Headspace's Rich Pierson has a morning ritual he has practiced for the last nine years to help start his day the right way.
It can be tough to shut out the noise around you and actually focus on what matters. Stress doesn't only affect your mood and your ability to concentrate, but your physical health as well. Indeed, according to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of stress include fatigue, headaches and muscle pain, nausea and even insomnia.
But meditation can help you calm down and center yourself to be able take stock of what is most important in your day. That is the mission behind Headspace , a Santa Monica, Calif.-based meditation company and app co-founded by Rich Pierson and Andy Puddicombe.
The platform, which provides meditation sessions as short as 10 minutes with themes like health, sports and relationships, allows users to track their progress as they learn about meditation.
To date, the app has been downloaded more than 10 million times in 190 countries, and it counts companies like Virgin and Spotify among its partners.
We caught up Pierson and asked him 20 questions to figure out what makes him tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I always start my day with 60 minutes of meditation. I have done this consistently for almost nine years now, and it's the foundation for everything I do. On a good day I also squeeze in a surf before work, but as Headspace has gotten bigger and more demanding this has become harder.
2. How do you end your day? My fiancé and I love to cook together. I find spending time with her the best beginning and end to any day.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why? Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I have read it over 30 times now. The chapters are really short, and you can read them in any order. The amazing thing about the book is that it never gets repetitive or boring. Every time I read it I learn something new. The way he describes the mind and the human condition is really beautiful. I think we have a tendency as human beings to over complicate things, especially when it comes to the mind. He simplifies things in such an elegant way that it always changes my perspective. His approach to life is what inspires me every single day.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why? I always recommend Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. One because Nike is one of my favorite brands and two because Phil's personal story is so incredible. I also see a lot of parallels with the barriers that Nike was trying to overcome around running, with the barriers that we are trying to overcome with meditation. Although it's a book about business, it's really a book about life and why values and determination are so important.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused? Meditation has definitely been the most effective tool I have found for focus. I practice every day, and I haven't missed a session in nine years. The discipline of having a daily practice helps me to stay focused and to remind myself every morning what's important. I also think the practice of constantly bringing your attention back to your breath is a wonderful technique for consistently developing the skill.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? When I was really young I wanted to be an airline pilot, but as I got older I wanted to be like my dad and run my own business. He started his own business when he was 16 years old, and it's still going today. He always told me how much he loved work, which really stuck with me. I always intrinsically believed that work is something that can and should be enjoyed.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had? He taught me to be self-sufficient, as he didn't give a lot of guidance or coaching. I actually quite liked that approach, but I think a lot of people struggle with it. It gave me the skills to start up Headspace but not the skills to be a great leader.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? My business partner Andy. I learn from him every day. We have an unusual relationship as he was my meditation teacher first, then my close friend and then my business partner. I would say his compassion and empathy for other people is the thing that I aspire to the most. I have seen first hand how important that is when you are running a team. It's also something you can never perfect so there is always room for improvement.
9. What’s a trip that changed you? Andy and I went on a surf trip to El Salvador. The surfing was great, but it's where we came up with the next version of the Headspace vision and mission. That has been the basis of all the exciting projects that the team has been working on for the last year. Many of these projects will be live in 2017, so it's extremely exciting to see how the team have taken that idea and turned it into something real.
10. What inspires you? The authenticity of the teachings Andy has developed for Headspace. When you hear about the effort and hardships the Tibetan people had to go through to escape Tibet and resettle in India, you get a real understanding of how precious these techniques are. We have never claimed that they are ours or that they belong to anyone in particular.
We have always tried to present them in a way that stays true to their authentic roots, but at the same time, make them relevant for modern times.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it? I had lots of business ideas, and I tried to start them all. The one that I was most serious about was a healthy popcorn brand. I can't claim it was my idea as it was my friend Cassandra's, but she wanted to partner with me. We started it, but then I met Andy. I decided Headspace was something I couldn't say no to.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful? I used to wash large trucks during my school holidays.The trucks had sometimes been on the road for up to a year, and they were not shown a lot of love or attention during their rental contracts. Cleaning huge trucks top to bottom, inside and out, taught me that manual labor is really hard, but it's also rewarding. There is something very satisfying about cleaning a huge piece of machinery top to bottom. There was also the added bonus that the pay was good, and it gave me the opportunity to go and travel.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took? Although it sounds counterintuitive, the best piece of advice I received, at first appeared to be the worst piece of advice. We hired a very senior person at Headspace. It was on the advice of some of our investors at the time. The hire was a disaster, and it caused a lot of problems for the company. That whole episode was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced in my career. At the time it felt like such a mistake, but in hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to us. It resulted in us reorganizing our investors, which allowed us the freedom to build the company we always wanted to build. Without listening to that advice, Headspace would never be what it is today.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got? Don't leave your job in advertising; you are committing career suicide.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Every year I travel abroad for two weeks and don't check my emails. I am plugged into a constant deluge of digital information every day at work. I think it's so difficult to be creative and think in macro way unless you change up your routines and create space. My best ideas have always come during or after a meditation retreat. That always stuck with and taught me the importance of taking a proper break.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track? I don't use any productivity apps, but I do block out two mornings a week where I don't take any meetings. That has been the most effective tool in creating space in my week.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you? It means enough time to spend with the people I love and enough time to do the things that I love, like meditation, traveling, surfing, skiing and cooking.
18. How do you prevent burnout? I take at least four weeks of vacation a year. I also surf and meditate on a daily basis.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating? I love to break my routine. I find that when I travel and seek new experiences, ideas flood in.
20. What are you learning now? I am constantly learning to let go. Sometimes I am good at it and sometimes I just can't help but hold on. Meditation gives me the opportunity to notice the things that I am holding on to -- the more I notice them, the easier it is to let go.