Selflessness Will Save Your Life


I’ve had a busy few weeks. Apart from training mindfulness teachers in our new kindfulness teacher training, I’ve been developing a new leadership training for Zen of Business, working more closely on the Museum of Happiness project and attending a brilliant conference called Compassion and Leadership organised by the Compassionate Mind Foundation.

My Visit to a Compassion conference

Everyone is a leader, as explained in my last post. But there’s a lot of incredibly poor leadership in the world at the moment - either narcissistic or egotistical - states of mind that are cause suffering both for the leaders, and society as a whole.

I see great leaders in the field I work in, like mindfulness, compassion, positive psychology and wellbeing, but notice how easy it is for these leaders to be so kind and giving that they are heading towards burnout rather than joy. A lot of my work now focuses on ways to ‘help the helpers’ - to enable these wonderful people to work in a way that’s sustainable physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually - I feel this is very much needed right now.

At the Compassion Conference, I listened to a fascinating talk by Rasmus Hougaard and bought his book called The Mind of the Leader published by Harvard Business Review Press. I love the book and think some of their insights will be helpful to you.

What I found most powerful is their model of leadership, based on looking at all the current research on leadership and the many thousands of leaders they’ve trained around the world:


I was most fascinated by the section on selflessness.

I already knew research showing the greatest leaders show the greatest humility. They could be considered servant leaders. But I discovered just how important this is, even in the use of language.

The Danger of Excessive Use of I, Me and Mine

I didn’t know is the negative effects of using words like ‘I, me, mine’ can have on you.

The book refers to the following fascinating studies:

1. One study from University of California found the more people use I , me, my and mine had a higher correlation to coronary heart disease and mortality.

2. Another study found Individuals with depression and anxiety have a higher than average use of first person pronouns.

3. Yet another study on poets and suicide found a staggering result - increased use of first-person pronouns was strongly correlated with later suicide.

4. Better news with this study in Psychological Science. The research found when we actively use other pronouns like we, he, she and you, and less use of I, me and my, our health actually improves!

(I find these results amazing. And I’m feeling quite concerned how many times I’ve used the word I in this blog post! Perhaps I too need to make better use of words like we and us.)

Linking this to leadership, the books shows several studies that link higher leadership positives with using more words like ‘we, you and yours’.

This was my other favourite study. Analysis from all 43 Australian elections since independence in 1901 found the more candidates used ‘we, you and us’, the more likely they were to win - and to win by a larger margin. Successful people are more others-orientated and engage and speak to the collective identity of themselves.

I also think I’ve discovered the reason why so many people follow Donald Trump! He uses the word ‘we’ on average every 23 words. That’s a lot. Hillary Clinton used it once every 76 words. In Australia, the leaders that used the word once every 79 words won the election. This is an example of using language to influence others for personal ends, rather than the greater good.

All these studies show excessive focus on your sense of self can be emotionally draining. Your brain is constantly working hard to create a sense of self. If you don’t give your brain a break from thinking about ‘me’, you end up suffering physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. To become more we-orientated, consider the following question.

Who am I anyway?

Beautiful practices likes meditation give you the time to stop and reflect on the bigger questions, such as ‘Who am I?’

Most neuroscientists and psychologists have been searching for the brain’s control centre - our I or our true self. Despite the many billions of neurons in our brains, there’s been no discovery of one centre that can be called ‘I’.

So although there’s no physical centre in the brain that is the self, we are designed to have an illusory sense of self. This sense of self is often thought to be fixed, unchanging with specific characteristic. But researchers would argue this ego, this sense of self, is a creation of the imagination, giving the illusory idea that this self runs the show.

Don’t worry! If you accept that your self of self is an illusion, it doesn’t mean you don’t exist altogether. It just means your sense of separation is ultimately an illusion. And although in everyday life some sense of separation is necessary for us to do things and eat food and have conversations, excessive isolation is unhealthy. As my wise friend Nipun Mehta always says, let’s go from me to we. In that shift of mindset, we go from isolation to community, from consumption to contribution and from loneliness to aloneness (al-one = all one).

Selfless doesn’t mean pushover

One common misunderstanding is to think being selfless means being a pushover. That’s not true. I like to use the term ‘humbold’ - a combination of humble and bold! You need to be humble enough to know that you’re not the centre of the universe, but at the same time, you need to be bold enough to stand up to your values and what’s right.

To be humbold means to stand up and follow through courageously with your values. In the book, they call this self-confident selflessness.

Here’s the four quadrants they refer to:

Narcissist - They’re both selfish and unconfident. Most people think narcissists love themself - actually they don’t. They lack a core self. They only love themselves through the eyes of others.  Find out more here.

Pushover - They are selfless, but lack the confidence to stand up for what’s fair. In this quadrant they’re at a higher risk of burnout as they’re not looking after their own wellbeing. You could consider this to be an over-giver. As the link beautifully states ‘Generous giving feels light and joyful. Over-giving feels burdensome because it is a one-way flow of energy.’ They tend to incredibly kind people, but struggle to set limits. Helping people to move out of this quadrant is what I do. Kindfulness is one way out.

Egoist - They’re focused on self, but self-confident too - driven by selfish goals and desires. Egotistical leaders here rarely recognise the needs of others.

Enabler - You have found the sweet spot. Of course, it’s not a fixed place so we all move around the quadrants to a certain extent. But if you lean towards this quadrant, you’re not under threat of being like a doormat as you have the confidence to stand up for what’s fair. However, your drive comes from the greater good - not just me, me, me. You enable others to perform and thrive. You don’t worry about being praised, and happily pass that onto others. You offer service rather than expecting others to be of service to you.


Take Action

Consider what you can do today to be more selfless and humble. Here’s some ideas:

  • Take a few minutes today in meditation to reflect on your sense of self. Step back from your thoughts and emotions and be an observer to the ever changing play of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations. Let go of your sense of control and see what happens.

  • Everytime you’re about to say I, me, mine, consider if a more inclusive term would be better

  • Consider how you get in the way of your work or home life. What one step could you take to overcome this limitation?

  • Would you like to cultivate greater humility? If so, what could you actually do to achieve that?

  • Consider where you are on the quadrant at the moment. Do you need to focus on being more selfless, or more kind to yourself? What one tiny thing could you do today to begin shifting quadrants?

Zen and the Art of Leadership


We are all leaders. You may not lead a country or company. You may not lead a team or even a family. But you have to lead at least one person: you.

My friend and colleague Yvonne Fuchs and I have found there to be 5 qualities that make a great leader. These qualities are a distillation of ancient wisdom and modern leadership thinking.

The 5 qualities are: authenticity, inspiration, humility, awakening and tenacity.

If you live these 5 qualities, you are in a position to lead both a team and yourself to a more successful outcome - in whatever way success means to you.

Here’s my personal attempt to share some of what these qualities mean to me. In future postings on Zen of Business website, I’ll be sharing more.

Authentic: Live and Breathe your Values

Authentic ɔːˈθɛntɪk/ (adjective) - True to one's own personality, spirit, or character.

Authenticity is an overused word nowadays and people throw around the maxim: be authentic!

But how? And why? And what does it even mean?

To be authentic means what you think, what you say and what you do are in-line.

Infact, none other than Gandhi said:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Consider these points:

  1. Do you feel you are being authentic to who you are or not?

  2. If not, what’s the reason? Is it fear? What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? Is it worth pretending to be someone that you’re not?

  3. Is it about success? Do you think by pretending to be someone else, you’ll be seen more positively? Have you ever considered that maybe by being true to yourself and what you stand for, people will respect you even more?

Yesterday, I was coaching someone one to one to help her do bring more work in her business. She was actually trying to find more students to teach mindfulness.

I asked her: ‘What’s your dream work? If you could teach whatever you wanted, what would it be?’

Her answer: ‘I would be teaching all my skills. Not just mindfulness, but also relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, CBT and more. All the strategies that I believe can help people to relax and recharge.’

So I invited her to develop a 6 week course that offers all those elements. Not just mindfulness. To be more authentic and share what she’s really passionate about. She’s now really excited about developing this new course and can’t wait to tell everyone about it!

Being authentic energises you. Being fake drains you. Being authentic leads to no regrets. Being fake results in a life of regrets.

So be brave today and take your first step to greater authenticity.

Super Tip - Balance mind and heart. Your heart my say quit your job and go travelling for a year. But your head may say you should at least finish your current contract and save a bit of money for the travels. The best solution may be the balance of the two.

Inspire Everyone: Purpose Energises All

Inspiration ɪnspɪˈreɪʃ(ə)n/ (noun)

1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Are you inspired by what you do? Whether it’s sweeping the floor or chairing a meeting, if you’re not inspired by the positive change your actions have on the world, you won’t be inspiring to yourself or others.

But where does inspiration come from? Inspiration comes from connecting to the bigger picture.

Begin not by changing your job or activity, but look at the positive impact you’re making in the world, no matter what your work.

For example, if you work in an accounting office. How do you inspire yourself? Begin by thinking about all the customers you serve - if you didn’t do a good job, they would all suffer. Your work has a positive impact on their lives. And what about your colleagues? Everytime you celebrate someone’s birthday, or make someone a coffee or do a random act of kindness, you’re making the world a happier, kinder place! That’s inspiring. Apply your skills and talents to find some sort of inspiration every single day.

Inspiring others, whether it’s your family or team at work is the same principle. How will making widgets make the world a better place? And if it doesn’t, what can you change to make them more environmentally friendly, or could you donate one with each one you sell?

By offering an exciting vision of a better future, you share a big picture. That’s what gets people excited, including you! Then you can go ahead and make that idea into reality by taking action.

Humble: Everyone’s Contribution is Valued

Humility hjʊˈmɪlɪti/Submit (noun)

The feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others; lack of pride:

"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."
— Rick Warren

The word humble comes from the latin humus meaning ground. So there’s a lovely sense of being grounded when you’re humble.

People often think of humility as meaning ‘I can’t do that’, or ‘me helping you buy a house? That was nothing at all.’

No. Humility is about seeing things as they truly are. And the reality is, you are no more or less than anyone else. We are all equally very special! Humility is about seeing equality rather than arrogance.

So a humble person can be proud of their achievements, but they also need to remember all the many people and things that supported them to get them where they are.

For example, I can be proud of this blog. But I also need to remember, without my teachers, i wouldn’t even be able to write or read. Without electricity or the internet being invented, I wouldn’t be able to post. Without the staff I work with, I would have the time to write this.

Awakener: Unleash Hidden Potential

"Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her."
— Lao Tzu

Awakener - Someone who is able to see the hidden potential in others, and coaches them to unleash that potential

An awakener is self-aware, and therefore able to see the potential in both themselves and others.

So, begin with yourself. Can you see your own potential? What are you capable of doing or being? What potential do others see in you?

The art of coaching and unleashing potential comes from mindful listening, not from advising or judging. Ask open questions and be genuinely curious. Then probe into areas where there’s potential. Then you switch from patiently listening, to praising and encouraging them to come out of their shell and share!

Super Tip - If these questions get you thinking about what you could be truly doing to fulfil your full potential, followed by a feeling of both excitement and fear, you’re looking in the right direction. Whenever you step outside your comfort zone, fear comes up. But together with fear is a sense of excitement - you’re giving more, helping more people or being more authentic.

Wise Tenacity: Knowing When To Hold On & When to Let Go

Tenacious tɪˈneɪʃəs (adjective)

1. Not readily relinquishing a position, principle, or course of action; determined.

“People can be at their most vulnerable, but still tenacious at the same time.”
― Toni Bernhard

When you’re tenacious, you’re willing to stick to what you believe in. Sometimes this is hard in the short term, but creates and much better outcome in the long run.

You need to be tenacious about your morals. If you don’t act in a way that you believe is right, you won’t feel good. You need to be tenacious about your values. If your work or home life is not in line with your core values, you won’t feel content.

The same tenacity is needed in leadership too. Tenacious leaders are congruent - what they think, say and do are in-line.

If you feel your family should eat together, you need to insist on it, despite the groans and grunts and phones and laptops that are being stared at. If you feel your team really needs an away day, you insist on it, despite all the complaints that they are too busy.

The idea of tenacity goes against the idea of letting go often talked about in mindfulness. How do we balance these two ideas?

I think what we hold onto is our core values and beliefs. What you let go of, is the outcome or results - anything that is out of your control.

Wise tenacity is about knowing when to hold on and when to let go. And that wisdom comes from stillness, reflection and having the humility to ask for advice from others.


There are five key elements to Zen and the Art of Leadership. They are authenticity, inspiration, humility, awakening and tenacity. When you apply these approaches to your way of being, you are better able to lead yourself and others to greater success.


Want more? Get More Zen and Rigour in Your Leadership Style next week!

Join me for our half-day masterclass starting in the Museum of Happiness in London on 15 May!

  • Feel more centred and grounded in your leadership style

  • Take time to step back and get clarity about the direction you’re going in

  • Ask questions and get alternative ideas and solutions to your specific challenges

  • Get training with award-winning leadership-trained business coach Yvonne Fuchs, with 20 years of coaching experience

  • Meet me (Shamash) with 20 years experience teaching mindfulness and 8 years experience running two businesses.


Stillness and Service: The Secret Sauce for a Happier World


Last weekend, I organised our second Happier World Conference together with my friend Chi and a bunch of really kind and positive volunteers.

Service: Giving is Receiving

The event was a not-for-profit and we did our best to organise the systems to encourage kindness and generosity.

So, I volunteered my time to organise the event, and we didn’t hire any staff. Instead, we asked our community for help - and help they did! One volunteer gifted her time for months to help run our social media account. Another volunteer insisted on cooking all the vegan food for our speakers. My friend Chi volunteered many hours of her time to help communicate and manage the volunteers, order posters and more. A photographer gifted her time and worked tirelessly for the two days, not only taking photos but also editing, selecting the best ones and uploading them. Another one of our long-term volunteer film-makers offered his equipment and time over not just the two days, but beyond, to help create a short film of the event.



This year we also decided to experiment with over half the tickets on a donation or ‘pay-it-forward’ basis. This means for those who have the means and courage to do so, can pay for more than the standard ticket price. Others can donate less or whatever they wish. In this way, we had some people who could only afford £3 to attend an event that cost around £100 per person to organise. And others donated twice the standard ticket price to create a space for others to attend.  And we did it! We managed to make the event more accessible to more people through the generosity of others. The room was filled with people on both low income and high income - maybe even millionaires. But it didn’t matter. We were all together to explore how we can be the change, and transform ourselves to enable transformation in the world.


Even our community cafe was a pay it forward experience. Someone had anonymously paid for the cakes and tea and coffee. Each person was gifted their snacks and drinks and their bill was zero. They were then invited to pay it forward for the person behind them.

Why did we bother organising all these gifted tickets, donation tickets and running things with volunteers? Because we know that happiness comes from giving, not just receiving. When you give of your time, when you’re generous, you’re going beyond the boundaries of me. And with that shift from me to we, you open up the field of infinite possibilities. Your heart opens and your spirit sings. Think back to the last time someone gifted you their money, their time - beyond the call of duty. How did that make you feel? How do you think it made them feel?


Stillness: An Oasis for Wisdom

 Jamie Thurston talking about her Kindness work at her organisation '52 Lives'.

Jamie Thurston talking about her Kindness work at her organisation '52 Lives'.

The other element of the event was stillness. This is where the mindfulness really comes in. Service, kindness and giving are wonderful, but they work well when you balance them with an inner journey. We sounded the bell at the start of the event, and before and after all breaks to invite everyone to sit in stillness together. The minute of silence gave time for people to turn inwards.

For me personally, the moments of silence gave me a time to rest my body and mind. The inner quiet also created greater space for wisdom. I was better able to see the attendees and shift my being from go, go, go to slow, slow, slow. :)

 Editor, Author and Kindful Activist Satish Kumar speaking about the values of the Museum of Happiness - Kindness, Creativity, Community, Consciousness.

Editor, Author and Kindful Activist Satish Kumar speaking about the values of the Museum of Happiness - Kindness, Creativity, Community, Consciousness.

With stillness comes a greater clarity about what’s happening. With clarity comes insight. And from those insights, you grow in wisdom and compassion. Stillness is a key part of the happiness mix!


 Happy Chi with our youngest delegate! Great to start this stuff as young as possible!

Happy Chi with our youngest delegate! Great to start this stuff as young as possible!

A happier world is a world with more opportunities to serve and be still. Service means to be generous, to give with an open heart. And stillness means to look inwards to your inner landscape of thoughts, feelings and beyond.

Together, stillness and service are the wings upon which the human spirit can soar to new heights of possibilities.

As my teacher, friend and speaker at our conference, Nipun Mehta said:

Meditation is inner service and outer service is meditation

So I invite you to take the step to take some moments to be still today and help someone out in a mindful way - who knows how far that ripple of goodness with spread. Start small, as small is the most beautiful.

The possibility is a happier, kinder world for us all to live in.

Do you aspire to be more kind to yourself? Start our FREE 7-day Kindfulness course today!