the age of 43. She said:

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”

Just recently I’ve been reading a book by Melissa Ford called ‘Living Service – the journey of a prosperous coach.

She had an awakening too when her coach asked her:

When are you going to stop living like you’re never going to die?

Isn’t this a powerful question to ask yourself?

When am I going to stop living like I’m never going to die?

As we come to the close of a year and the beginning of a fresh new one, what are you going to do?

Repeat the year you’ve just had or evolve?

Most people are sleepwalking through life with the same beliefs, habits, and insecurities they have always had.

They never question them.

They just accept them as though “This is just who I am?”

But is this true?

Are we the thoughts we have about ourselves? Or are we something else?

After all, we didn’t arrive with a self-image. New-born babies don’t arrive with a mind full of insecure thoughts.

We arrive as pure love.

The self-image comes later and it’s the source of virtually all our fears.

Taking on the feeling

When I go into my ego-based, fearful thinking (which still happens often) my coach showed me how to ‘take on the feeling’.

Byron Katie does the same thing with ‘The work’ (I highly recommend her book ‘Loving what is’).

When you feel discouraged, down, worried, anxious, not enough (or whatever ways you have of taking yourself down), take it on…

Make the enquiry:

Am I feeling what is real?

Or am I feeling my thought in the moment?

There can only be one answer.

We feel our thinking in the moment. And it’s not real. We don’t have to believe what we think.

A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to thoughts, that causes suffering.” Byron Katie

Learning to laugh at our foibles

Just how much success, money, fame, material goods, power, etc. would you need to eradicate your insecurities?

I recently read an article about the actor Brad Pitt and it was interesting to read how he is still beset by self-doubt.

He said:

‘It’s a constant battle. You gain wisdom as you get older, so self-doubt gets less, hopefully. But it’s universal, that battle in the mind between beating yourself up and finding a place of peace.’

Let’s reflect here for a moment.

Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors. He is not a bad looking bloke either (twice voted sexiest man alive) and he is reportedly worth £240m.

But he still feels self-doubt from time to time.

One of my favourite authors is the late Dr. David Hawkins and I read in one of his books a suggestion that you should write down your foibles.

So, I began to make a list. It is still growing but here is some of what I wrote:

I can sometimes feel low and negative. I can feel insecure about the future. I can take life too seriously at times. I have some insecure thinking around money. I experience self-doubt. I worry sometimes. I can fear rejection.

How it seems to me is that people can spend a lifetime, as Brad Pitt alluded to, having this battle in their mind between their insecurities and a place of peace.

But here is the thing…

This internal battle, if you make it a battle, is one that you can never win.

The fact is that, as a human being, you will experience insecure thinking, low moods and negative thinking. We have very little control over our thinking. We get what thinking we get.

This may seem somewhat defeatist, but we have something huge going for us too.

The capacity to understand what is happening in a completely new way.

Our insecurities and uncomfortable feelings are not caused by our circumstances. They are thought in the moment. They have no meaning unless we make meaning out of them.

No matter how bad you feel, you can only ever feel your thinking.

The only reason we hang on to insecure thinking and create a battle in our mind is because it does not look like thought.

I had someone say to me only last week, ‘I know we feel our thinking and all that, but this time it’s real. I’m really feeling what’s happening to me!’

When it seems as though there is real substance to what we are thinking it unsettles us and it leads to even more errant thinking.

But battling with our errant thinking does not make it go away.

The ego is reinforced by condemnation – beating yourself up with criticism or punishing yourself for your own thinking does not bring peace of mind.

It just adds fuel to the fire.

Real progress is when we see thought for what it really is. We can laugh at our foibles because we are seeing our humanness rather than getting caught up in the illusion.

The power behind the throne

The world we live in consists of the visible and the invisible. The form and the formless. The finite and the infinite.

The business world focuses almost exclusively on the form and what is visible.

If you want to improve results in any area – marketing, sales, leadership, management, communications or the game of life – there is a huge amount of help on offer.

How to think. How to behave. What to say. Strategy. Tactics. The 10 steps to… . The 7 habits of… .

A lot of fascinating material but how much does all this information help people?

Are we like robots who can simply follow the instructions of other people and get similar results?

Or does the invisible have far more to do with it than we may ever imagine?

What about…

Presence? Charisma? Timing? State of mind? Inspiration? Grace? Momentum? Creativity? Confidence? Resilience?

These and many other things are in the realm of the formless and yet are they any less real? Are they not the real power behind the throne?

People talk about the invisible dimension but the words can only point.

The business world likes what is concrete because the intellectual, conceptual mind loves form. It likes content, processes, steps and formulas.

To the intellect (and boy do we live from our intellects!) it is highly attractive to discover that to get what we want there is a process, a formula or some steps to follow.

Even though life does not lend itself to this approach.

The business world tends to struggle with the invisible, formless dimension.

I often hear people talk about mind-set, for example, but the talk is almost always about form.

People offer prescriptions – change your words, choose the mind-set you need, surround yourself with the right people, create a new set of habits, take a small step each day – the list must be endless!

Back in 2004, when I began coaching people, I focused on the form too. I thought that people just needed to know what to do. They needed a technique, strategy or instruction.

But I began to see inconsistencies.

For instance, with exactly the same information or technique, why did some people get great results whilst some got dismal results?

Why did people’s performance seem to randomly fluctuate (my own included)?

Why did some people change but others not?

I did not know the answer but when you sit with enquiry things show up. Often in unexpected ways.

A series of seemingly chance conversations lead me to the inside-out understanding and I had a huge ‘Ah-ha!, so this is what is going on!’

For the past seven years I have been pointing people towards this understanding and how it creates our moment to moment experience of life.

Has it all been plain sailing?


I stumbled around in the beginning. When sharing it with people you must be patient and stay present because the formless is difficult to grasp; the intellect is of no use whatsoever.

And some people do not hear beyond the words because the illusion they live in is precious to them.

But this is all fine with me.

Everything comes back to the understanding in the end because our experience of life is thought created – every problem or challenge we can ever face exists only in our thinking.

This is not to say there are not things in life we need to deal with or get through because, of course, there are. But if we see ourselves as victims of circumstance, being bullied or pushed around by our circumstances, then we lose our spark.

The world of form is limited whilst the world of the formless is limitless.

The clearer and deeper you see the mechanics behind how we perceive life the more you live with presence, intelligence and free from struggle.

Instant freedom from limiting beliefs

A client and I were in a coaching session and he had been sharing how he seemed to run into the same problem in his life, again and again.

The subject of beliefs and how pervasive they can be came up.

Beliefs are just thoughts yet when something looks true to us we live through those eyes. In fact, when we believe something to be true we are constantly gathering evidence to support it.

I shared the story of Ellie, a lady I met several years previously. She was beautiful, intelligent and talented. This is what I and others could see.

Yet Ellie could only see what she thought was wrong – with everything!

In other people she could only see their mistakes. In situations she could only see problems. In herself she only saw defects.

I remember, at a training event one time, Ellie was asked to evaluate the work of a colleague and the instruction was to begin with what she saw was good.

But what happened next was not what people were expecting at all!

The first words of her evaluation were, ‘Well, what I think is wrong with this is…’

She was stopped, reminded to begin with what she saw was good, and given another chance.

Her next words were, ‘Where I can see this is just not right is…’

Once again she was immediately stopped. The atmosphere got a little tense. We were all wondering what was going to happen next.

Ellie was asked if she understood the instructions. She said ‘Yes!’ She was asked if she could manage to carry them out, by starting with praise and she said ‘Yes!’

So, she was given another chance.

The next thing that came out of her mouth about her colleagues work was, ‘What I can see is wrong here…!’

Some people gasped. Others were open mouthed. I remember being fascinated.

What was going on?

The trainer was brilliant. He saw an opportunity and asked Ellie’s permission to explore why she responded in the way she did.

She agreed and we all sat in silence as the trainer skillfully asked questions and listened.

It turned out that when Ellie was a little girl her mother had entered her into lots of beauty contests and being as beautiful as she was, she had won many of them.

However, her mother had always been quick to point out what she thought was wrong with her. Ellie’s attention had repeatedly been drawn to looking for her (in her mothers opinion) imperfections.

Innocently, she had begun to look at everything through these eyes and yet, until now, this thinking had been invisible to her.

In our own individual way we all get caught up in illusory thinking.

We think we are living in ‘reality’, forgetting that our thinking is made up and that our ‘reality’ is just one version of an infinite number of possibilities.

Our mind is not like a camera, taking in an objective reality that exists independently of us.

It works the other way around, with no exception.

Our state of mind creates how we see the world. As Sydney Banks said, ‘Your thoughts are like the artist’s brush. They create a personal picture of the reality you live in.’

The clearer you see that you live in a thought created reality and that the mind will naturally provide new and fresh thinking with no effort, the more you live in the present.

Living in the present simply means being free from the past and the future. Instead of responding to life in habitual ways you are free to respond to how you see things in the moment.

How important is this?

All suffering and struggle is created through attachment to thoughts.

As old, habitual and unnecessary thinking drops away because we see no value in it, what we naturally experience instead is freedom, joy and clarity of mind.

The surprising truth about happiness

Although happiness is something that is hard to define it is something that we seem to want more of.

There are dozens of books written on it and the subject seems to pop up on a daily basis on social media.

I was reflecting on this and it seems to me that there is one single question, innocently asked, that is at the root of all this wanting…

What will make me happy?

And this is the problem because the answer is… nothing.

Nothing can make you happy and yet our entire society is built upon the belief that ‘things’ can make you happy.

The advertising business is built upon the idea that the lack of something is the cause of unhappiness and then the product rides in on a white horse and saves the day.

They even try to convince you that floor cleaner will make you happy!

Many people believe they need the right person or a relationship in order to be happy. Some have such stringent criteria about the required qualities of their perfect mate that this person may not even exist!

Thinking that happiness is a result of external circumstances leads to the most common trap of all…

‘I’ll be happy when.’

We create an imaginary list of what will make us happy and this is what we put our time into.

I used to be a regular meditator and my teacher made a point that I never forgot.

He said you will never experience a better meditation by really going for it. It just does not work that way.

Happiness is just the same. The harder you pursue it, the further away it gets.

The imaginary content of the ‘I’ll be happy when.’ list is the barrier.

Is there a secret to experiencing greater happiness?

The natural backdrop to the mind, beyond our intellectual thinking, is a space of inner peace, contentment, grace, resilience, engagement in life, perspective, love – there are a many words that point to what is available to every single one of us.

When we fall into this space it would not even occur to us to ask ourselves if we are happy or not.

So, there really is nothing to do.

The logic of the inside-out understanding is that the mind only works one way, no exception. The clearer we realise this truth the more happiness, contentment and peace of mind we experience.