What’s the secret to having a great day? It’s all about deciding to have one.
Dr. Srikumar Rao sees his work as helping people break out of the cages they’ve built for themselves. Rao, an elite coach who works with business executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs, is widely known for his popular course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, first developed for Columbia Business School. His talk, “How Can You Plug-in to Happiness Now?” has had more than a million downloads and he is the author of two bestselling books, Are You Ready to Succeed? and Happiness at Work. Dr. Rao is one of the speakers at the upcoming Conscious Entrepreneurs Summit.
“We run our lives according to the dictates of our minds and we don’t even recognize we are doing it,” says Dr. Rao. The first step is simply becoming aware of how our own internal chatter enslaves us and imposes limits on ourselves. “We all live in a matrix we built ourselves,” he says.
Giving Up Control
One common misperception is that we can control what happens. Dr. Rao says frustration, anger and many other emotions are a result of people wishing they could control something they actually have no control over. The reality is that control “is a myth. It’s an illusion.” As much as we try to do things “right,” we can never fully direct the outcome.
The pandemic has been a powerful reminder of this lesson. “The problem is our insistence that everything has to be a certain way,” Dr. Rao says. The pandemic has forced many to become aware of so much that we previously took for granted, like the ability to easily restock toilet paper and other supplies and go to a restaurant for dinner. “At a very visceral level, it brought home to us that we don’t have control.”
Dr. Rao says the true benefit of setting a goal is not so much about reaching that goal, it’s really about “what happens in you and to you as you try your level best to achieve the goal.” Whether you achieve your goal or not, the win is really what you learn about yourself in the process.
Dr. Rao points to his own experiences. He floundered for years, trying to settle on his purpose, trying to find a way to live a more meaningful life and learning from spiritual guides. He decided to teach a course at Columbia building on what he’d learned. To his surprise, a video of his talk found popularity, getting over a million views, something he had never set out to do or even imagined would happen. He’s given up asking why because “the Universe is going to do what is exactly right.”
The challenges we face are opportunities to become aware of our limiting beliefs. Appreciation and gratitude are powerful tools in shifting our mindset and breaking free of our own mental cages. Dr. Rao calls this “shining a light”: “Our awareness is like a flashlight. . . . typically we shine it on the two, three or four things that we have decided are wrong in our life. We never shine it on the 50, 60, or 200 things that are pretty damn good about our life.” By shifting to a mindset of gratitude, we can reshape our mental model away from how we think things should be to instead appreciating and enjoying what is. Then, from that space, you can address the things you want to create and change.
Dr. Rao defines “conscious entrepreneur” as “someone who recognizes that he or she is in business to raise the level of consciousness of everything in the ambit of the business.” He believes that entrepreneurs are powerfully positioned to do the work he describes as growing our self-awareness and breaking free of limiting mental models. Entrepreneurship “is the Swiss Army knife of tools” for self-growth. No matter what you do, ultimately your primary job - and perhaps only job - is the work is that you do on yourself. “I believe your purpose is to recognize who you are . . . [to] come to that point of pure awareness.” says Dr. Rao. Rather than engage in the “hustle mentality,” Dr. Rao advises that “it’s much better to be in the realm of calm being rather than frantic doing.”
Another point Dr. Rao makes is that everything we do is an expression of who we are and that we all have the ability to elevate consciousness in ourselves as well as in others. By becoming more aware of ourselves, we can learn to understand how we can make a better and bigger impact on the world.
Dr. Rao defines success as having a rich inner life, something he has explored deeply by studying many spiritual masters. He also believes the practices that cultivate more awareness ground us in a place where we can make more thoughtful decisions and ultimately attract the people we most want to serve. He observes, “When you’re not desperately trying to get customers is when they’re most attracted to you.”
Dr. Rao also explains how we can make a difference in every part of our lives by deciding to lead from a place of love, compassion, and gratitude. He relates the Native American parable of a young boy seeking wisdom and the medicine man who tells him that there are two dogs inside you; one that is kind, loyal, and trusting and one that is angry, disloyal, and distrustful. Ultimately, it is up to you which dog you feed. Dr. Rao applies this perspective to the self as well as how we relate to others: ”Your job is to selectively identify and feed the dog in you as well as in everyone you meet.” Ultimately, you decide how you want to see and interact with others.
Dr. Rao believes there is a growing mass of people who are cultivating this sensibility and observes that change happens when more and more people change their attitudes and perceptions. He also observes that human beings are, as a species, better off now than we’ve ever been. Central to his teachings are the belief that we are all connected, that “I perceive you as me and me as you… this distinction is artificial. The purpose of human existence is to recognize this distinction is artificial. . . We are one.”
While Dr. Rao suggests we all “be as Buddha” and take life as it comes without judgment, he is relaxed about how to pursue spiritual growth. He recommends having inspirational books that you can simply open at random and glean wisdom in small nuggets; it “will be exactly what you need.” Recommendations for books are available on his website, The Rao Institute.
His last bit of advice? “Life is a construct. You might as well have fun.”
The conversation with Dr. Srikumar Rao continues on the Leading With Genuine Care podcast, where Dr. Rao explains how his clients find him, how we can break free of mental models that keep us unhappy, and how business leaders can practice these principles in their work. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne. Check out my website or some of my other work here.