Welcome to the Mindful FIRE Podcast, where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond. I’m your host Adam Coelho and I’m glad you’re here.
Today we dive into part 2 of my conversation with my friend, Nicholas Whitaker. If you haven’t yet listened to Part 1 of our conversation where we dig into Nick’s backstory of going from poverty to working at Google, you can check it out here. It’s one you don’t want to miss.
Nicholas has an incredible story of going from living in poverty, with housing insecurity and just scraping by, to changing his mindset and his entire life to ultimately be working at Google for the last 10 years.
For the past decade, Nicholas has leveraged the scale and resources of Google to support the journalism industry through high impact educational products, programs, and strategic partnerships, reaching more than half a million journalists worldwide.
Throughout his time at Google, Nicholas has also managed stress and anxiety through an active mindfulness practice, extensive study of emotional intelligence, resilience, and the impact of technology on well being as well as regular therapy.
He spends a portion of his time facilitating mental health talks, meditations, host experts in the industry to talk about mindfulness and resilience, and facilitate team development experiences to help teams and colleagues manage stress, cultivate trust and psychological safety, and learn more mindful ways to communicate. I'm also coaching a limited number of clients outside of Google.
In Part 2 of our conversation Nicholas and I dive into:
And so much more. I hope you enjoy Part 2 of my conversation with my friend Nicholas Whitaker. As a reminder you can check out Part 1 here.
Check out Nick's website:
Each Tuesday I release a guided meditation or inspiring interview on the topics of mindfulness and financial independence. Subscribe for future meditations and episodes!
Adam Coelho: [00:00:00] Welcome to the mindful fire podcast where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond I'm your host, Adam quail. And I'm so glad you're here on today's podcast. We dive into part two of my conversation with Nicholas Whitaker. If you haven't watched part one of this conversation in which we dive into Nick's backstory and how he escaped poverty and move to a position of financial stability and ultimately ended up working at Google.
I highly recommend listening to part one of our conversation, which you can find in your podcast player. On today's episode, we explore how he thinks about financial independence retire early. Through what he calls a modified fire strategy, which really focuses on where and how he's investing his attention and his time.
And this idea of attention keeps coming up again and again, throughout the episode in there some really practical tips that he shares for understanding where we're placing our attention and how we can make little tweaks to live more in alignment with the life we want to be living. In this episode, we also explore a lot about mindset.
Taking action, commitment and gratitude. I really enjoyed this episode with Nick and I learned so much, and I really hope that you enjoyed as well. Let's dive into today's episode.
Welcome to the mindful fire podcast, Nick. Hey, welcome. Thanks for bam. And man, when you think about this modified fire approach, how would you
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:01:35] describe it? Yeah, so I think there's a few different categories that I look at it through. And I think the first one is making sure that anything I'm spending money on.
For the most part is either foreign investment where it will earn income in the future or will compound interest over time. Or it will set myself up in a way where let's say like the house purchase, like that was an investment purchase. We've almost doubled our value of our home since we purchased it.
That feels really good, but it's also like I'm not spending gods of money on a McMansion out here, which I could have done. I'm living probably below my means and. Being quite happy with it, so like those types of things, one of my cars that I drive is a 2010 truck, I've had that thing forever and it's terrible and gas mileage, but it gets me out into the country and it gets me out into the woods and it's a four wheel drive.
And it's a tank. Like I can get anywhere I need to with that thing. And I can live a very inexpensive vacation type lifestyle just by throwing a couple of things in the back of the truck and head in the mountains, which is delightful. The other vehicle I have is probably the last car alibi, and even that car was like a little bit of a cheese, like this is expensive.
Like I'm not sure I feel comfortable buying a brand new car. It's an electric vehicle. And it will probably be the last vehicle that I purchased new. And I'm planning to run that thing into the ground for the next 30 years, so like those types of things. So those types of considerations, but more importantly, I think it's really trying to think about.
That runway and understanding the role of money in terms of long-term sustainability and that equation of quality of life versus the money that you're putting into it. I think what I've really noticed over the last several years, it's less about the money for me. It's more about the attention. And I think you even touched on this a little bit ago.
It's what are you putting your attention on? You are basically what you're putting your attention on in a given moment. So all of my attention now is either on stabilizing my career. Building new skills to be able to pivot, regardless of whatever happens with the economy or with, the job market, having that feeling of agility there, and then doing the same thing with basically my finances and making sure that I had like a weatherproof strategy.
That is balanced and that is sustainable over a long period of time. There's a frugality to that to some degree, but there's also compromises. Like we shop our groceries at whole foods because we like to eat healthy, high quality produce, and we'll buy local farmer's markets as much as we can to offset some of that cost.
But those types of decisions are always tricky ones for me, cause I have to sit down and think And I used to buy my rice and beans from like the crappy grocery store that smelled like bleach down the street. Like, why am I shopping at whole foods? Now? That seems pretty indulgent.
I feel like I did the fire thing hardcore, like in my twenties, just by accident. So like now this is a little bit more of a thoughtful approach to it.
Adam Coelho: [00:04:16] You were already
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:04:16] retired. Yeah. I was already retired. Yeah. I My money was allowed to work on me slash homeless. It's a fine line. It's a fine line.
Yeah. I Like I call it housing insecure, cause I think that. Branding of homelessness is really tricky, because basically there's a connotation that comes behind that of saying that you were in a circumstances that was beyond your control or you've chosen to be there, I think is oftentimes what gets wrapped up with this idea of homelessness.
It was housing insecurity and it was job insecurity and it was education insecurity, but I was living incredibly frugal. I paid every for everything in cash. I didn't have credit, I guess I could say avoided credit, but I just couldn't get credit. Every decision that was made at that point are the same decisions I'm making.
Now. It's just like the order of magnitude is different, and the timeline is different. Yeah.
Adam Coelho: [00:05:03] So it sounds this modified approach to fire is very much based in frugality in looking at what you value ending on what you value. And there's, trade-offs, if you spend more money on food at whole foods, then.
You have to reduce your costs elsewhere. I guess I'm wondering if, are you looking towards a particular number you're trying to reach? Are you looking towards I'm trying to get to this point so I can leave work and then do whatever I want, or are you more looking at this in the way where you want to.
Do all of this impactful work along the way, as well as after reaching financial
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:05:42] independence. Yes. And so I have this like kind of short, mid, and long-term view that I'm always moving things through. And what I've been really thinking about is it's less about money at this point to me, and more about time and attention and more specifically attention because as Sam Harris says, attention is the cash value of time.
I really love this consideration is where you can often have time, but we squander it by paying attention to things that are not really moving us forward. I spent a good part of my life doing that. I had plenty of time. I just was paying attention to the wrong thing. So now all of the decisions that I make are really thinking about it in terms of what am I focusing my attention on?
How am I spending my time? How am I spending my resources for the greatest impact? So now at this moment, I'm currently gainfully employed at Google and I've been doing that for many years now. I've just switched my career more towards this heart led work, this personal and team development type work, which I think is really going to be where the puck is.
As Gretzky might've said, go to where the puck is in the future, not where it is now. That's really what I'm looking at is like the world is going to need more people dealing with things like mental health, with burnout, with trauma, helping people be more mindful and use their time more wisely.
These are the things that I'm really investing. Most of my attention on now is to go back and figure out, like, how did these things actually operate in my life? Can I turn this into systems that will actually help others? And can I bolster that lived experience with research and knowledge and education and training?
Based on the world's knowledge base on those topics. And then, for the next, however long, my plan is basically to spend as much of my time, attention and resources on those topics, both here at Google, but then also I've recently over the last several years started a coaching business.
And really the goal with that is to test out all of these techniques that have worked for me and the frameworks and the ways of approaching things and research back. Methodologies that I've learned over the last many years. It reinforced what I did previously and see if I can actually put that into practice with other people.
And the main focus of my coaching business right now is working with currently mostly men who are on that same journey. And they're trying to figure out like what their emotional intelligence is, tapping into those inner wisdoms of themselves. Trying to figure out like how to better use their time and attention to reach whatever their goals are based on the values that we work to establish together.
And that, that to me is a really nice balance of both taking advantage of a well-paid opportunity, doing the best I can to build that type of work within the environment that I'm in currently. And then also on the other side, give back and other ways and potentially create like a second stream of revenue at some point.
In a perfect world, in a few years, like maybe the coaching business will pay enough to allow me to let go of the work that I'm doing at Google. But to me, it's, there's always been a side hustle. There's always been something else that I'm working on. It's always going to be a yes.
And I think until it gets to a point where I'm not able to do the type of work that I want to do outside of Google or internally at Google for that matter. And I have to make a different choice. So that's like the short to mid term strategy and then term, it turns of a blank long-term strategy.
It's really thinking again about that attention and my body is not going to hold up for 40, 50 more years. So manual labor type work is out of the question. In a lot of cases, it's, what are the skills and technologies that I think are going to be most useful to create a sense of sustainability and a sense of flexibility in my career moving forward, and how do I carve out enough free time, open, spacious time.
I should say, to take care of myself, to build good solid routines into my days and weeks, and to spend time with my family, making sure that they're getting to where they need to be as well.
Adam Coelho: [00:09:25] I really liked this idea of how you're thinking about your resources, both in money and time, but really focused on attention, right?
Because in reality, this is the only moment we ever have to live. And so where I'm directing my attention in this moment creates my entire reality. And sounds like you're really putting that into practice in all areas of your life on a day-to-day basis. Do you have any practical tips for doing that?
It's it sounds great. I'd love to do it. How do I actually do that? And maybe some ways that you check in with yourself to see if you're actually doing that on a regular basis.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:10:06] Yeah, absolutely. And to me, structure has always been. A little bit elusive, I've often spent a lot of my time in the past, when I was younger kind of rebelling against structure, like even just the idea of working in a corporate environment was really hard to get my head around just going in, punching a clock, having office hours like that.
It just was antithetical to how I had operated for many years up until that point. So in terms of like practical I think that the biggest thing that was getting out of my own way in terms of the stories that I'm telling myself, and first of all, noticing, that was the biggest thing.
Noticing that those stories were even present and that there was built up trauma that I was responding to through much of the way I was reacting to the world around me. One of the most practical things I would recommend to be able to go get yourself some therapy. Everybody could benefit from therapy as far as I'm concerned, but particularly folks that maybe grew up like me, that really weren't encouraged to talk about their feelings really weren't encouraged to accept or identify struggle.
It was very much a walk it off kind of mentality, so to life which gets you so far, but it's not a long-term strategy. So a lot of it was just reckoning with a lot of that. And that's a journey I'm still on. Quite frankly, I'm still, I still go to therapists, still work through trauma that I'm still processing from back when I was younger.
So that's part of it. I think another part of it is creating structures within my days and weeks and months to check in, so it's very structured to formalize. I have routines that I put into on a daily basis, which to me are the non-negotiables. So for example, with a lot of my coaching clients, I go through the exact same thing that I went through.
I went through 15 minute chunks from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, including the sleep, put it down on paper and said, how am I spending each one of those 15 minute chunks throughout my entire day? What I noticed at one point in my career was I was completely overwhelmed and I felt like I was being pulled in a trillion different directions.
I was spending a lot of my time distracted, paying attention to social media, buried in my inbox. Input garbage on an ongoing basis. And then I was having panic attacks and I was having massive amounts of anxiety. It was affecting my sleep is affecting the way that I showed up in the work environment and within my relationship.
And I could feel the walls crumbling around me, and that, that. Message in the back of my head of you're going to end up back in your car. If you're not careful, got real loud and allowed me to say okay, like maybe this is a time management thing. And that's really where I started it from first.
I was like, let me just take a look at literally the units of time in my day. And if I'm using the most efficiently, of course, like by doing that, I'm like, Oh, I'm spending five hours on my phone. I'm spending two and a half hours on social media. It's no wonder I can't get the certification that I need.
Or want, because I don't have time to do it. It's like I have time. I'm just squandering it. So going through that exercise of blocking out my day, it was really useful because it gave me the structure to say okay, here are the big chunks of time that I could tweak to make sure I'm working on optimal efficiency, learning about how much sleep I needed and making sure I was optimizing for sleep was another big tactical thing.
Because that allows everything else to be more fluid and easier. If you're not sleeping, you're not giving yourself the chance to recover and reset. You're not going to be at your cognitive best. You're not going to be able to make the best decisions. And you're not going to have the energy you need to sustain you.
So that was part of it. My body had started to break down. Now in my forties, as I started getting in my late thirties, I started noticing a lot of the damage that I had done to my body from like my teens and twenties and into my thirties. So that was a constant reminder, so I started having to build in physical fitness and it that into my daily routine to make sure that I was actually getting the exercise that I needed.
So my body didn't shut down on me. So that was a big piece of it. And then from there it became about mindfulness and actually putting into practice, not just sitting and meditating, for a half hour, a day or 10 minutes a day, but looking at all the various different times throughout my day. And am I being mindful and present for that moment?
And I giving myself the gift of being present to the conversation that I'm having to the meeting that I in to the report that I'm working on. And it wasn't like an, all of a sudden thing where I'm like, Oh, suddenly I was snapped in and focus. And in flow state, it took years of, noticing that I was being distracted, pulling myself back, noticing I was being distracted, deleting the app for my phone, over and over again, until I got to a point of clarity around how I'm spending my time and putting into practice what I was preaching to others, which led me to the last piece here, which I think is accountability and giving back, being in community. Like the reason I talk about these topics is not to like.
Share necessarily some heroic journey because that's not how I really look at it. Like I'm pretty ordinary. I think I'm pretty average in that sense, I'm not special in terms of the arc that I've taken many other people have taken this art. But what I think I can offer to folks is some lived experience.
And through that experience, through that, talking about that I'm also reinforcing my own value as I'm also reinforcing the, my own strategies and reminding myself, Hey, like this stuff is important. If I'm talking to Adam about this, or I'm talking to the client about this, I better be putting this into practice and living it.
I think a piece of that too, Adam is like learning what you're motivated by, learning what you actually respond well to I'm. I do really well with guilt. So if somebody's if I feel guilty about like how I'm showing up in a situation, like I'll change my behavior. Maybe it would be better if it was intrinsically motivated, but like it works, so I think finding the things that you're motivated by and then attaching those to your values and then finding the structures within your days and weeks and months to, to allow for that to manifest, I think is really critical.
Adam Coelho: [00:15:32] Yeah that's really interesting. And this exercise of chunking your day looking at each 15 minute increment, is that a proactive planning and then looking at how it turned out or is it more of a time study?
Just look at for a week, how I'm spending my time.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:15:50] So let's both, I think that the concept of Kaizen falls into place here, it's I think it's a Japanese in origin, but the management practice of constant iteration and refinement. Yeah, this is really how I look at it.
We're all perfect gyms in the universe just as we are, but like maybe a little tweak and here and there could actually improve your experience in in some degree. So the initial exercise of doing that time blocking and going through, it was a bit more of a reckoning. It was like, no, like, how are you actually spending this time?
Let's get really brutally honest with it. And you put everything in there, from the few minutes that you spend on social media doom, scrolling to, the time you sent, spent staring at a wall whatever it is, that requires a certain amount of awareness and there's tools to allow you to help do that.
Know I was using a time management software that was really for contractors called toggle. And really what allows you to do is if you're billing by the hour, by the minute, you can really timestamp what you're doing from moment to moment. So that was one tool that I had.
The wellness tools built into your phone also was really helpful because it gave me a diagnostic data set and saying no dummy, this is how much you're actually spending on your phone. This is why you don't have time at the end of the day to do the things that you want. And probably why you're fatigued at the end of the day.
Also. So it was a bit of just a reckoning. And then from there it was a check back, and let's actually modify this and tweak it. And then what I ended up with were some of the really strong non-negotiables. So there's this seven hour block of time that does not get touched and that's sleep, and that's non negotiable.
There's other chunks throughout the day. There's a half hour to an hour lunch break. There's my morning routine, which is now actually closer to two hours. And in order to be able to get that routine in, I have to wake up earlier. So then I have to adjust my amount of time that I'm sleeping and when I'm going to sleep, then I have to adjust when I'm putting my phone down, because I don't like to be in front of technology about an hour before I hit the sack.
I want to make sure that I'm not inputting anything else. If anything, I'm outputting, I'm journaling. I'm doing those types of things. So that requires like a different time stretch. And essentially what you're doing there is you're just picking out the chunks of time and hours or, Several hour chunks that are non-negotiable and shuffling those around.
However, makes sense. Based on the way you're actually living that life. And it's a constant iterative process in about once a year, I'll go back or if there's a big life change in there. And so like I've just recently been hired for this new role. I went back through my notebook for all of 2019 and looked all, looked at all the journaling prompts and the responses that I had in there as well as my.
Time audit took a look and said, is this still accurate? Let's do another one for 20, 20, 20, 21, I should say. And now I'm in that process again, what is my perfect day look like? And I living that perfect day. If I'm not, where do I need to do? What do we need to do to get there? Am I showing up in the ways that I want to at work?
If not, what do I need to do to get there? Is my mind right? Is my relationships right? And so on and so forth. And that's part of the yearly kind of. Renewal process that I go through, I don't set resolutions. I go through this rigorous process of auditing, assessing, making declarations to myself, and then I put that away until the end of the year.
And it's a fun little experiment to go back and be like, Oh, that's what I wrote earlier in the year. And you could see how many of those things you've actually put into practice just by stating them. Is that a process
Adam Coelho: [00:18:52] that you have documented
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:18:54] anywhere? Yeah, I've got bits and bobs of it.
Basically. I was trying to put together a, an ebook which is called the all-in strategy. I have a tat that's another thing which we didn't get a chance to talk about, but like I have tattoos and most of my tattoos are reminders to myself. They're like the, Hey dummy, don't forget this. This is relevant.
Thing, I just decided to put it in ink on myself. One of them is called the all in or all in strategy. And really, it was a promise to myself when I met my wife originally, when we were still dating, we had a period in time there where there was like, It was unclear whether this relationship was going to be able to move forward.
And I just made a declaration at that point. And it's one that I've really stuck to sense where it's if you're not all in what are you doing? If you're not fully committed to this thing, whatever it is, relationship a conversation. Meditation, whatever the sandwich, if you're not committed to it, like, why are you doing it?
And then from there, I started to put together like the building blocks that I saw that got me to where I'm at now. I had put that in front of a few people to get feedback from them. And I realized that the way I had been approaching that was through a lot of assumption and through a lot of lack of recognition of my own privilege that I had as a white cisgender.
Presenting male in America. I realized like, Oh, there's actually a lot here. That is going to be a lot harder for people of different circumstances. So I'm in the process now of going back through that again and rewriting it through that lens. So I can hopefully reach more people with it. And it actually has a little bit more teeth to it than what I was putting out originally.
It in terms of the documentation, it's in every journal that I write. Every morning and every week and every month and every year, I go through and document this stuff over and over again. What stuff? Yeah. So specifically, it's funny because I got my actual journal or in front of me here, one of the, one of the things that I like to do, you are journaling prompts.
Like I was a writer before I was anything else. I used to do poetry slams and stuff like that when I was in high school. There's pictures of me with a vest in front of a microphone, reading poetry someplace, the types of questions that I ask. I was, so here's an example of just from 2019, what are the most important things for 2019, from a, and it's just a bulleted list, what are the most important things for 2019 to 2030?
Thinking about it, long-term. How do I like to work, and does that change? And these are really important questions when you're looking for new roles. It turns out like with the way I like to work as a and with people who can really clearly speak roles, responsibilities, and goals for the team, like I like to be with strong leaders, so that helped me then find the types of roles that I was looking for with those types of leaders. What motivates me? What are my value sets? How have those changed? I have a list of all the various different values. And then from there, it's things like, what three values or ways of being what I'd like to choose to prioritize in my forties, and is there a distance between the way that I'm living values now and really high I'd want to be sure going up in the world. And then another one, what's one thing you want to be reminded of or reassured of, or affirmed more of in the next five to 10 years. So there's another kind of journaling proper to requires you to ask help of other people.
It's not just you're affirming to yourself through proclamations, you actually to engage with other people in community to make sure that you're surrounding yourself with the types of people who are going to help get you there. And then some other questions I think are really important.
Compassion towards myself means. What does compassion mean to me? Like how does that show up in my life? How am I putting that into my own experience of myself and so on? So it's questions, both tactical but also more philosophical and making sure that the frameworks that I'm looking at the world through the mindset that I'm approaching the world through, and the actions that I'm putting into play are aligned.
Adam Coelho: [00:22:27] that makes a ton of sense. Yeah. And the reason I ask is because I'm one of those people that loves to do these type of exercises, right? What's my perfect day look like. And then like when I don't do it on the first day, I'm just like, yeah. And there are times when I've. Had a really strong morning routine and it was amazing, right?
Like I was in great shape. I was feeling great about my meditation practice and journaling and all of these things. They've enriched my life. And then yeah. Fell off. And now with a two year old toddler, Who's waking up earlier and earlier, it seems like that might not be for me at this point in time.
And so any advice or thoughts about how to create some level of structure? Some level of doing the things that I know are good for me and valuable for me, but if I don't have the energy or the time or the willpower to make it happen, Any advice on that whole thing.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:23:27] Yeah, totally. And I think those are all really valid questions and, and all of this is just to say, is that, when I put together a perfect day, it's put together as an aspirational thing, it's not Hey, this is what you're going to be doing from now on.
And if you don't, I'm going to punish you for it though. There is that voice in me, I'm really good at self punishing. I actually had an encounter recently with a colleague, and for the entire time I've worked at Google and this will make sense. And I'll bring this back around to what we're talking about a minute but it's basically the entire time I've been working at Google.
I've been operating under this imposter syndrome mentality of at some point, someone's going to find out that I got hired by accident. And this whole thing's going to come crashing down. And this is five years into full-time work with Google 10 years, cumulatively of working both full-time.
And part-time like, there's no reason for that narrative to still be in play. There's no evidence to point to the fact that is true. And in fact, there's a lot of evidence to point to the fact that is not true. I was just having a conversation with a colleague of mine the other day as I was telling her that I was leaving this role and she was having a colleague conversation with another one of her colleagues.
That same day before I told her. And she was like, yeah, we were talking about you. And just like the fact that you are just doing all this work and, you just handed over your partner that you were working on to the, to him. And he's I have no idea how I'm going to keep up with this.
There's just so much, like how has Nick been able to manage all of this whole time? I've been thinking to myself, like I'm failing this partner. I'm not giving enough of my time and attention. I don't know what I'm doing. And then just having that little check-in was, again, it's just one of those reminders of Hey man, like your whole perspective, like the lens that you're looking through reality is not true.
And so there's a little bit of a constant reminder there. So back to what you were talking about, in terms of what are the strategies that you can put into play? When let's say you're working three jobs? You're, let's say you're, raising a kid, like maybe, you've got other things that are under consideration taking a deep.
Look at how you're spending your time and attention. I think, regardless of what your goal is, I think is an important task. Cause that is allowing yourself to be really true and honest with how you're spending your time. And then from there it's really taking a look at what those non-negotiables are and figuring out okay, you're raising a kid, how many hours a day do you want to spend?
Paying attention to your child, into your family, do you need to make other decisions in your life to balance that equation? To me, it just comes down to like cells in a spreadsheet, and I can get really brutal with it. And that's typically what I recommend to folks is look, yeah, you've got maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes in your day, that is yours, that you can focus on anything.
What are you going to focus on? In a lot of cases, all the dis the folks that I talked to can focus on, that maybe have that little amount of time is maybe taking a few deep breaths, maybe centering themselves. I think we take those things for granted. It's Oh, just taking a few minutes to meditate or to journal or to just, rest and recover.
Is not actually work, that's not actually part of it. It's no, that's everything about that's what allows you more spaciousness and other areas of your life. For someone like yourself, if you're feeling time scarce, I would, first of all, say is that real? If you actually looked through your day, how much time would you find?
Can we start with the smallest denominator that you feel comfortable with is five minutes. Does that sound like a reasonable place to start? Maybe it's a minute. Let's start there and then build up from there and say okay, maybe what we'll do is we'll take a look at these different chunks on your timeline and say is the 20, 30, 50 minutes you just spent scrolling through news?
Is that helping you? Is that really helping you be more informed? Maybe you can carve out maybe just two days a week where you don't do that. That gives you enough time to take a 45 minute class, or whatever it might be. So it's part of partially that. And then from there, I think it's being really compassionate and kind to yourself that it's a process and that there is no perfect day, right?
There's always non there's contingencies that come through. There's always other decisions you're going to have to make and trying to tame that. That narrative in your voice that you're not doing enough. You're not good enough. You're not being the perfect father. You're not being the perfect employee.
Like whatever the story is that you tell yourself, name it, identify it, let it be there, but don't let it be the thing that's driving your decision making. It's just one voice on that board. There's many other voices that you need to take into account, and then you make the decision that's best for you and your organization.
Adam Coelho: [00:27:36] Yeah. I think that makes a ton of sense. I think it really comes down to self-awareness. Awareness of how my spending my time. That's something that I think is is coming into focus for me that, yeah. I'm probably spending a lot of time on things that don't really matter. And I also just in terms of where I spend my attention, I find, I spend a lot of my attention on beating myself up for not doing something instead of just doing it. You know what I mean? I think we're, you're in the inner MBA program as well. I am. Yeah.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:28:05] I'm horrifically behind program and NBA buddy, I'm there for you. And
Adam Coelho: [00:28:13] I spent all this time, like not all this time, but I spent a decent amount of time being like upset at myself that I'm behind.
And then like last night, like it just I had some time to finally relax, right? It's been an intense couple of weeks, purchased a house, the election. And I was trying to blast as many text messages to swing States as I could possibly do. Thank you. And it's Oh, when this is over, it will be, have more time and then I'll do more of this.
And it just, yeah, I just need to bring awareness to, okay what am I spending my time doing instead? And what might be a time where I could carve out a little time to do this? Because when I do sit down and have the energy and the time to do it, it's amazing, right? Like we're fortunate enough to be in this program with amazing teachers and amazing content and amazing community.
And it doesn't need to be some other thing that I need, like some other chore that I need to do. Yeah. It can be the area where I'm growing and learning and connecting and really living my values. And the podcast is the same. I'm prioritizing the podcast a little bit more mostly because I have a schedule to keep to I know I need to release an episode on Tuesday, so that keeps me going and So I'm making more time for that, but I think just, yeah, having that awareness of where I'm spending my time is going to be really helpful.
And then. Yeah, just recognizing where I'm placing my attention on what story in my head,
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:29:42] yeah. It's so critical. And honestly, the attention bit is really what I encourage people to focus on more than the time that, cause we get really caught up in this idea of efficiency. If all, if I could just optimize my hours of my day more efficiently, I'll get more done, but that's really not the issue so much.
It's more, a time. Time is not the issue as much as it is attention and energy. So you even mentioned it a couple of times, friday after a killer week, where you're managing kids and an election buying a new house, your actual job and everything else. And then thinking they can like at four o'clock on a Friday, you're going to have any energy to do something new, like good luck, that's not realistic.
Part of what I also do is think about and pay attention to I did a mood journal for a really long time, which I thought was really pivotal. Tool. And essentially what I do and still do is write down like when trigger happens, whatever it is. What was I doing right before? What were the conditions that were present, which allowed me to react in the way that I did.
And that could go for anything that could just be fatigued. That can be, being reactive with my wife, that can be, feeling joyous, like whatever it might be being really clear about that. So noticing what those flags and what those warnings are and what I noticed more than anything was that, after work.
I'm fried. I spent all day making tough decisions. I spent all day, seeking out and looking for threats or positive ops, things in my inbox, or meetings like that's exhausting, that's just like a cognitive load that no human should be expected to do for long periods of time.
So I realized like in order to not be completely spent and fatigued at the end of the day, I need to build breaks. And throughout my day, and more importantly, I need to set myself up at the very beginning of my day with a routine, which allows me to feel refreshed and energized and ready for the day.
And the more that I put that into practice, what I've actually noticed is that my mood improved over time. I ended up with way more focus and way more energy throughout the day. And, that went from a 15 minute or five minute routine before I rolled it rolled right into work and that expanded to an hour.
And now that's like a two hour thing. I have the luxury of being able to do that in my schedule, because I'm just not, I'm not being pulled in multiple different directions by kids and other things. What I tend to say to people is look, just find the five or 10 minutes in your day, which allows you to get your mind, and maybe move your body a little bit so that you can build those attention and awareness opportunities throughout the rest of your day. Pay attention to how you're reacting to the world around you, and be really honest with yourself and just make the little tiny tweaks that you can make incrementally over time.
And eventually you'll look back and you'll say like where I'm at now. Look back and, the last 10 years of my life was this journey of self-improvement of refinement, of building in spaciousness within my day is so now most days, despite the fact that the pandemic and everything else that's going on, I feel pretty good.
I feel pretty energized and I have now time for a side hustle. I have time for my family. I have time to take off vacation. I can do all those things, but more importantly, my attention isn't being pulled away from the task at hand 6,000 times a day, because I have one eye on social media, or I have one eye on the news.
I'm only focused on the one thing in front of me at the time. And that. I think has been one of the best things that I've done for myself is just giving myself the permission to pay attention to the current moment and see what manifests from
Adam Coelho: [00:32:55] there. Yeah. I think this keeps coming up again and again, throughout the conversation, this idea of where are you placing your attention. Yeah. And so I'd love to hear a little bit about your mindfulness journey. How did you first get interested in mindfulness? How has your practice
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:33:11] evolved? Yeah, love it. Love the question. I first got involved with mindfulness very much by accident.
I was dating a girl back in high school that was wicked. She considered herself a witch in practice, or just believed in that. And there's that whole area of kind of chain bookstores, which I think is still the case. I haven't been in one for awhile, but basically it's like the cult slash philosophy slash religion section, and it's usually one or two row rows within the bookstore. And it goes from everything from like how to read tarot cards, to crystals and their various different powers and stuff like that, all the way to like astrology. And then you end up with Buddhism, that's it was really bizarre, like stretch, but it seems to be this phenomenon.
So I was in that section of the bookstore. I was literally like looking for a gift for my girlfriend at the time. And I came across these two different books. It was a Zen mind beginner's mind. Which I still have that copy of the book. And then it was a Zen in the art of motorcycle maintenance, which I've given away since then.
But those two books, like I grew up around motorcycles. I rode a motorcycle as a kid. And later in life was this entryway to this philosophical approach to just living that I hadn't encountered before. And to me, it was this interesting opportunity of meeting people where they're at, like that book.
I picked it up because I had a wrench on the cover and it said, motorcycles. Not so much because it said Zen, but I was just like, Oh, it sounds like something might be interesting. And I started reading these books and started to immersing myself in this, like more from a academic standpoint or like a thinking standpoint.
It was like, this is interesting to me. I like these approaches. And then, I was living in a pretty tumultuous childhood environment. There was a lot of disruption in my family. There's a lot of just chaos that was happening. And I would find myself meditating more out of trying to deal with the anxiousness and though the runaway thoughts and like the catastrophic thinking that I was experiencing and just trying to center myself.
And I think those books really helped get me in that direction of just practicing that. And then from there it was a wandering path, just trying to figure out like which one of these modalities really fit. I spent a lot of time doing Zen meditation. From there, it was a lot more what I came to find out to be more like insight meditation that at the time, I didn't know that's what it was called.
Just sitting with your thoughts, naming them as they come up, sitting with your feelings, naming them as they come up, creating a spacious awareness of all of these things. I'm not trying to be too attached to them. That was essentially what I was working on for long time. During the whole period of homelessness or home scarcity that I was experiencing, I spent some time in a monastery, because that was economically a feasible choice at the time.
And through that immersion. And through that experience that I had of sitting for several hours during the day, cleaning in silence, the monastery, preparing food for people in silence at that space created this sense of belonging and the sense of community that I didn't have previously. And it was a short run.
Like I only had a short period of time that it was there, but what it allowed me to do is understand that there's something bigger than just the inner work and the inner practice of this. There's actually an impact that you can have as a community there. So then that led me to New York city.
When I got to New York, I became part of the Zen center there in Brooklyn. And then took a hard shift to the Shambala center that was based in Manhattan at the time. I think it still is. I started going to sessions there on a regular basis and then surrounding myself with more people that were in this space and then made it more of a daily practice.
And that I think was really the kind of turning point for me. It was having more of a daily activity. And at the time it was only a few minutes at a stretch. We're not talking about heroic sets here. There was literally just a few minutes a day that really, I think, started to change things for me. My, my outlook started to change, the way I was noticing how my reactions and how my behaviors were influencing myself and others started to change.
But it wasn't until, I'd say maybe seven or eight years ago that I really in earnest started putting these things into practice in a rigorous way and really trying to build that practice more fundamentally. And it came from a period of time. At Google, where I had a mental health crisis and I was in a role where I was traveling three weeks out of the month, all over the world.
My life is basically conference rooms, airplanes, and convention centers and conference, like that was it, boom, like city. And it fractured me. Spent a lot of time alone. I spent a lot of time like loss in those kind of recurring thoughts that I was having.
There was a lot of not enoughness that was, I was experiencing in those early days. And I got to this crisis point where I'm literally on the floor of a hotel room, several thousand miles away from home convinced I was having a heart attack. And of course, like you look it up online and I'm like, Oh, it's not panic.
It's a panic attack is what I'm having here. I was like, it's not a heart attack. And then, found the children's videos on YouTube and started listening to those. More out of an immediate crisis. And we're trying to resolve that and there's this whole tongue Lin practice, which I had learned previously.
And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is what a powerful tool. Like I knew this already. Why aren't I using this? So got through that immediate crisis and then. Noticing that those immediate crisis oriented applications of meditation were useful and were able to get me out of that crisis, flip the light switch on for me as well too.
I was like, Oh shoot, maybe I should be doing this more often so that I don't get to a point of crisis. And then I started to really put it into more daily practice and it started with five or 10 minutes in the morning, five or 10 minutes in the evening. And then I found search inside yourself, the Google, which is a program that Google does in conjunction with a search inside yourself leadership Institute.
And it's a combination of emotional intelligence and awareness mindfulness practice and other modalities, like what we've already been talking about in terms of journaling and compassionate communication with yourself and others to help you show up differently at work. But really what it gave me was a catalyst.
To make this more part of my plan, and I was like, Oh, I could facilitate these things. So I got facilitator training with that. And then I started doing meditation sessions at work in my local office. And then I expanded that out to the broader org. And then I started doing that remotely via video chat once coronavirus hit.
And then suddenly I found myself holding half hour meditation sessions every day, Monday through Thursday. In addition to my hour of meditating that I was doing myself plus doing coaching work on the side, it was like, Oh, now this is a lifestyle. It's not just like a thing that I do. This is like the way of being for myself now and now it just, it continues to grow, doing more of a silent meditation sets, long, long sets.
And I'm getting certifications now to round out my expertise and really trying to go as deep as I can short of, packing myself away to a monastery again. Very
Adam Coelho: [00:39:36] interesting. Yeah. So it sounds like even through the difficult times that you faced, for 10 years or so, it sounded like you had this tool set because you discovered this when you were doing some, which book shopping when you were a teenager as happens, you know as you do.
And so it sounds like you had these skills in mind. They helped you to some degree, even if you weren't making great decisions in a lot of different areas of your life, you still had this kind of, to lean back on and as the seed was
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:40:07] planted. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's a really good way of framing it too.
I think the more you become exposed to these philosophies and these approaches. I think the more you find ways to integrate them more into your day to day. And I think my mentality before was that these were skills to use in times of crisis. These are tools to use, on a cushion and a monastery, in retreat, not something that you just put into your day to day life.
I hadn't really made that connection yet. And, for some, to some degree, I think that those mindfulness practices are what were the foundations of these more tactical things that we were talking about earlier in terms of time blocking intention management, so on, but it took me, a good 10 years to find room for that in my daily practice.
And. It becomes a snowball effect. I think as you practice this more, as you put these things more into play, you see the results of them. You can see that there's successful outcomes and that encourages you to do it more. And it encourages you to think a little bit more carefully about how you're putting that into your day to day.
So now I would say I still make terrible decisions like everyone else does. And while I still don't have a perfect schedule that I'm living every single day, I do spend the vast majority of my day, not necessarily making the right choices, but noticing when I'm not. And noticing that with some kind of compassion and kindness and saying, Hey, this isn't part of your value set.
And then gently moving myself back to the task at hand, or, something a little bit closer to like my belief set. And I think that action over enough time builds the sensibility of not only are you practicing mindfulness, but you're the type of person. It's a value oriented thing. I am the type of person that spends an hour in the morning getting there.
I'm the type of person that spends time breathing deeply before I get into a conversation with somebody, because I want to make sure that I'm there in the ways that I want it to be for that person, for that conversation. It doesn't become a task that you need to do. It's just the way you live your life.
And I think that really is the thing that I like to encourage to people to think about is don't think about it as a to-do list. Cause you'll find a million reasons not to do it. Think about it in terms of the broader impact of your life. It's the same thing as financial investing. I think one of your other interviews, I think it was our friend Frazier that you were speaking with, he was talking about this idea of how much does that thing cost?
Is it a hundred dollars or is it losing you money over time that you could have invested in what you're actually doing is spending. Tens of thousands of dollars on this thing that you thought was only a couple hundred bucks. I look at the same, I look at it in the same way as your attention and mindfulness, like how are you investing in a way that cumulatively would put you in a better place in the future?
Not from a task oriented standpoint, but that's just the type of person that you are now. Yeah.
Adam Coelho: [00:42:50] I think that makes a ton of sense and easier said than done, but I think, yeah, just being compassionate with yourself and. It's taking little steps forward, right? Tweaking a little bit here and there.
Having that awareness coming back again and again to what are my values? Am I living those values? Am I living in alignment? And that's really a lot of what I've been thinking about more and more. I think this is all a lifelong practice, right? It's not like we're ever going to get there where it's just everything is great.
W like my mind, for instance, wants to say, Oh, when the election's over, everything's going to be great. When I move into the new house, then I'll have all this time. It's more like, how am I spending my time? How do I want to be spending my time? Where can I tweak things so that I can be doing that a little bit more and move a little bit in the direction that I want to go.
And the podcast has been a great tool for me to realize that these little steps really accumulate and there's a lot of learning and growth and just self-awareness to be had from just even the procrastination part of podcasting when I'm beating myself about not doing something, not editing or not, whatever it, even that in itself teaches me about myself.
Yeah. And I'm trying to apply that more areas of my life.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:43:59] Yeah, that's a beautiful philosophy. And I think there's a subtlety in there that I'd love to call out too. It's not just being abusive yourself and otherwise punishing yourself for not doing things. And I think the other thing in there that I hear is there's this framework or approach that there's learning moments, each failure each moment that you notice, Oh, I'm distracted.
It is a growth moment. It's an opportunity to choose and to put into practice those things that you believe in. And then it's okay, I just failed 15 times in a row trying to pay attention to this email that I'm trying to draft. Here's a 16th opportunity to try again. And it's not, you're not punishing yourself.
It's, sometimes it gets a little tedious and you're like, Oh God, like, why can't I get this together? There's this little bit of humility and a little bit of like tude for the process of having the opportunity of just noticing in the first place, let alone being able to know what the right choices are to make.
So for me, yeah, it's just ongoing. Process and that's the work of life, it's like, what else are we doing here? That's really what we're here to do is to try to be as present as possible to make the right choices that are best for us and those around us and hopefully for the world and not squander that opportunity, really be grateful for it.
And that, to me, it goes back to just. Having lost a few friends late. They were not able to see the opportunities and the struggle, and they didn't have the resources and the support that they felt that they needed to be able to overcome those struggles. And to me, early on it was well, because they're not here, I'm going to live for them as well, which is also not particularly healthy.
It's a survivor's guilt process there. But what that did do is it did help me change my perspective of am I living as best as I can for my future self am I really thinking about that guy, Nick, in his seventies, what's he going to think about Nick and his forties and those stupid mistakes and stupid choices that he made?
That's the guy I'm thinking about now?
Adam Coelho: [00:45:43] Said, said we could all take that advice laughing over here. Cause I. When I was in the parking lot, eating hamburgers, that McDonald's the other day. I wasn't really thinking about future Adam too much. Actually. I was talking about, yeah, future Adam.
He should've seen this coming, should've seen this coming. It turns out he did.
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:46:01] Yeah, he knows what's up. How can people
Adam Coelho: [00:46:04] find you online and connect with what you're doing?
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:46:07] I appreciate it. Nicholas whitaker.com a Whitaker with one T search for me online. It's pretty easy to find me I'm all over the place, but I have my own website and links to my LinkedIn and my Instagram channel.
There are two other podcasts and eventually this podcast will be on there as well. There's also a prerecorded Instagram TV meditations that I've put up, which are temporarily where I'm housing. Those. And there's this massive backlog of content on Instagram that I've been posting over the last 10 years or so.
So that was another thing was like putting into practice and speaking my value. Others was really the thing. I think that helped me reinforce a lot of these things. So if you go back through my Instagram channel, you'll find my entire philosophy is written down there, plus all like the, how tos are written there.
And then from there, there's contact information, a way to reach out to me directly to say you might have questions, or if they're interested in learning a little bit more about my coaching work or the coaching work that I do with teams there's information there for them as well. Awesome.
Adam Coelho: [00:47:03] link that up in the show notes and people can check that out. Nick, thanks so much for being here today. It's been awesome. Chatting with you. I feel like I learned so much in this conversation, so thank you for joining me on the mindful fire
Nicholas Whitaker: [00:47:14] podcast. Thanks so much, Adam, I'm really grateful for the opportunity and best of luck to you be.
Adam Coelho: [00:47:19] Thanks so much for joining me on today's episode of the mindful fire podcast. As a reminder, this is part two of my conversation with Nicholas Whitaker. If you haven't yet listened to part one of the conversation, I highly recommend listening to that. And it's just a previous episode of the mindful fire podcast, which you can find in your podcast player.
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Nicholas Whitaker: [00:48:11] podcast.
Coach, Googler, Meditator
For the past decade, I've leveraged the scale and resources of Google to support users through high impact educational products, programs, and strategic partnerships, reaching more than half a million journalists worldwide. More recently, I've turned my attention inward to support Googlers with impactful educational and career and personal development programs.
Before joining Google, I produced media for news, commercial, entertainment, and advocacy groups, and taught video production and communication theory at several top universities and colleges in New York City.
Overall, I’m a personable and well-traveled professional who’s passionate about solving problems, strengthening businesses, and finding ways to continuously improve myself, my team, and our partner’s/client’s experiences.
From deeply understanding my clients needs, to coaching people on finding balance and building resilience through practical, evidence-based strategies, I apply a mindfulness based approach to everything that I do.
Whether I’m improving learning programs at Google, coaching individual clients, or speaking at events on the intersection of technology, mental health and mindfulness, my joy as a professional comes from building relationships and ensuring people have access to the resources they need to succeed.