1 Big Idea to Think About

  • To find true happiness and fulfillment, we must find and follow our inner voice.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Act. When you hear that first “bing” in your head, take action as soon as possible. Do not let the second “bing” rationalize away your desire to act.

1 Question to Ask

  • What changes do I need to make to more fully live in tune with my core values?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • The pursuit of stillness, simplicity, and understanding (2:34)
  • The timeless quest for success (6:20)
  • Success and greatness come when you are in tune with your inner voice (8:39)
  • Attunement with your core beliefs (14:04)
  • Hearing your inner voice despite the external noise of the world today (16:48)
  • Being a genius vs. having the genius with you: An example with Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson (21:50)
  • Finding your inner voice through surrendering to your ego: How Gandhi found his inner voice (28:10)
  • Following the first “bing” (33:43)
  • Finding and following your inner voice in the most difficult situations (37:58)
  • Acknowledging when we fail to be our best self (40:17)
  • There is no monster (47:47)
  • Removing the real estate of hate from our lives (49:04)
  • Namaste: I honor the place within you where the entire universe resides, where there is only peace and love and joy and wisdom (55:32)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Connect with Hitendra Wadhwa

Twitter | LinkedIn | Website

Greg McKeown:

Welcome! I’m your host, Greg McKeown. I’m the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Essentialism and Effortless, and I’m here to embark on a journey to learn how to understand each other. By the end of this episode, you will have the simplest of tools that can produce extraordinary results. This tool will help you to turn the chaos in your mind into clarity and even creativity. Let’s get to it! 

Remember that if you want to get more out of each episode, take a moment to share something that you have learned that has impacted you with someone else within the next 24 to 48 hours. 

Hitendra, welcome to the podcast.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Thank you, Greg. A pleasure to be here with you and our listeners.

Greg McKeown:

Can you start with a Reader’s Digest version of your journey to this moment?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Wow. Well, it’s a powerful question to ask because one of the questions I asked my parents at some point very early on was, “Mom, Dad, where did I come from? I know I got onto Planet Earth at some point. You were the vehicles for that, and I’m so grateful for that. But you’re not my mother; you’re not my father. I have an origin, which is somewhere in spirit. So tell me more about what happens before conception, what happens after death?”

And that’s been really, in some ways, a key part of the story of my life, which is the pursuit of mysticism, the quest to get more answers to some of these hard questions. Some of it has been intellectual, like reading philosophy and scriptures, but by the time I turned into my mid-thirties, I found it to be unsatisfying to purely engage on these questions from the intellect.

I had long known that there were other truth-seeking paths available to us on the inside through practices such as advanced techniques for meditation. And I had experimented, but I hadn’t really fully solidified those practices. In the spirit of Essentialism, I mean, I can’t imagine something more essential really in some ways. In terms of the simplicity that, it invites you to take on than the practice of stillness, the practice of walking away a little bit, even from your thoughts, and seeking to be just in tune with spirit. And so, that’s been my journey over the last 20 years.

Of course, there’s been an outer aspect to my life, the pursuit of a key passion, mathematics, and over time that became a pursuit of management consulting and management and business analytics, and doing a startup, and ultimately still trying to figure out what I wanna do when I grow up. And then, 20 years ago, finding myself at Columbia Business School and teaching and moving into the human potential space. Finally, seeing my inner life and outer life merged together into one very rewarding pursuit of trying to help myself and help the world at this very crazy and critical hour to find meaning, purpose, and a deep sense of being a contributor to the making of history in today’s time by pursuing one’s full potential, both for oneself and any team, organization, or community one is part of. So that’s what I try to do now. And the mystic lens has always been, for me, perhaps both very fulfilling but also very informative in kind of doing this work.

Greg McKeown:

And when you say they’re coming together, do you think about that in terms of this book in a mastery outer impact? Is that the manifestation of the bringing together of these two lives?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

I wrote that book last year, and then we published the paperback this year. And it’s been a 15-year journey for me to evolve my ideas and thoughts into a structure and a form that I really felt when I finished the manuscript and handed it over to the publisher that I told my wife, nothing, I can die in peace now. I think I can die in peace. So, on the one hand, there is that sense of closure and completeness to a certain framework and a path that I proposed in that book. And so, yes, to that end, that does encapsulate it. And we can unpack that any which way, Greg, you think the listeners would be, would find it interesting. At the same time, like you, I know just from the little bit I, do of the arc of your career, we are all a work in progress.

Our understanding of life and the world is a work in progress, and how to articulate and message it and package it for like the current moment. And so to that end, already, I’m starting to see new thinking develop within me, and a hunger to kind of codify an updated set of ideas, which I guess will at some point make it to the next book. So I’m excited and energized and mission-driven, but at the same time, I feel I’ll feel at peace with the foundation and framework that I offer in that book.

Greg McKeown:

Why don’t you share with us the core of this book?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Well, you use a very important and central word to the book, core. So the book is about the timeless quest that we’ve always had in humanity, which is to pursue success. And you might define it in any which way you want. And I seek to offer that there are two definitions, an outer one, and an inner. On the outside, you wanna get acceptance and love and connection and advancement in your careers and financial and material gains and all of that. And then on the inner, it’s about being true to yourself and feeling like you’re being very authentic and you’re living the life that you wanna live. And often, there’s a conflict between these two, do you please the world, and do you please your family, or do you please yourself? 

And you know, what the book does is takes the position that, in fact, this is a false dichotomy. This is an artificial conflict because if you truly pursue both of these from the right place and the right place being your inner core, then you find that both these parts converge. 

And the inner core is that space from where your highest potential arises, where you’re beyond ego and attachments and insecurities. And when you’re there, and I’m there, we feel very much at home in the universe. We feel deeply connected and committed and calm and curious and open. And so, so the whole book is about the journey we can make toward the discovery of our inner core. We drift in and out of it from time to time. It’s not an unfamiliar territory to any of us. And yet the potential to get more systematically intentional about accessing it and then deepening that connection with it and expressing the core in everything we do is what can make us both inwardly and outwardly successful. And so, essentially, the book lays out a framework and a path toward getting there.

Greg McKeown:

Stephen Covey used language like primary greatness versus secondary greatness. Secondary greatness, as far as I can see, is what you’re referring to as the outward impact. This is what other people see. This is the measurable success. But this idea that the primary greatness, the inner battle, this precedes the secondary greatness seems to be the key observation here that you need to start within. And then that eventually produces something outside that is worthy and great. Do you see it in those terms?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Well, this was a real honor that you bring up somebody who is just tremendous, has been a tremendous force, a great thinker, a great spiritualist in many regards in modern times. I have the highest of regard and fondness for him, Stephen Covey. And yes, I think he talked about this notion of inner victory before the out victory as well. And yeah, I mean, look, I mean, I have uncovered some of my principles and ideas, yes, from the scriptures, yes, from the science, but also from stories. And so here’s a story that really stumped me but then also informed and illuminated my understanding o on this very question you were raising. 

And many of us have known about this gentleman. His name is András, popularly known as Andrew Grove. And my daughter got me in touch with this other hero, medal kova. Now, both of these people are from Eastern Europe, and they grew up around the same time as teenagers. They had to weather the storm of the Second World War. And as they came out of the war, both were heartbroken to see their countries move towards communism, not a form of government they were very inspired by. 

So what does Andrew Grove do? Do well, like many other people from his nation, he basically fled the nation, not seeing much promise there. And he came to the United States, came to New York, got a Ph.D., and ultimately went to Silicon Valley and became the founding father of the Silicon Valley, as we know it, as the CEO of Intel during a very formative period of the valley. And kind of like a lionized figure, as you know, and I know. 

Now, in the meanwhile, what does Mel Kova do under the same conditions, under the same conditions she chooses to say, Hey, listen, I gotta lean into this. I gotta fight for what I think is right for my country. And this is not right. You know, what’s happening with communism? So there she was earlier, fighting in the Second World War against Nazism, and now she has to fight against communism. And along the way, she has to sacrifice a life. She gets arrested and ultimately given capital punishment. And in a final day, she’s writing these beautiful, heartfelt letters to her husband saying like, you and I have had so much love, and we could have had so much more, and it pains me to see it getting nipped like this in the bud. And she writes to her daughter about how there are things which I’d love to have told you in the years ahead, but I will not be able to. So I’m putting them in this letter, and today you won’t have the maturity to understand all of this, but someday you will. So please keep these letters with you. And then she says, and now I have to go. And I have no regrets. I have no regrets. I have lived a good and beautiful life, and I go God’s way. And that, that was his will. 

Now, I sometimes pose these two contrasting stories, but very much the same roots to my students at Columbia. And I asked them like, which of these two do you think was more successful? It’s in terms of, as you call it, secondary greatness. Which of these two, what would you say it was the greater of the two? And it’s impossible. It’s impossible to say that, oh, she was right, and he was wrong, or he was right, and she was wrong. Mm-Hmm. They’re both incredible heroes. And one has to conclude that, ultimately, the pursuit of success and greatness comes when you are somehow in tune with your inner voice and be guided by it to be doing resilient things, creative things, courageous things, but in tune with an inner voice. And in some cases, the world will discover you and celebrate you, and you’ll have quantitative and outer great material in other forms of success like Andrew Grove and the other cases you might be confined to not even having a paragraph in the annals of official history. But then someone like my daughter discovers you somewhere and celebrates you and brings you to know you to my notice. And I feel like, oh wow, that was truly a life well lived.  

So to that end, I think it’s not merely to me the primary versus secondary, as much as it’s only one thing. It’s only one thing which is to seek to discover your inner voice. Seek to be in tune with your inner voice and be guided by it in whatever you do. In all likelihood, if you do that in whatever capacities you play out your purpose, the right people will come to you. The right support will come to you. The right breaks will come to you. Or if life sought from you a certain more humbler purpose, a little bit less celebrated and visible, you’ll still have a meaningful role to play in the annals of history, whether documented or not.

Greg McKeown:

What you are saying, both in that answer but also in your immediate answer to the first question of this conversation, is that it’s all about recognizing, maybe it’s naming, then following this inner voice of conscience. That this is the whole story. That this is, let’s say, the one true way or something like that. That if you are doing this, you cannot help but make an impact in other ways, in meaningful ways. You cannot help but feel that your life is meaningful because you are following your truest voice. Really, this is the core and summon bone of what you are trying to educate others in. What am I getting wrong?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Not anything at all. Now, the only way that you will have the comfort and confidence in going on a pursuit like that is if you can rest your life on a few core beliefs and a few core axioms because otherwise, this won’t make sense at all. And so I do have to offer those, for those of us who might be fighting this kind of idea about the fact that you have an invoice and the invoice can guide you, and how can it guide you in all of that? So could offer up those core beliefs.

Greg McKeown:

Of course.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

So you have to have a belief that there is an intelligence in the universe that underlies everything in creation. And that intelligence has a few attributes. One is that it’s ever-present. So it’s present right here with you today. And it’ll ever be present with you and every other sort of part of life on this planet. None beyond in the universe. The second is that it is all-knowing. In other words, it has full awareness of everything that is going on. You don’t even need to pray to it to inform it of your conditions because it already knows. A third is that it’s only potent, right? Which means that it is all-powerful, that it can drive and shape and direct energy and outcomes and anything that it so chooses to do. And then there’s a fourth, which is also really critical, which is that it’s all loving. It’s all loving. 

In India, we like to think of that relationship with that creative force as you’re the child, and that’s the mother. It’s unconditionally loving. And often, God, therefore, is represented more in a feminine form. Than that’s far more uncommon in the West. And so if you think about a force that is omnipotent, omniscient, all-knowing, omnipresent, present everywhere, and at the same time all loving, well then what’s the risk? What do you have to fear? You know, if you can find some channel through which you can be in tune with it, then the rest of your life is, as Mother Teresa said when she was asked once, like, “How do you feel about all this great work you’ve done?” 

And she said like, “How can I take any personal credit for it?” She says, “I was just a pen through which God was writing a love letter to humanity.”

So it’s just not her. I mean, you know, think about Abraham Lincoln at one point when he was fighting for the country but really trying to grapple with the critics on both sides. Some pushing him to go faster and some cautioning him to go slower. He said, “Look, at the end of the day, I have to conduct the affairs of the state so that if I have left with no other friend on earth, I will still have that friend deep down inside of me.”

And so it’s interesting. And by the way, not just in these kinds of arenas of heroic change-making but in other pursuits too. I mean, it is been fascinating for me to discover this similar kind of silent attunement. You take a Pacini and in the opera world or Picasso in painting or Tennison and in poetry, you know, all of these people talked about how in their most creative moments, yes, of course, they had to master their craftsmanship, what they were doing, et cetera. But ultimately, when they were able to create something beautiful, they said, all we had to do, all I had to do was be in tune. And if I was in tune, then it would just flow through me. Somebody else, Picasso would say, somebody else would paint through me.

Greg McKeown:

Yeah. The word attunement is a powerful word. And names, I think this pursuit of, of connecting to, of hearing the voice that is quiet inside of us that can guide us, that can help us. And in some ways, it seems that it’s arguably harder now than ever because of the perpetual, incessant, ubiquitous, loud noise, the noise that is everywhere. It seems to me that we live in not just in an information age but in an influencer age. And so we have all these external voices clamoring for our attention. And so it’s less intuitive to follow one’s intuition, your thoughts.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

I love that. I love that. Yeah. They talk about the technology divide in the past, and it used to be about like who has access to advanced smartphones and wifi and parts of the world that may not. But with the proliferation today of wifi and technology and what have you, I think the real technology divide is between those people who have been mastered by technology and who are servants to technology and those who continue to hold a space for themselves, where with an appropriate amount of self-awareness and self-discipline, they’re tapping into the potentialities of technology without being subservient to it. So I really applaud in the cautionary sort of note that you’re sharing about how hard it is in today’s time to pull away from the din. And, yet, it’s sort of just becomes that much more crucial for us to make space and time for that practice of not just connection, which a lot of the science talks about the importance, more and more connection, but also disconnection.

Disconnection, not in the form of loneliness, a certain nondesirable imposed kind of form of just being in, in isolation, but a way of really befriending something which is a spirit within us, a voice within us, a richness that is available within us. And then from that space, from that place, having declared that inner victory, having access to a source of love and wholeness and joy and peace from within, a reassurance from within engaging in the battlefield of life, not from a place of neediness because I really need love from you and I need affirmation from you, and I need myself to be successful to rise up the ranks then I’ll feel more complete in life. But from a place of how can I serve, how can I serve, how can I be of support? How can I make sure everyone in the world is as joyous as I am? I’m blessed to be able to access from within me.

Greg McKeown:

So it’s interesting that you refer to scriptures. Which scriptures are you referring to?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

I can’t claim that I am a very advanced student. Of all the great scriptures out there that said, through the interpretations and commentaries given by so many across time, I feel grateful and blessed that I’ve had a sense and a semblance of the scriptural guidance from across many faiths and traditions. For me personally, of course, having grown up in India, it’s natural that the Hindu faith is what I was able to very actively tap into. But my father’s library was very rich with Sufism, the more mystic traditions within Islam, for instance. And, the Mystic Saints, so Christianity as well, like St. Francis and Teresa of Avila, for instance. And, and then over time, as I moved to the United States, I got exposed to some Judaic thought as well. And then Buddhism, of course, which is really, to me, in some ways, a kind of an extension sister discipline and faith from Hinduism, Sikhism, and other faiths out of India.

So, all of these, for me, was like a rich feast to be able to study and explore kind of the deeper truths. And I was not as drawn, I have not been as drawn to the more ritualistic outer aspects of any of these religions, including Hinduism, that I was born into. But I’ve been very interested in their deeper mystical truths and the questing of truth seekers within any of these faiths to say that I don’t have to die and then wait for a certain heaven to be revealed to me. But right here on planet Earth, while I am in this embodied form, I want to be able to invite a certain communion with that divine spirit.

Greg McKeown:

This seems to me to be one of the relatively few commonalities that run through all of the major religions; there are others, but this certainly is one of them – that you can find language stories and illustrations of this single idea. And, of course, it’s not limited to these formal religious texts.

I just was interviewing Ron Johnson, formerly from Apple, who worked with Steve Jobs. And this idea, he shared it effortlessly as he was describing the five main stories where he was impacted by Steve over the 10 years of working together. And this idea that he was highly intuitive in his decision-making, that he really mattered, and that they were trying to find those things that intuitively made sense, that felt right amidst all of the noise of how other people were doing things. And how deliberately Steve was trying to say, “Look, I’m not interested in the past. I’m not interested in what I achieved yesterday. I want to be disconnected from that. I want to be listening right now.” 

And that was part of the reason that he was able to change his mind so quickly between one day and the next because he wasn’t being held back by words he’d said before. He’s trying to follow, I think it’s not too much of a stretch to follow something similar to what you are describing. And so we see it in business leadership. You’ve already described it in many of the creative arts. Well, this is like a golden thread through all of it. If one is looking for it, what is the one thing that you feel is most useful in actually recognizing that inner voice versus all the other voices inside of us and around us?

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Thank you, Greg. I’m really appreciating the line of inquiry and the ornaments and contributions you’re like offering along the way. And it’s interesting you bring up Ron Johnson. I don’t know him, but you know, I was just coincidentally yesterday doing a workshop on leadership here for a client in London. And I, at some point, wanted to make a very critical point to them about not allowing themselves to be too defined by who they are today or who they have been yesterday. Mm-Hmm. But to really see themselves as having the capacity to evolve into version 2.0 and 3.0 and what have you. 

And I like to, at times, do that through stories. And so I was like, what story will really help here? And instantly, what flashed in my mind was a Ron Johnson story with Steve Jobs where Steve had once pushed back on an idea at a very critical moment in the pre-launch phase of the Apple stores; how even though he pushed back, he changed his mind, and he acknowledged his era, and he allowed Ron to have his way. And the rest is history with the success of those stores. And Ron is so gracious in having shared that story in a very thoughtful way. Anyway, so I was sharing that story, so I’m just happy to hear that you just connected with him.

Greg McKeown:

No, but let’s just riff on it for a moment because I think it is relevant because Ron said after nine months of having worked every week and spoken almost every day designing what would become the Apple store, he comes to Steve, and he says, look if the vision you just described in our meeting yesterday about technology hub, that the Mac is a hub and the iPod will go with this. This is a hub system. He says, if that’s true, then everything we’ve done in the design of the store just about has to be redone because we are doing it right now as separate products. And your whole point is that it needs to come together. And Steve just said to him, look, I’m, I think I’m too exhausted to do this. I spent nine months with you. I’ve spoken every day. We’ve gone to see this thing every week together. I just don’t think, I don’t think we can do it. 

And then they go on a very quiet journey in the car. They drive the 10 minutes over, not speaking a word together. And so, I assumed that this was especially awkward, but he said it just was silent. It wasn’t super tense, it was just, and then they get there. Steve gets out of the car. They go and speak to them, and he says, “Listen, Ron has come to me. He said, we’ve done the whole store wrong, and he’s right. We need to redo that from the beginning, and he’s gonna stay here. I’m gonna leave, and he’s gonna tell you how to do that.” 

And so it’s this, the connective tissue here, is that silence in the car, what’s he doing? What’s the process? What’s the thought process? What could the thought process have been? How easy it would be to just spend the whole 10 minutes defensive and angry, how easy it would be to just keep doubling down and saying, no, we’re doing it the way we are doing it. And come up with all the reasons you know that Ron’s wrong and I’m the boss, and this is too late, and you should have done this. And all the other voices he could’ve had. Somehow he’s able within that 10 minutes to see that Ron is right to eliminate whatever ego would keep him stuck in his old ways of thinking and to communicate it clearly and authentically. It’s a live example, I think, of what it is you’re trying to express.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Yeah. Beautifully put. Yeah. So I don’t know. I mean, I’ve heard the story, I’ve told the story, and yet hearing it from you again like this gives me goosebumps. I mean, it’s just such a beautiful, just glimpse into Steve Jobs and his approach and human nature and Ron Johnson playing such an important catalyzing role. I mean, it’s not just like Steve Jobs; it’s genius. It’s the collective genius of people like the Ron Johnsons of the world who have shaped and made Apple, you know, or what it is. But it was Steve’s genius, too, to be able to find a way to accommodate and invite yes and attract and spark the genius. 

Greg McKeown:

But I wanna interrupt purposefully because the idea of genius has changed over time. And so, originally, when you talked about genius, a person was not a genius. You would never use that term. You would never use it like that. That person’s a genius. It’s an aid of our conversation here. You had the genius. The genius was with you. It was a separateness to you. Something else that was informing you. And it was about trying to have the genius with you rather than a person being it. And I think that’s a much more helpful way of thinking about this because otherwise you just go, well, these other kinds of people, well, they are a genius, and there’s nothing to do with me, and I can’t touch that. Rather than, well, they managed to consult with the genius. They managed to get access to the genius. And so that’s available to all of us. And I think it brings us full circle back to this conversation.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

I love it. I love it. Yeah. Thank you. I’m getting a nice education right here. Appreciate it. This is cool. And so much in sync with one’s intuition about these things. So, you know, to the question you were asking, is that what you mean by it going after the inner voice as a source of success and how you access and all of that? So the story just was like a spark and little early clarity on the how right. 

And so Gandhi, who was an active proponent of the idea that everything has to become coming from that source, from that inner guidance. And there’s this like epic moment in Indian history where in India’s revolution, peaceful revolution against British rule for 27 years, which he had been waging and harnessing the cooperation of the Indian people, not to raise any arms against the British, but yet to kind of engage in some mass forms of civil disobedience.

At one point, he just had this kind of insight that what we should do is protest against the fact that the British and India were taxing salt. Any manufacturing of salt and selling of salt was taxed. And salt is like one of those essential things that even the poorest of the poor homes seek to afford need. And Gandhi had the stroke of genius that actually this would be a way through which to energize the masses, not take off some elite cause like education, which at that time would be more elite in developing nations like India or real estate laws and this and that. 

And he was considered to be, in many ways, very renegade and just silly by the media and by his peer politicians of that time, et cetera. Like, why are you going out to some trite issue like a tax on salt? And yet turned into an epic moment in Indian history where he took this walk to the oceanfront to visibly protest and disobey that law and basically extract salt from the ocean and just consume it without it being taxed. Just to demonstrate to the British that this is the courage we have. All that. And it led to a whole level of protest. And then, the British police were violent against the Indians. This got broadcast all over. Britain’s hearts melted the British and all of that. 

So it became like a very turning point in the revolution. Where did this come from? And Gandhi claimed himself, look, this came from my inner voice at one point, one day in stillness, this just came to me that this is what you should do. And so that’s what I did. 

And so, so there’s this American journalist who comes over to India, fascinated by Gandhi, sits down with him, and says, Mr. Gandhi, you talk a lot about your inner voice. I’ve been observing you for the last few days and learning from you so much. But there’s one thing that just puzzles me, which is there are a lot of people out there who claim that they follow their inner voice. And Mr. Gandhi, not all of them are doing noble and beautiful things like you. There are some who are a little bit deluded in terms of what kind of path they’ve taken in all that. So how do you really know that this is, in fact, the voice of a higher intelligence? How do you know that it is your true inner voice? Do you first have to convince yourself of that, and then you should surrender to it? Would that be your advice for people out there? 

And he said, Gandhi just like, seems so just appalled. That is the interpretation I was carrying after observing him for so many days. And he looked at me, and he said, it’s the exact opposite. It’s the exact opposite. First, you have to surrender, then you can say with conviction. And that’s the inner voice. 

And so to the point of how, look, I mean it’s there across every great scripture and every great faith, this notion of surrender. And to me, what does it mean in practice? It doesn’t mean passivity. It doesn’t mean that you don’t engage and work hard and have intention and drive in what you do. And that’s this kind of razor’s edge, this fusion of opposites that we are being invited to live, which is, on the one hand, have the motivation and an indomitable spirit and fight the good fight, but at the same time, do it from a place of surrender. Do it from a place where you are just committed to the active deployment of all your talents without being attached to the outcomes and without, in an emotional way, latching on to a certain blinding belief or a certain desire or hunger to prove something or show something or be able to just protect a certain individual or need or hunger in you, et cetera. You have to strip yourself bare to be able to see the light in your soul. And when you can do that by putting your human needs aside, then you can be reassured that the insight and the intuition that you will get will not be colored in any way by some insecurity or some limiting attachment or what have you.

Greg McKeown:

I went to the Phoenix settlement when I was in South Africa to the reconstruction of the house that Gandhi lived in for 20-odd years. And I was given a copy of what I was told was the only poem that Gandhi ever wrote. And in it found four succinct words, something like a life philosophy, and it was Reducing oneself to zero.

Hitendra Wadhwa:


Greg McKeown:

Yeah. And that idea that what you’re trying to do is to eliminate all the noise, all the false versions, of course, it includes all the ego, all of the agenda that other people have for you. And at some point, you are, to me, that’s the surrender. It’s getting rid of all of that clutter, getting rid of all of those non-essentials so that only the essential remains so that you then can hear what is true within you. 

So to me, this is one riff from what you’re describing. A second is just the extraordinary story of salt. When he got to the beach to make salt, the police had already been there, and they had stomped the salt particles into the sand so that it made it harder for him to do it. But in the very act of picking up the remnants of the salt that were remaining, he had broken the law and was arrested for it. And as you say, maybe 20, 30,000 people are then arrested as they continue that, that work and coalesces in the way you’ve described. 

When Gandhi died, there was this great phrase that was used by the Secretary of State General Marshall, who said that Gandhi had become the spokesman for the conscience of mankind. And so that brings us, again, back to the thing itself, to be able to submit, to then feel, then recognize, then obey this voice of conscience. And to this point of how I listened to a speech by Loren Dalton that its entire premise is you already have access to this voice, everyone, all the time now act on it instead of this, well, is that my voice or is that this voice? Or is that, you know, instead of wasting time, overthinking it as soon as you feel you are committed to doing it? Or maybe the commitment comes first, the moment I feel my conscience speak, I’m acting, and I’m ready to do that because I think there’s nothing you can do that will speed up your discernment intelligence than committing ahead of time. Well is the moment it speaks to me, I’m in action mode. I will do what is said. And he describes this with this, I think, quite helpful, modern language of the first bing and the second bing. He says, you’re in the middle of you reading something, you’re writing something, you’re doing something. And then the bing, the first, bing, bing, and you have this thought, call this person, do this thing. And it’s not what you were thinking about doing. It’s a kind thing. It’s a good thing. And he said the thing is that there’s almost always a second being a very logical bing. Well, I mean that’s that, yes, it’s been a long time since I reached out to them, and you’ve got a lot on today. So just get these things done first. And a very logical part of us will keep us from acting on the first. 

And he said, look, it’s all about trusting the first being, acting on the first being. And it was so precise the way he’s explained this that it has empowered me to be able to take more action, including reaching out to him, which also felt awkward and strange. But then we became friends, and there have been many good things that have come from that too. And so just wanted to build on this idea; submit then that means acting on, and your continued thoughts from there, please.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Yeah. Maybe we can think of it as attunement and then action, attunement, and action. And you know, look, I mean we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t operate with any illusions that this attunement is free, right? It is, it is something that in the milieu of our kind of modern life that all we have to do is say, okay, what impulse am I feeling right now? And that impulse must be that voice, and it’s inviting me to eat this or drink this or say this or share that. Well, no, there’s a little bit more opportunity for us to fully solidify and clarify which is a true friend within our inner voice versus a false friend. All these impulses that are perhaps creatures of habit that we formed over, over, over years in our life and all of that. So, so there is a little bit of the work to be done.

But to your point, this is a very phenomenal bing one, bing two kind of way of operating in life. If I could propose maybe one, one small extension to it, which may be very well within his framework too. And this again comes to me from Gandhi because he said, look, you and I, we don’t have to have the same faith, you and I, we don’t have to be following the same God or having the same idea of truth. Life is inviting you to follow what you see as truth. And it’s inviting me to follow what I see as truth. And he says, I have a strong belief that as you follow your truth along the way if you discover and learn a higher truth that perhaps some part of what you were thinking was wrong and some part was right. If you are honest with yourself, if you are open to course correction and therefore then advancing yourself, and I am too on my path, then over time, our paths will converge. We’ll both get to the same place.

Greg McKeown:

I read a most extraordinary story recently in the book Nonviolent Communication where someone who’d been trained in the art and craft of communicating in nonviolence was working at a homeless shelter. And a man came in who was a regular visitor, and he asks for a bed, and they were full. And she explains to him that and says, what, but let me look elsewhere. And he loses it. He’s so angry, he’s furious, he becomes violent, he grabs her, throws her on the floor, gets on top of her, has a knife to her throat, and she is trying to use the tools of nonviolent communication in the midst of actual violence, which is, of course, an extreme test by every measure. She says, well, it seems to me that you are so frustrated and angry because you feel like you aren’t getting the support that you need, that nobody hears you and sees you, and they’re not taking you seriously.

And as soon as she does that, his resistance eases. But it goes on and on like this for 45 minutes. He’s on top of her, and she’s just trying to show empathy, modeling what it is she’s been learning. Eventually, all of his resistance is gone. They get up; they move forward; they proceed. 

When she’s telling the author all about this, he says, my goodness, you should be teaching this class. I mean, that’s just an unbelievable representation of everything we’re talking about. And he said, why are you even back here today? And she said, because when I went to tell my mother this story, she said, well, you’ve got to get a different job. This is crazy. This is an awful situation. And I couldn’t, and I just was like, yeah, but, and I couldn’t do it with her. I couldn’t express that empathy to her. 

And so that’s the contrast. She can do it in the most extreme circumstances, but sometimes with those closest to us, it is the hardest place to achieve anything like mutual understanding and empathy. What have you found in your research that might help somebody in being able to find that inner voice, guiding them when it is in the toughest situations of their lives? 

Hitendra Wadhwa:

That’s a powerful story. It’s a great story. Thank you for sharing that. One of the advantages in those intimate close relationships is that unless you really come to a place of irreconcilable differences, and until you do, you have multiple opportunities to pick yourself up and apologize and acknowledge and try again. And I find that if any of us in those situations, in those relationships, does stumble from time to time, and at the same time has this conscience in you that is making you at some point calm down and recognize that wasn’t your best self and you wish that you could have handled that situation differently. Of course, that kind of awareness and realization is a prerequisite is critical. Because if you don’t even have that, then, of course, there’s no; you wouldn’t even be coming to Greg for any guidance, right? But you truly are coming for guidance because there’s a realization in you that there is a best self within me, and it rises to the fore from time to time, but it doesn’t in some situations.

Then at the minimum, at least create that reflective space to allow yourself to, almost on a daily basis, introspect and what went right, what went wrong. What is my intuition guiding me towards doing some honest face-to-face reflection with myself and my best self in a conversation with my best self? And then if I realize, oh, I ended up being a little bit more impatient than I should have, or more rude or et cetera here or there, then you become aware, and you have a certain aspiration to wanna play the game better the next day. And perhaps even recognize that there is an apology due to somebody from a genuinely felt place within. Because not that you are saying that I’m a hundred percent to blame, you’re not in any way trying to deprive the other party of perhaps their accountability and responsibility, but that’s not the game.

It’s not about allocating a hundred points, 60 to you and 40 to me for, like, why the fight happened or something. It’s taking a hundred percent personal responsibility over living up to your own high standards, your own aspirations, and when you fail to be open to acknowledging and apologizing and perhaps then adjusting your approach a little bit more the next day, a little bit more the next day. 

And there was a monk who I spoke with once who told me about how he had really struggled in his relationship with another monk, and he would get all kind of riled up from time to time, but he really wanted to kind of master that. And he said the first piece of growth I noticed was that the period over which I was riled up started to shrink. I was getting back to my center more quickly. It was only after I came to a point where that started to speed up the recovery process that I, later on, started to come to a place where now there were even fewer situations where I was getting riled up with that person at all. 

And so we have these repeat opportunities, and if you see this as a puzzle, if you see this as a game, you see this as a quest. It’s a joyful pursuit of a growth mindset in that relationship, in that dynamic. And hey, listen, I come from India, a nation where just it’s like second nature to think about the journey of the soul as having gone through incarnations and reincarnations. So if I were to be able to take the liberty of applying that lens for those listeners who would be amenable to it, you never know. But some people have very strong past karma.

You know, it’s not just coming, it’s not just coming from this life. There may have been dynamics you carried from past lives. And my spiritual teacher, yoga that he said when you have deep unresolved feelings with somebody else, there could be feelings of attraction, but there could also be feelings of repulsion. You have like a deep irritation with somebody, a judgment of somebody in a certain sort of negative way, et cetera. Those are magnetic forces. And in a future life, they’ll attract in certain circumstances that person to be close to you, either be part of your family or your friends or your boss at work or something. And so, so sometimes these can take more effort and time because they’re just deep set. And again, if I can have liberty, perhaps for some who are open to it, these might be coming from enduring dynamics that go beyond just one life.

Greg McKeown:

Well, I mean, it’s easy to have holy envy for that kind of perspective because it allows for there to be many more stories to the explanation of what’s going on than whatever story I have running in my head right now. And that even as a thought experiment is a helpful thing to consider, that there’s much, much more than meets the eye. It makes when I think more hesitant to be sure about your current judgment of the other person as being wrong and in the wrong

Hitendra Wadhwa:

If you don’t mind, before you move on, Greg, sorry for interrupting you, but I just wanted to share a quick little example just to kind of bring it to life for folks. This notion of just kind of always committing yourself to just behave according to your own, your own standards. This isn’t about what the other person said or did or you did. So I just, one example, I mean, I was in a movie theater just a few months ago, and I ended up having very poor service from the confection stand, and just, we won’t go into the details, but it was just like very disappointing for me. And at some point, after multiple messages, I got a little bit riled up, and I raised my voice in a certain way, and I spoke in a certain way. And then I go into the movie theater, and the movie starts, and as the movie’s playing around, there’s like an inner dialogue going on within me, which like, Hitendra, that was not one of your shining moments.

You are certainly not operating from your core, and you didn’t do good service to this individual despite the other disappointments. This just wasn’t the way you should have acted. And I’ll tell you, I was so grateful when I walked out of the theater, that individual was there, and I could go up to him and shake his hand and just warmly smile and just say, I’m sorry that I acted that way and that just wasn’t right on me. And I just felt so much more peace that night because I’d been able to do that. And so that’s just an example, you know? 

Greg McKeown:

No, It’s a great example. It’s a great example because, first of all, it’s just real; it’s tangible. Many of us, all of us, have acted in ways we wish we hadn’t. Whoever it’s with, you can imagine almost two realities, right? Like in the multiverse that split off at that moment. And in the one version, this is your story. You were able to go and correct the personal violation of your inner voice, of your conscience. It wasn’t some massive thing. In one sense, you could easily justify it as trivial, I’ll move on. It’s no big deal. But you knew that you felt the thing was wrong, and you did it anyway. And so this was correcting it. It changes that, that whole future cycle. And it’s difficult to overstate the possible ramifications for journey two. 

There’s tremendous research that was done by Terry Warner, C.Terry Warner. He ended up writing a less academic version of all of his research in a book called Bonds that Make Us Free, in which he tries to open up the second path. What happens when you violate your conscience in a relationship with someone else and then don’t admit the violation? He says this is the seed of self-deception. And its ramifications are potentially endless because what you’re doing is lying to yourself. And the way you can sustain the lie is to blame the other person. Well, they were bad. Instead of going, well, I really didn’t act the way I really wanted to act, and I know I was correct to act, you blame the other person. But that begins a spiral because you have to make them a worse and worse monster in order to justify the fact that you are calling them a monster. And so you get trapped in what, at least, I summarize as the monster cycle, where you have to keep pouring on accusations of them, which always then accuses you, I’m a monster. What kind of a monster would say this about someone else? Maybe they aren’t that bad. And look at what I’m doing. And you can be trapped in theory forever in that relationship. And so, a tiny violation can equal years and years of separation and accusation. And he says, really, the only antidote is to get back to, like, what is the truth? And he says the truth is there’s no monster, but there is, at some point, a violation of conscience. And once you can get back to what that is in your own life, you will be free from it. Whether it’s, in your case, the length of a movie or whether, in fact, it’s the length of a decade or almost a lifetime of cost, the truth literally sets you free. Your final thoughts and final words.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

I love it. I love it. I love it. It’s very inspiring. Very inspiring. I wanna maybe then connect the dots back to this part of our conversation. And you were bringing up the angst that we all feel about the state of social disharmony and what’s happening within and around the communities. And then we tied it back to our personal relationships. And one thesis I would offer is that this is not based on a singular field of research but more a connecting of dots between multiple fields. And for me, the spark of it came, and I visited the topography of Terra Museum in Berlin. I don’t know if you’ve been there, Greg. So this is where they’re documenting the rise and fall of the Third Reich Hitler’s regime. And it’s a very moving moment. It’s built right on top of where the Gestapo and the SS used to operate from.

And, you see all these pictures and this historic sort of commentary and all of that. There’s one thing that really struck me, and I was surprised because I didn’t know this, but we had close to the end of Hitler’s time when the Allies started to invade Germany, and the writing was on the wall that the war was gonna be won by one side. So Hitler made this declaration that historians call his Neros decree, and it was his Neros decree because, you know, as that ancient emperor who was playing the violin, seeing his city burn, what Hitler commanded, this general, who was with him at that time as he was hiding in the bunkers, is to go and announce to all his generals in the army that they should destroy all German infrastructure, you know, as in hospitals and schools and manufacturing units and roads and all that.

And this man was like, gosh, like, why is the furor saying this? Because yeah, we might lose the war, but why would we want to make life so miserable for all of our German countrymen and all that? And so he asked Hitler, you know, why he said that? And Hitler apparently told him, look, the good Germans are already dead. They already died in the war. So that’s why we should destroy everything now and for the goodness of humankind and Germany at that time, this general refused Hitler’s advice and guidance and ask and didn’t communicate that although he told Hitler he would. And within a few days of that, Hitler had committed suicide. And so the game was over for him. 

But when I kind of encountered that, that little story, I asked myself, what may have happened here to the inner condition of Hitler that got him to do that? After, apparently, across his whole career, he was fighting for the superior race as he saw, which was his German brothers and sisters. He was fighting for them. And now, suddenly, he wants to just like make life miserable for them. And then it struck me, this is, I think, what is happening, and I share this as a hypothesis for you, right? Which is that he had become a specialist in hatred. He hated the Jews; he hated his political opponents; he hated the gays; he hated just a bunch of people. And therefore, there was this set of neurons in his brain that were trained to take joy in certain people’s pain, a piece of real estate in his brain that became really good, taking joy in other people’s pain. 

And sometimes, for any or all of us, there is that real estate that we create. Maybe it’s not hatred, but maybe it is condescension, maybe it is judgment, maybe it is a sense of moral superiority to somebody. We have this piece of real estate where we allocate to people who we judge in that way. And so in these social divisions, if we are judging people on the other side of the social spectrum or the political spectrum or what have you, with that sense of outrage and hatred or judgment or what have you, we are creating that piece of real estate. And when we do know, what the research shows is that in romantic relationships, the two dominant emotions that we feel are love. And the second one is hate, is hate. Because when that person disappoints you, when that person upsets you immediately for a little period of time, whether it is a microsecond or a few seconds, or a few minutes, or a few hours or a few days or more, you park that person in that piece of real estate where you have learned to judge people and hate people and disrespect people.

And then you might bring them back. But during that time that they were there, maybe you were drawn to inflicting some pain on them through condescension and contempt and disdain and whatever nonviolent or violent ways of communication you might have. And so, to me, the learning from this is what one of my students shared with me when he said, professor, from what you’re saying to me, it seemed like what you’re saying is that judgment and disrespect and hate, these things metastasize just like cancer. You know, they start in one place, but then they quickly grow into consuming, and you’re all of your relationships. Because anytime in those relationships, people disappoint you at that moment, you just feel that impulse to put them there. 

And so my appeal to us all is to really be on that quest to eliminating any of that real estate from our minds and doing it for every and any human out there. Because it’s not just some people out there that you’re gonna be parking that real estate power, whether it’s a certain nation that you think is going to war and doing bad things. Certain people in your country are holding social positions or political positions against yours or whatever. If you’re keeping that real estate in you, it ends up hurting and limiting the sweetness and grace and the dynamics that you have, even the people you love.

Greg McKeown:

If I can just sort of conclude it with one more way of making it personal. It’s like when I’m in the Holocaust Museum or when I’m reflecting on these things, of course, what I want to say to myself is, well, if you’d been there, Greg, you’d be Schindler. I want to give that something like that pathetic presumption where statistically, of course, that’s unimaginably unlikely, that the pressure to do what those in power are saying that the desire for self-protection in it implies a completely different reaction. And so this idea of how can I choose you, choose listeners, choose to live by conscience under any circumstances, to listen, to obey it, to engage in, in that way, and not to fabricate, to not lie, to not go along with the dominant voices when it’s easy to do it. That, to me, is the real test. And of course, we’ve gone in a variety of different directions to get to this point, but to me, this becomes like the real test of life. And what we achieve, whether we do this or not, of course, is yet to be written.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. That was both inspired and inspiring, and yeah, I had no idea, but very powerfully hear your own personal connection with the community that got so painfully hurt during that terrible period in history. But we should end on a high note, and coming back to the inner voice is a beautiful place to take it. And since Gandhi’s been a constant refrain in many parts of this conversation, some of the stories I’ve cited, perhaps I can offer from Einstein, just one final story about him and Einstein, right where Einstein was seeing Gandhi fold his hands in certain newsreels that he would see around the time of the 1930s and forties. And so he wrote to Gandhi and asked like, Mr. Gandhi, what is this form of greeting that you have where you hold your heart? Could you explain the essence and meaning of that?

And so Gandhi wrote back to him, and this is what he said, and that could be my perhaps final offering to our listeners. And thank you for their patience, and I wish them God’s fear and well, and Greg, you’ve been just an amazing force and all you do, and I’m grateful for so much of the very important contributions you’re bringing to this conversation with you here today. So yeah, thank you. 

So Gandhi wrote back to him, and he said, this means namaste, which is, yeah, this greeting that I’ve also obviously learned and absorbed in India. Namaste. And he says, it means, he says that I honor the place within you where the entire universe resides, where there is only peace and love and joy and wisdom. I honor the place within you where when you are at that place, and I am at that place, then there is only one of us.

Greg McKeown:

That is beautiful, Hitendra. Thank you for being on the podcast.

Hitendra Wadhwa:

My honor.

Greg McKeown:

What is one idea you heard today that caught your attention? Why does that matter so much? And who is one person you can share that with within the next 24 to 48 hours? If you found value in this episode, please write a review on Apple Podcasts. The first five people to write a review of this episode, we’ll receive free access to the Essentialism Academy. For more details, go to essentialism.com/podcastpromo.

Thank you. Really, thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.