Innovation and Meditation: An Introduction to Mindfulness

January 6, 2017

Presented by Nick Stein

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

Brian Nolan, Sellbrite CEO, introduced Nick Stein at our January 6th Friday Coffee Meetup. Brian connected a while ago with Nick and began to understand the connection between innovation and meditation, so when Brian was looking for office space, he purposely found a space that included a “Quite Room” for “Mental Training” (he didn’t want to scare people off by calling it a meditation room). Nick did a 6-week coaching session with Brian’s company last year to start them on their practice, and Brian attests to the big progression he has seen with his team and his company since then. Nick is coming back for another 6-week training session with Brian’s company this year.

Following is Nick’s story and a little about the practice of Mindfulness that he shared with the audience. You can listen to the podcast here.

Nick is a former show runner and producer. He’s produced hundreds of hours of TV for PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, History Channel, among others. As Nick tells it, his “bucket list” project was the popular Border Wars on NatGeo channel, where he was a show runner for 4 years. It was the best of times and the worst of times. And there was definitely a dark side.  As producer of the show, he was embedded with the border patrol—tracking through border drug tunnels where anything can happen and you never know what’s around the corner, kicking in the doors of heroin dealers, finding and deporting migrants who had risked all and spent their life savings to get to the US, and rescuing migrants held captive by Coyotes for ransom from their families back home (just to deport them back). To say the least, it was a harrowing stressful roller coaster. Nick was experiencing the same PTSD as the border patrol police, and coping with it similarly—too little sleep, too much alcohol, and a short temper.


Then the typical stressful corporate downsizing was added into the picture: Fox bought NatGeo and got rid of most of the team and replaced with their own. Border Wars was immensely popular, so they decided to keep it—but they wanted a more typical reality show. So, Nick was out. Adding humiliation to the hurt, Nick was expected to train his replacement and introduce him to his contacts—but these were not just contacts—he had bonded with them in dangerous situations, he understood their pain and lived it too, and now Fox wanted to make it more formulaic. Reluctantly, Nick did it. He needed the medical insurance.


During all of this, Nick’s father passed away. And his marriage was on the rocks. When he was home, he wasn’t present—he was on email; his head was in the job, in the past, in the stress. Nick shared a picture of an interview he did on TV during that period. His wife called him up afterwards and said “Nick you’re a mess. You look like the unibomber. Come home.”


Soon after that, Nick did a 3-day workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn (who was featured on a 60 Minutes episode with Anderson Cooper—a great source of information if you want to look it up online), and started his journey to scientifically based Mindfulness Meditation, ultimately getting certified with the Intensive Practice Program at UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC). Compared to his TV showrunner experience, now Nick gets immediate feedback on his impact, and it feels more satisfying to him as a direct contribution to people.


Following are some thoughts and exercises that Nick shared with the group.


The Mind is a scary place. When talking to cops—your mind is like a neighborhood you don’t want to walk through alone. The cell phone – Nick calls them his gills—it’s attached to you; you can’t breathe without it. Silicon Valley is now into Mindfulness – Nick calls it their guilty penance for what they’ve created. But Mindfulness works. Mindfulness is a no brainer (literally). Stillness. Not busy-ness. We usually are looking outside of ourselves to find out how we are. But we’re better off if we utilize stillness once a day.


One Minute Non-Meditation

Your mind can be everywhere and anywhere. But your body is in one place. Turn off your cell phone, mindfully place it away from you. Get out of your chair. Center your feet. Stretch your arms down, out, up and then back down, breathe in/out. Now, sit down to be quiet for one full minute. (People in the audience then shared their experience.)


Mindfulness Training is essentially attention training. Notice where your thoughts are. Mindfulness training = Attention training. Like turning on a flashlight on in a dark room. Life is more like a disco ball in a dark room.


Mindfulness Meditation will:

  • Reduce rumination
  • Increase cognitive flexibility
  • Alleviates anxiety and stress
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens resiliency (ex: border control cops bounce back from stressful situations more easily)
  • Improve communication and relationships – speak authentically
  • Achieve peace of mind (Pursuit of happiness in in the constitution. Mindful Nation, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan wrote a book “Mindful Nation”, and wants the practice to be taught in schools – we tell kids to pay attention, but we don’t teach them how.)


It doesn’t happen overnight. Nick agrees with Dan Harris’ approach in his book, “10% Happier”. Nick doesn’t want to oversell it, but Mindfulness Meditation changes your life. Practicing 5 minutes every day is better than 90 minutes once a week. Here and now – the present moment—really nothing else exists. The past is gone. The future is speculation. This is radical, but it’s also obvious. Meditation is training to be present.


Key Concepts:

Openness, kindness, without judgement.

Mindfulness is not anti-thought. Thought is human.

It’s about changing your relationship with your thoughts. Most thoughts are rehash. In any given day, people have very few new thoughts.


Sit still for meditation.

Sit up and extend your spine.

Check in with your body—feet, legs, hips, torso, arms, neck, head.

Check in with your senses—what do you hear, smell, taste—your eyes are closed what does it look like?

Check in with breathing.

Your mind will wander. That’s ok. When thoughts and stories come up, it’s ok to get lost for a second, remember to come back. Do not beat yourself up about it. This is the process. Smile. Come back to your breath. Pay attention to your breathing. When your mind wanders again, come back again with smile and kindness. Continue for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, longer if you can or want to do it.


When Nick returned from the meditation workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn, he kept going to sessions. Eventually, his wife commented that “Nick 2.0” appeared. Nick got certified and started offering his practice to border patrol cops, police men, and started working with LA County Jail inmates. Nick also offers sessions at his home once a month.

Mindfulness is getting incorporated everywhere including throughout Silicon Valley and Corporate America. Nick enjoys working with cops, border control, and LA County men’s jail inmates. He’s changing lives directly. As Nick says, “You want to get pulled over by a mindful cop, not someone who is stressed and not present. We all need this.”


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