Ashish Kothari is a partner in McKinsey’s leadership practice. He also has two decades of consulting experience and formal training as an ontological coach. In his work, he’s helped thousands of leaders and their organization succeed by building new mindsets and capabilities. He’s also the founder of Happiness Squad, a company focused on helping individuals and organizations unleash the power of happiness and wellbeing.
Today on Author Hour, Ashish joins me to talk about his new book, Hardwired for Happiness, which distills cutting edge research from the fields of psychology, neuroscience and ancient wisdom traditions into nine proven practices that can rewire your brain to seek happiness instead of fear. I’m your host, Meghan McCracken.
Meghan McCracken: Ashish, welcome to Author Hour, thank you so much for joining me.
Ashish Kothari: It is my pleasure, Meghan.
Meghan McCracken: So I always love to start with authors on the question of embarking on this incredible journey of writing a book. It’s a huge journey, it’s a lot of work to write a book let alone publish one. What was the moment when you decided “It’s time for me to write a book?”
Why Write a Book?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, great question Meghan. So, I think you know, for me, that day, I remember very clearly, it was September of 2020, right? We were in the heart of the pandemic and I had been on a journey, which was a personal transformation journey that I write about in my book, away from fear and anxiety to one of joy and freedom, for three years before that, right? And you know, the pandemic accelerated that journey because it cleared up a lot of space.
I stopped being on flights, three flights or four flights a week and as I kind of sat down and I kind of distilled from all of my research and the work that I have been doing three and a half years, what emerged in September — I was in Brackenridge I remember. I took a week just by myself, my family was still here in Boulder, to just reflect on my learnings, what I was picking up and the practices that I write on my book just came to me very, very clearly.
I also with that, got a yearning to actually bring this to the world because what I was experiencing, Meghan. My experience through the pandemic had been fundamentally different than so many others and I attributed this to what I had integrated into my life, which were these practices. I felt a called to kind of make these available to everybody and that’s why the book.
Meghan McCracken: I hear that so often from authors that actually, the pandemic was a big focusing element for this amount of knowledge or this specific unique perspective that they had wanted to share for a while. The pandemic really brought that into focus for, I think, a lot of authors.
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, no, it did and the other thing that I think what really made it come to life for me was the fact — look, I was at McKinsey and Company. It’s one of the top consulting firms and I was focused exclusively on this topic, right? For frankly, the first half of the pandemic.
I used to do a lot of team effectiveness and leadership development work and the other thing that really made this such a big role for me was, as we looked into it — look I always knew, stress and anxiety was an issue, it had been growing. Loneliness had been growing, depression that had been growing.
I hadn’t realized, to what extent that this was actually cutting across. It didn’t matter whether you were an executive or you were a frontline worker. It didn’t matter whether you were rich or whether you were poor. It didn’t matter whether you lived in the US or you lived in India or China.
We started seeing these skyrocketing levels of stress, anxiety, burnout, loneliness, depression rising and I mean, many of the people who were struggling don’t have the resources to go hire a therapist, you know? Or go talk to a mental health counselor and I wanted to actually make this work accessible to each and everyone of them as a way to thrive, rather than just survive coming out of the pandemic.
Meghan McCracken: And the title of the company that you founded is, it’s so specific to exactly what you talk about in the book, you’re the founder of Happiness Squad. Tell me a little about your background there?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, so with Happiness Squad, the purpose of the company, again, it anchors off this realization, right? That there are so many out there, you know? Who are…and I’m talking like 60, 70%, is the number. There’s so many of us who are struggling in this world even though we are more prosperous than we’ve ever been, Meghan, as a generation, right?
Happiness scores had been declining, life satisfaction scores had been declining. We are living so much longer and yet we are living unhealthier lives. We are actually manufacturing our own illnesses. I talk about that in the book.
We are more connected, right? In fact, more connected as a generation and yet, we are more polarized, we are getting lonelier. It’s these paradigms that we are living in, which have become a reality. We’re also more efficient, we can do most things 80, 90% faster but we are busier than ever and that seems to be the lived experience of so many people.
The insight that I had, which is kind of behind the founding of this company was the reason this is, is because our brains are hardwired for fear and just giving how our brains have evolved over millions of years and there is an opportunity for us to actually fundamentally take our own development into our hands and rather than trying to control the external world, truly master our inner worlds so we can rewire our brains for happiness.
And that’s the purpose of Happiness Squad, to help a billion people live with more joy, health, love and meaning by fundamentally rewiring our brains, developing new neural circuits that can allow us to step away from a very fear-based, scarcity-based mindset that we often find ourselves in.
Meghan McCracken: It so, so true and as you just said, the amount of people who are reflected with these, they’re really modern afflictions of declining happiness even as we get more connected. As we are the beneficiaries of more information, we’re almost in a post scarcity situation now with information. We have absolutely everything we could want to know in order to further our health, our happiness, our wellbeing and yet, happiness continues to decline.
And when you are approaching writing a book where you’re distilling all of your work on this subject, the audience for a book like that, it kind of is everyone and as we talk a lot about, when you’re writing a book, you don’t want to define your audience as well; it’s everybody. So how did you approach narrowing down or defining your audience avatar?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, no, I think great question. So look, this was a journey that I constantly kind of thought about, right? Even all the way ‘till when we were launching it because yeah, this is frankly, it can be used by everybody. I think when I wrote the book, one of the audience that is, call it, what is the most extreme case, you know what I mean? Of people who really, really experience and suffer from this.
I think where people who I describe out in their late 30s, 40s, they have had enough road under their feet. [They] have been kind of executing, if you will, this checklist, that we pickup from our cultures, from our world, which says, “If you want to be happy, you have to be successful and if you have to be successful, you have to work extremely hard, dedicate everything you have to it.”
They are the stereotype, Meghan, of people who I say chase wealth at the expense of health, love or meaning, who often arrive at the top of their mountain and realize they’re not necessarily happier, right? They are in fact, wound themselves into these tight knots. They’ve expanded their lifestyles where they become slaves to having to do things that no longer anymore bring them joy but they continue to struggle.
So that is kind of a predominant audience that I wrote for but you will notice in the book, I included between the stories and the practices, I wrote them in a way that these practices could be accessed by anybody. It’s not just by this cohort, right? So that’s how I try to kind of, if you will, bridge the divide if you’re in from just targeting like the exact extreme case of what people would be struggling here versus everybody.
Meghan McCracken: And in the same vein, the world of content like this, content on self-improvement, happiness, mindfulness, self-awareness, there is a lot out there. It’s a huge world and in deciding to get into this discussion and to bring your own unique viewpoint, how did you determine your approach? Because it is so easy to just become sort of noise in and amongst all of the other noise. How did you approach this to create a sharp signal among that noise?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, so great question. So look, I think I had three insights that I actually use to create something that was unique, right? I think the first one was the realization, Meghan, just of the practices. Most work that is out there, often tends to be very unidimensional, right? So there might be something on mindfulness, there might be something on gratitude.
There’s tons who write on purpose. There’s tons that is written on wellbeing. To me, these are all different building blocks that, by themselves, can help you but can’t fully help you get to where you want, you know what I mean? They’re not the full answer and so I think one, I think taking a set of practices that were actually pretty holistic in terms of getting us to the transformation we want, you know, that was important.
Second, there’s so much of self-help but they often times, are based on what the author thinks is going to help rather than grounded in research. So every one of the practices I try to bring into the book; the science and backing and the research backing from psychology and neurosciences around why these actually work and fundamentally, how do they work, okay?
And then the third thing was — you know look, I wanted to help people go from awareness to practice, to integration and what I mean by that in other words is, I wanted to take people on a journey from knowing about these to doing them, so that they become a habit, so they can fundamentally change our way of being, right?
So from knowing, to doing, to being and so what you will notice is in the book, for every practice, I actually created three exercises that are very, very grounded and what can people go do now. So there’s a journaling exercise in the book for every practice. There’s a meditation in the book for every practice and there is a coaching script.
So I wanted to meet people where they are in their way of what works for them to engage with the practice and make that accessible to them because again, my mission here is not to kind of preach about what we can be but to support people in the journey, to help them integrate these into their lives. To me, that’s the mission.
Meghan McCracken: Sure, yeah, exactly. I like how you mentioned all of the research in this book, this is a research-packed book. It has a lot of science, it’s got a lot of case studies and testimonials and there’s just a lot of grounding into a really very real-world observation and study and I’m wondering, how did you strike a balance between bringing in all of that science and research — and then also you’re talking about something that is so personal to people.
It’s really the depth of knowing oneself and you also weave in these ancient wisdoms, that’s a kind of a tough mix of tones to bring together in a good balance. How did you approach that balance?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, look I think first off, all that I would say is, look, I wanted it to be science backed, right? And you can imagine, this is the beauty of the writing process and you know, people who help you.
So I had the good fortune, first of all, an amazing editor, actually an editorial team, two of them, Jessica and Ursula who really help me because you can imagine Meghan, my first book read more like a scientific dissertation thesis than frankly, something that would be easily digestible, right?
Meghan McCracken: Oh sure.
Ashish Kothari: Just because there was so much research, right? Because I really wanted to make sure, you know, that this was science backed because there is so [many] hacks out there that people put and some of them actually do harm than actually help, so I really wanted to do that. So I think, one, I think the editing team helped me a lot.
I think second, it was just frankly, my nature of being, right? I have an engineering, I have a masters in engineering, I got an MBA from University of Chicago in finance and organizational behavior. So I’m really left brain thinker and I’ve done, 25 years of consulting work helping break people.
So I had the left, right? But my last five years of the journey had been a very spiritual-based journey and so in myself and body, both of those kinds of dual forces, right? Science and spirituality live in me. So frankly when I wrote it, it wasn’t that hard for those to kind of really come together because it wasn’t that I was mining left and I was mining right.
What I was actually seeing was a world that with science, we’re trying to describe and prove analytically what we have known in so many wisdom traditions all along and we’re trying to distill the real, what works versus what might just be dogmas. So yeah, I think those are the two things that help, Meghan, right?
One was an amazing editing team that helps soften the language and blend in the science more beautifully with the spiritual learnings that had always been a part of me.
Meghan McCracken: Yeah, yeah. Speaking of the writing process, what was your process in doing what many people, I think underestimate is the hardest part which is, at the end of the day, you can think about a book for years, you can collect all of the knowledge and all of the wisdom and all of the storytelling in the world and at the end of the day, you need to sit down and just do the writing and this is where I think most people get really discouraged because that’s sitting down daily, the discipline of doing the writing. Everyone’s got their own approach and I’m curious about yours?
Ashish’s Approach to Writing
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, so look, I think there is nothing that takes away from you know, that discipline of sitting and writing down. Look, I mean for me, given this nature of the book, the good news was that one, over my 25 years of working with clients including the last five, six years of heavily coaching them on these topics, there was no dearth of stories that I actually that I had, which is what are in the book but the approach that I use, Meghan, was a very, very, almost call it a programmatic approach, right?
So for each practice, I basically created a template that said, “I’m actually going to follow this template to a T.” So I’m going to open the chapter with details around what the practice is to bring the user in, using some story or some example, right? So it actually lands experientially.
I’m going to then provide a section which provides all the science behind it and then, I’m going to use the next two or three sections around some really specific things that people can do to integrate this into their lives, yeah? So I think it was a very — you know, for each practice, I could easily structure that and then fourth is, I’m actually going to provide these free exercises that I talked to you about, right?
So I’m going to write a meditation script, I’m going to write a journaling exercise and I’ll write a coaching script and that’s what I use, right? When I started, I took one month per practice. I did my research and I literally started writing and I didn’t say, “I’m going to first do research and then I’m going to write.” I was like, “No, I have all the documents, I read them before.” So it was like, rereading them frankly and I’m providing the right pieces underneath that.
The other thing that really helped me was you know, one of the prior authors who I talked with, where I was not trying to go for perfection. In fact, I very rarely re-edited my stuff when I was writing. If I was writing, it was about, “I’m going to write, I’m not worried about the grammar, I’m not worried if I kind of, you know, end up repeating something. I just want to get the words down because I can always go back and I can edit it” you know?
So I think that was really, really important as a second point. So having a template, second, you know, just writing what I was writing. You know and the third is you know, there is a lot of people who say, “Hey, you know, you should just have certain number of hours and you should write in that” even if you sit in front of a computer, nothing comes and don’t write a word, I didn’t actually do that.
I had about three and a half days that I dedicated to writing the book out of the seven-day week and I basically used that time, depending on where my mind was, where my body energy was, where my attention wanted to go, I basically said, “I’m going to use that either to research” or to write or to kind of create and image but I’m going to let what needs to emerge in the moment, emerge, rather than force myself into, “No, this is your writing time so sit and just write” you know?
It’s different than what a lot of people do but it really worked for me because I could actually give all my attention and just flow with what was willing to emerge in that moment versus force myself to do something else.
Meghan McCracken: I think the discipline piece of that, it’s really quite impressive. It’s something that I talk to authors about all the time that that when you do it for day in and day out, you are making progress. It’s tiring, it gets exhausting and sometimes it can be hard to stick with it.
Another thing I heard from authors a lot, especially authors of knowledge share or non-fiction where they’re often really busy professionals and the question I get all the time is, “Yeah, how do I find the time, how do I make the time commitment for this?” and especially being that your book is about is actually avoiding overwhelm and stress, you know, practices that you can do to get closer to a better self and avoid overwhelm and stress.
How did you approach the time commitment needed to get the book done, not just in the writing but then in the eventual engaging with your editing team, engaging with your publishing team, making decisions on the design and publishing of the book, where did you find the time?
Ashish Kothari: We all live in a finite world, we all have 24 hours in a day, seven days a week, right? There is nobody has more time or less time than that and I think, Meghan, one of the things that I’ve always integrated into my life is one of the big things is don’t try and manage your time, manage your energy and be disciplined about what actually allows you to be at your best mentally, physically, spiritually, right?
That was really, really important because you don’t want to be writing if you are exhausted mentally, you know what I mean? Or you’re trying to like—or just physically you’re tired.
Meghan McCracken: Yes.
Ashish Kothari: My process of kind of protecting the time actually started with the discipline of what really matters to me. Yes, the book is important but what is also important from all the research that I have done was the fact that I made sure that I slept seven hours, right? Made sure that I’ve got an hour of workout every day. Make sure that I spent a couple of hours with my lovely family. I have a 12 year old, you know, we live in Boulder.
So I protected that time Meghan, first and foremost because I knew if I didn’t protect that time, the time I would actually spend on doing anything else, whether it was from my work, which I was, you know, I have a busy life as a consultant and it is quite intense when you are writing or researching for a book. I wanted to make sure even if I did 12 hours of time between my work and the book that those 12 hours I was literally at my best, right?
So I think this is really, really important. So I think I started with actually first putting boundaries around what would allow me to get there. I think the second piece was a lot of us, you know, the reason we feel overwhelmed is because we don’t have the courage to actually take things off our plate, to form agreements with people around what we are signing up for.
So the second big thing that I did was I recognized that there is no way I would be able to both do my full-time professional job and do this and do a good job at any. So I actually renegotiated, I re-contracted if you will, with my firm that I work, “Listen, I am actually going to work 70% of the time for the next year while I am working on this project on my book and the rest, 30% is actually what I am focusing on the book.”
I was lucky to be at a place which gave me the freedom, gave me the ability but what that allowed me to do literally was truly, I worked three days a week plus half a day on my McKinsey client stuff and I could actually keep the other day and a half of the week plus the weekends around the book. I think that basically literally allowed me almost to do a 50-50 as you can imagine between when I was working on the book versus when I was working on my clients.
So that really, really helped and I didn’t feel overwhelmed, I didn’t feel guilty about dropping the ball at one place versus the other because I just reset expectations. That was a huge thing and I think the third thing is you can never frankly, I would be remiss to say I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it wasn’t for my amazing wife and how she supported me in this time to make sure that these two things and time with family was I was going to focus on.
So she took on a lot of the other chores around the house, things that needed to be done, things that I typically do, you know what? She just took those on like including as I mentioned, I was working seven days a week on this stuff. I mean, the beauty is when you are working on something that gives you personal meaning that the work doesn’t feel like work, right? It does feel like play.
So I almost left all of my six, seven hours of work time when I did focus on the book more energized not less energized but I think those were the three things Meghan that helped me get there.
Meghan McCracken: It’s amazing to hear that you really did carve off a big piece of your work life in order to give that time to the book. It is something that I don’t really hear, I’ll be honest, I don’t really hear a lot from busy professionals who are looking to write a book or trying to write a book. Essentially, I hear a lot that they are trying to prioritize time they don’t have. You know, they’re saying, “Well, yeah. Sure, I still have my 40-hour a week job.”
For a lot of us, I think that is 60-, 70-hour a week job and then of course, “I have my family and I am going to find the time. I am going to find time in between those things” and advice I give to authors or aspiring authors a lot is, “Hey, you can’t prioritize time you don’t have. So your time budget is finite and in order to prioritize the things that you want to do, you have to actually remove other things from your plate.”
Ashish Kothari: One hundred percent, right? I always use the term when I coach my clients and it often comes when we have to control your hungers. You have to carve out, you have to make sure that you create space, you know what I mean? For what you take on, if you are trying to take on something else, I almost say, shrink your plate for your core and then take a second plate that is going to be the book and be realistic about it.
Meghan McCracken: Oh I love that. That is a great analogy.
Ashish Kothari: Yeah, I mean because we all only have so many number of hours to commit to how many hours you are going to put on the book, put it on a plate and then redistribute your time around and by the way, the third plate is what I started with, which I mentioned Meghan, which is wellbeing. I think if you don’t carve time for ourselves and what matters to us, it doesn’t matter what you prioritize.
You are prioritizing most of us if you are overwhelmed out of 30 to 50% of our cognitive capabilities, even lower in terms of our creative potential and when you’re writing a book, you have to be at your best, you know? I mean, this is not box like stuffing in roll-ups that you can do even if I am exhausted and I can’t think clearly.
Meghan McCracken: Creative work I often analogize is a lot in ways that I think people don’t, really don’t consider it connect with creative work is a lot like physical practices like playing sports. You would never ask a pro football player to, “Okay, well don’t get sleep and then don’t eat the meals that you needed and you know, you haven’t been in the gym in the week and oh, that’s fine but you’re still going to go win this match” and no.
There’s no way, there is a reason that people who their job is a physical practice, there is a reason they pay so much attention to those things because they are so obviously visibly linked and I think we don’t so much link the creative power of our brains with they are very real physical non-negotiables for you to be at your best in order to engage in that work.
Ashish Kothari: One hundred percent, you know it is true, right? You can’t pour from an empty cup. I see a lot of empty cups trying to pour into the world and—
Meghan McCracken: And nothing is coming out.
Ashish Kothari: Exactly.
Meghan McCracken: So speaking of your own non-negotiables and the practices that you go, the nine practices that you take readers through in this book, as I was reading through the book, something that struck me a lot is and I think very wisely because readers often have resistances to very good information that is based on, “Well, that is fine for someone else, but I don’t have time” or “That is fine for someone else but I have, you know, X Y Z” excuse and you do a great job throughout the book in giving a little bit of validation to, “Hey, these are hard for some people. This can be difficult sometimes, this can even be painful.” You talk really openly about getting a 360-degree feedback on yourself and the people you work with.
That can be painful, that kind of self-awareness and reflection can be difficult but as I was reading through these practices, none of them strike me as anything that is either especially difficult or even especially painful or upsetting. There are things like cultivate self-awareness, you know, invest in your wellbeing, practice gratitude, mindful living.
These are things that on their face seems simple and should feel good. So in your work, which are the practices that you see people resist most often and why do you think that is? Why do you think they’re resisting this practices?
Resistance to Helpful Practices
Ashish Kothari: Look, Meghan, on surface none of these are hard. The reality is, only 10%, 15% of the people really practice these consciously, right? I think the biggest culprit for that is — look, we live busy lives and we have grown up and we have a belief that if you do things for yourself, you’re selfish, right?
We are always leaving into this world with more demands out there for our time and for our intention and our energy and we just give it all. So you know, the reason most people don’t do these things is because they do take time, right? They do take time even though for some of them they’re five minutes or less, you can actually do it.
We don’t prioritize ourselves, we don’t prioritize our own personal growth and development and it is a real challenge. That’s I think number one, the biggest barrier is actually how busy people lives have gotten and the story around like I exists for others, if I focus on myself I am going to be too selfish.
The second thing is I love this, I was re-reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. You know there was a part in it that really actually spoke to me again which is this notion that if you think about any good habits, Meghan, that we try and form, to some extent you know, most good habits, day one, day two, day three, day four, day five, right? The immediate, the results actually come exponentially but they are slower to start with, you know what I mean?
If you decide to start running, if you decide to start taking up a running practice, it is quite painful when you start, right? If you start strength training, you’re sore and so there is a lot of friction that can come in the way of actually sticking with their practice. Bad habits often times on the other hand are actually immediate reward giving, right? You eat a cookie, you feel good right away.
Now, if you eat too many cookies, long-term you’re going to suffer and so there is this constant balance between good habits and bad habits and these nine things, you know, my push is we need to think about them as the what we integrate into our life, what we make into habits. So that’s the other thing, right? I think it is consciously recognizing holding the identity of who we are going to become and staying with it to overcome that barrier of repetition.
Given how much is coming at us, unless we fundamentally take one practice at a time and make it into a habit, which we do 50 to 60% of the time unconsciously. Nine practices are too many, people are going to be like, “I don’t even have time for one.”
Meghan McCracken: Yes, totally. I completely see that and what you’re suggesting in the book is not, “Okay, here’s a blueprint for how to live your life every day and you must do all nine things every day.”
Ashish Kothari: No, I always say this in all my work and it’s in the book, choose one practice and start to engage with the one and I always say, as you read through and read the book, play with them but then start with one practice. I always say start with self-awareness because I think self-awareness is the practice that unlocks everything else, you know what I mean?
If [we’re] are not aware of what we care about, we will live somebody else’s story of what we think we should be like. If we are not self-aware of where our mind is at every moment, we won’t even know. Is it in the future or is it in the past or is it in the present and we miss life? If we are not self-aware, often times we are not even aware of how tired we are until we are too tired. Are we actually thinking clearly or not?
So you know, I always say start with self-awareness there are different elements of it but once you have done that, you have taken a stock of where life is going and where you want to go, then start to take the practice that will make the biggest difference for you right now. What are you yearning for right now? Just start with that.
Meghan McCracken: I love that.
Ashish Kothari: For some, it will be gratitude. For some, it will be purpose. For some, it will be wellbeing. Just start with that, take the one smallest thing, take the first step.
Meghan McCracken: So for you yourself, is there anything you can offer to readers and what is your daily routine? Like taking it down to really practical levels, how do you bring nine practices into your life? How have you made them habits and I am most interested in hearing knowing that none of us can be perfect and things change in our lives so quickly and you know there is something that will come up that makes it so you can’t do something that you had set as a habit. What are your non-negotiables?
Ashish Kothari: Yeah.
Meghan McCracken: What do you do every day non-negotiably?
Ashish Kothari: I will be the first to say, this is a journey of a lifetime and I am very much on that journey, you know? If I even just use this frame first of all, Meghan, of knowing, doing and being, right? As three kind of different levels of maturity, okay? That we can be on a path and it is a lifelong path, what I would say is there are certain practices that I have actually fundamentally, you know, I have done them where they are now a part of my unconscious.
I don’t have to consciously do them, that’s how I see the world. They are fundamentally transform my way of being and those are practices like gratitude. You know, recognizing the abundance in which we swim, those are practices like meaning. What I do 70, 80% of the time I truly love and what I’m good at and that’s kind of what the world needs. I found that, that’s not true for most people, right?
Most people, 70% of the people don’t like what they’re doing. It is just a job. So purpose is another one of those. There are a couple of other practices that have become a core intention setting and then there are other ones that I would say, I am still in the stage of kind of knowing and practicing, knowing and practicing. I’m on a scale of one to ten on a three, okay? And that’s okay.
As you said, we’re all perfect, we’re not perfect. It is a journey. If we are aware that where we are, we can continue to moving on it. For example, the practice of mastering your emotions, right? How do you actually not let anger, anxiety, fear, resentment, resignation, literally you know, put you in a downward spiral. Where I am on that is, when I catch myself, sometimes I still don’t catch myself fast enough but I do recover, right?
I am willing to actually go in and say, “I’m sorry”. I don’t hold grudges for too long. So you know the cycle in which I find myself and I do get dragged down has actually gone down but look, here is a routine of what I do on a day-to-day basis, right? So I always start, Meghan, I actually started putting my phones one floor below where I sleep, so my bedroom has no devices. I don’t have my phone.
I wake up and the first thing that I actually do in the morning when I wake up is actually I meditate for 30 or 45 minutes. The next thing after that is I make myself a nice cup of tea and then with that, I usually have a practice of 10 to 15 minutes of some spiritual reading and I read across, right? I’ll read Buddhism, yoga sutras, taoism, I might pick up the Bible, I might read something written by the Dalai Lama, what have you, right?
But I will start my day with some ten to 15 minutes of thought, which is not about survival but which is more about how do we actually truly manifest our best self. I then usually have by that time the family’s waking up and I usually either will work out while they are getting ready or will have breakfast together and then in my day, I structure my day Meghan where I at least have 30% of my day actually empty.
So my scheduled stuff is only on 70% of the time and even that time is scheduled where there is no slot more than 60 or 90 minutes because again, if you look at neuroscientist about how our brains work, after a 90-minute interval our brain is mush, we’re not thinking clearly. So I actually build in these blocks where I am focusing intensely and I build in consciously a focus effort with kind of something that is kind of lighter demanding cognitively.
I introduce a lot of movement in my day, so many of the meetings that I do-do are actually standing up. I will do some calls while walking so I will make sure that I might physically am moving and then usually my evenings, I make sure that my son is getting into coding and I love doing that with him. So I put an hour in the evenings where we can code together, have dinner together and my evening, my last practice that I do in the night, which has been transformative for me is a gratitude practice.
So you know, I am off devices for an hour before I go to sleep but more importantly before I go to sleep, I have a journal and I just write down what are three things I’m grateful for today and so it really allows me to book in my start of the day and my end of the day with fundamentally shifting my attention towards the abundance and towards the bigger nature of life rather than the day-to-day struggles and fights that we can fall into.
Meghan McCracken: I love that. That blueprint for a day is so interesting to me because what you’ve just said, I have heard elements of in so many podcasts. I’ve read them in books. This stuff is out there and like you said before, it is not — this isn’t complex. This isn’t especially difficult but when it comes to how we approach it and make it part of our lives, that’s where we get blocked in that sense of our time is for others or our time is for producing.
As the final takeaway here, what would you tell readers as where do you get started, what is the first thing that you do tomorrow if you are going to read, Hardwired for Happiness, and then you put down the book, what do you start with?
Ashish Kothari: Look, I think I always, personally for me, the gratitude practice is a transformative practice. It is really scientifically backed because it gives results here now. So within eight weeks, it can rewire our brain, right? So I would suggest that people, frankly even just go onto the gratitude chapter, there are four different ways in which we can practice gratitude and just start with that, Meghan.
I think they will start to see even though the world outside isn’t changing, their relationship to it, their experience of it will and by the way, just be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself, start with one thing that you commit to and even if it is something that you do for two minutes or five minutes in your day. Don’t try — Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The schedule that I gave to you, I developed over four years of starting with one practice, doing it enough times where I felt I had it and then I added the next one, right? And be kind. You know, there is a lot that we are dealing with, none of us is perfect and by the way, do it with your family, do it with your friends.
The more we build a community around it, the higher is it that we increase our odds of success with that practice.
Meghan McCracken: Excellent. Well, the book is titled, Hardwired for Happiness, and it’s coming out very soon and by the time this episode is released, it will be out and how are you feeling about heading into launch?
Ashish Kothari: I am feeling great. I think the response for everybody I’ve talked about this book has been amazing. It is so needed right now. There is a lot of resonance around this and I really hope that it gets into the hands of a lot of people so that they could actually start rewiring their brains for happiness and unlocking their full beautiful selves.
Meghan McCracken: Well, thank you so much for being here with me today Ashish, I loved our conversation.
Ashish Kothari: My pleasure, thank you for having me, Meghan.