Book Notes by Abi Noda

Search Inside Yourself - by Chade-Meng Tan

ISBN: 0007467974 READ: Dec 27, 2013

Critical Summary

Search Inside Yourself is a program for developing emotional intelligence created by an early engineer at Google and now offered as a live course; this book attempts to make the program accessible to everyone. To the authors own admission, the meat of the content is not original — Search Inside Yourself consolidates and re-presents practices that are in some cases centuries old. Perhaps as a result, at times I felt that the book was overreaching and venturing shallowly into tangential topics like confidence and motivation — these are deep subjects that I felt were not given the full attention they deserve. That being said, the book's breadth opened doors to new subjects such as the neuroscience of the social brain and Tony Hsieh's 3 types of happiness. Overall, Search Inside Yourself offers a framed but practical introduction to Samatha meditation and invites us to change our lives by cultivating awareness, empathy, and compassion.

Emotional intelligence = the learned ability to monitor one's own and other's feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them ,and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.

the 5 domains of emotional intelligence: 1. Self-awareness - knowledge of one's internal states, preferences, resources 2. Self-regulation - management of one's internal states, impulses, and resources 3. Motivation - emotional tendencies that facilitate achieving goals 4. Empathy - awareness of others' feelings, needs, and concerns 5. Social skills - adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others

The aim of developing emotional intelligence is to help you optimize yourself and function at an even higher level than what you are already capable of.

"neuroplasticity": what we think, do, and pay attention to changes the physical structure and function of our brains


"mindfulness" = paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present, and non-judgmentally

A strong, stable, and perceptive attention that affords you calmness and clarity is the foundation upon which emotional intelligence is built.

Acquire the skill and habit of thinking before you react.

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and happiness." --Viktor Frankl

We can usually experience emotions more vividly in the body than in the mind; eg. intuition is experienced in the body before we realize it in our minds. The most effective way to become more aware of our emotions is by learning to recognize and notice the physiological patterns correlated with emotions.

Mindfulness Meditation

meditation = mental training for familiarizing oneself with specific types of mental processes

mindfulness meditation = trains attention and meta-attention

meta-attention = attention to attention; supports ability to correct wandering attention, which gives you continuous attention, or concentration

goal of meditation is to be relaxed and alert, and find calmness, clarity, and happiness

when the mind is calm and clear, happiness spontaneously arises because your mind returns to its default; happiness is the default state of mind; happiness is not something you pursue, it is something that you allow

like exercise, growth in meditation comes from overcoming resistance; eg. every time your attention wanders away from your breath and you bring it back, it is like doing a rep

When you go to the gym, you are training your body so that it can gain more physical abilities. If you lift weights, you will eventually become strong. In the same way, meditation is like training your mind so that it can gain more mental abilities. For example, if you do a lot of meditation exercises, your mind becomes calmer and more perceptive, you can focus your attention more strongly and for longer, and so on.

progress in meditation practice will be like melting ice == a frustratingly long time seemingly without any meaningful progress, followed by huge rapid progress

traditional meditation posture: The goal is to be alert and relaxed: 1) Back straight "like an arrow", 2) legs crossed in a "lotus position", 3) shoulders relaxed, held up and back "like a vulture", 4) chin tucked in slightly, 5) eyes closed, 6) tongue held against upper palate, 7) lips slightly apart, teeth not clenched

How to Meditate:

Breathing as if your life depends on it.

  1. Mentally create intention, a reason for wanting to practice mindfulness

  2. Follow your breath. Bring attention to the nostrils, the abdomen, or the entire body of breath. Become aware of in breath, out breath, and space in between. Analogy: your mind as a guard vigilantly watching your breath go in and out

  3. Distraction We may start ruminating, worrying, or fantasizing: 1) Regain attentional focus by bringing attention back to breathing 2) Remember that correcting distraction is the process of growth and developing mental "muscles" 3) Become aware of your self-attitude; shift attitude toward self-directed kindness and curiosity; adopt the loving "grandmother mind"

We may get distracted by sounds, thoughts, or physical sensations. In response, we should:

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Experience without judging or reacting. If you need to react (eg. scratching an itch), take five breaths before reacting to practice creating space between stimulus and reaction
  3. If you need to react, maintain mindfulness over intention, movement, and sensation. eg. bring attention to sensation of itching, then to intention to scratch, then to movement of arm and finger and sensation of scratching
  4. Let it go; if it wants to be let go of, let it go; if not, let it be. Treat it with kindness and generosity during its entire presence.
  5. Return to following your breath, remind yourself of your intention

mindfulness during activity

in mindfulness, neutral things in life such as not being in pain, having three meals a day, etc. become causes of joy because we no longer take them for granted; pleasant experiences become even more pleasant because our attention is there to fully experience them

informal exercise: bring full moment-to-moment attention to every task with a nonjudgemental mind, and every time attention wanders away, gently bring it back (same as sitting medication, except the object of medication is the task at hand)

formal exercise: walking meditation: when walking, bring full moment-to-moment attention to every movement and sensation in the body, and every time attention wanders away, just gently bring it back (script on p. 55)

mindfulness directed at others

mindful listening: give your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, bring it back (same as sitting medication, except the object of medication is the other person)

our attention is the most valuable gift we can give to others

if there are people in your life you care about, be sure to give them a few minutes of your full attention every day

mindful conversation

mindful listening + looping + dipping

"looping" - listener loops back what he thought he heard the other person say; is corrected; repeats cycle until speaker feels that the listener has correctly understood

"dipping" - the main reason we do not listen to others is that we get distracted by our own feelings and reactions. dipping is self-directed mindfulness during listening (or speaking)


self-awareness = "knowing one's internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions"; self-awareness enables all other domains of emotional intelligence because it engages the thinking brain in the process of emotion. The moment you can identify an emotion, you are no longer engulfed in it.

3 areas of self-awareness: emotional awareness => accurate self-assessment => self-confidence

A clear and objective view of ourselves and our emotions gives us the ability to accurately self-assess and clearly understand our strengths/weaknesses, aspirations/desires, priorities. We can then reach a point where we are comfortable in our own skins and there is nothing we can't deal with == self-confidence.

body scan - develops emotional awareness (meditation script on p. 91) In meditation, systematically bring attention to different parts of our bodies, starting from the top of our head and moving down to the tips of our toes, searching for and noting all sensation or lack of sensation. ~5 minutes. It doesn't matter if you experience sensation or not, the important part is attention. Then deliberately try to experience a positive emotion (think of a happy memory/event) in your body, and scan your body for ~3 minutes. Then return to present (breathing) for 2 minutes.

journaling - develops accurate self-assessment (p. 95) Give yourself a set amount of time and a prompt, e.g. "What I am feeling now is...", "I am aware that...", "I aspire to..." and write down whatever comes to mind (can go off prompt). Just let your mind flow. Only rule is you can't stop until your time is up. If you run out of things to write, keep writing I have nothing to write.

Through increased self-awareness, emotions go from being existential to experiential: "I am" to "I feel"; and then eventually emotions become physiological phenomena: from "I ann angry" to "I experience anger in my body"


self regulation is about making friends with emotions and recognizing pain and suffering are distinct experiences.

"affect labeling" - a simple technique for self-regulation; when you label an emotion you are experiencing, it helps you manage that emotion

suffering exists primarily in two forms: our mind grasping or having an aversion to something

4 techniques for dealing with distressing emotions:

  1. know when you are not in pain - cherish the lack of distress when it is present
  2. don't feel bad about feeling bad - recognize that distress is natural and let go of your ego with good humor
  3. don't feed the monsters - do not dwell or retell stories that aggravate your distress
  4. start every thought with kindness and humor - pretend your life is a sitcom

self-regulation meditation technique: siberian north railroad (script on p. 118)


3 types of happiness (tony hsieh):

pleasure = chasing the next high passion = "flow" / high-performance higher purpose = higher meaning

we instinctively chase after pleasure, believing it to be the source of sustainable happiness. most of us spend most of our time and energy chasing pleasure, sometimes enjoying flow, and once in awhile, thinking about higher purpose. we should be doing precisely the reverse.

3 elements of motivation (dan pink):
  1. autonomy - urge to direct our own lives
  2. mastery - the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  3. purpose: yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves

humans have a strong negative experiential bias - It takes three positive experiences to overcome a negative one, a 3:1 ratio. A negative feeling is three times as powerful as a positive one.

resilience meditation: failure (avoid averting) success (avoid grasping) see them as simple physiological sensations. let the experiences to be present, let them come and go as they wish. let them be in a kind and gentle way.


self-awareness and empathy are highly correlated; the brain uses the same part of the brain for both; developing self-awareness improves empathy

empathy is understanding. not psychologizing; when we psychologize, are dismissing the problem, not understanding it

your perception of how similar someone else is to you affects your empathy towards that person

to become more empathetic, we need to create a mind that instinctively responds to everyone with kindness and an automatic perception of others being "just like me"

just like me (p. 169) = meditation script for creating mental habit of equality loving kindness = meditation script for creating mental habit of kindness metta bhavana (p. 171) = traditional practice of loving kindness

it is better to structure feedback around effort and growth than by labeling a someone: person praise = "you are good" = reinforces outcome orientation process praise = "you effort was good" = reinforces task orientation / growth mindset


compassion = mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved == "i understand you, i feel for you, i want to help you"

compassion is a state of extreme happiness; happiest measured people were meditating on compassion at the time of their record

(easy) goodness meditation (script on p. 203) (pro) traditional compassion tonglen meditation" - (script on p. 206)

The Social Brain

SCARF model:

  1. Status - relative importance, pecking order, seniority; you can increase your own status without harming others by seeking mastery, activating status reward relative to your former self
  2. Certainty - uncertainty generates responses "error responses" in the brain that cannot be ignored until they are resoled; uncertainty takes away valuable brain resources and can be debilitating (eg. not knowing if your job is secure)
  3. Autonomy - perception of control over one's own environment. the feeling of helplessness in the face of stress alters our functioning.
  4. Relatedness - Perception of whether another person is a "friend" or "foe". Research shows that one and only experience in life that makes people sustainably happy over time is the quality and quantity of social connections. By default, brain labels someone as a foe unless proven otherwise (fortunately it is easy to switch people from foes to friends)
  5. Fairness - Sense of fairness is a unique in humans. humans will sacrifice their own elf-interest for the sake of fairness

Enhancement of these five dimensions is experienced as rewarding. Diminution along any of these dimensions is just as aversive as physical pain.

You can influence most effectively when you help reward people based on the SCARF model in a way that helps you and serves the greater good.