From Aversion to Awareness – How to Free Yourself Up

The topic of the week – “Vairagya”, the term in yoga philosophy that describes non-attachment.   The term “yoga” itself comes from the verb “to yoke”, to be steadfast with something versus clinging to things out of fear.  How often don’t we feel we have to ¨go for the kill¨ or ¨wrap our heads/arms around something.¨All these sayings stem from wanting something, grasping for it and then holding on tight.

Vairagya refers to our ability to let go of things, to leave them be, as well as to go for a challenge while at the same time, renouncing the fruits of our labor.  We need both action and inaction in our lives to remain balanced, and the practice of vairagya has us abstain from getting too attached.  To play it cool as it were.  Clinging to thought patterns, people or things is the closest to what could be considered a sin in yoga philosophy.  Basically, it shows lack of faith in that we are eternally provided for.

How is that? There certainly isn’t any roof that a heavenly handout will materialize as soon as we let go of our attachments.  But that is the definition of faith, isn’t it – the fact that we must believe without any assurance of desired outcome?

 We can all agree that being flexible and having an ability to let go of an issue, a regret or an obsession is a good thing.  We are so much happier when we don’t stare ourselves blind over something we want, or a problem we can’t immediately solve.  What I’d like to do here is explore a little further the lesser discussed virtue of vairagya, which is what it does to us as people.

Loosening your grip on things makes you a less fearful person.  Letting go reminds you that life is temporal and that being able to hold on to anything is an illusion.  Enjoyment of the moment is all you have until that moment is gone – so that you may enjoy the next one.  Non-attachment lets you love people without glomming on to them, expecting them to love you in return.  In this mental place, fear loosens its grip on you because you enter situations without neither anticipation of what will happen, nor bracing yourself for the worst.  Your actions become a true expression of who you are, over being directed by your thoughts of what they will give you.

Sometimes I have trouble sleeping.  Attaching myself to the idea that I should sleep only makes it worse.  I’m attached to my sleep (as well as attached to the beauty that will surely vanish quickly if I don’t get my sleep…!)  Below are the practices I do to open up and change my perspective in those moments, and I find that they can be applied to anything that I am attached to.  Feel free to try this self-talk – I hope it will work for you too:

  • First, use your breath to help you. Say “let go” to yourself.  “Let” on the inhale, and “go” on the “exhale”.  If you, like me, use it for sleep, know that it’s also OK just to be resting and not sleeping.  When you are tired enough, you will sleep (and maybe you are just someone who has a lot of energy and that’s why you are still up?)
  • Second, there is a gift housed in each situation where you think you are about to lose something. The gift differs depending on the situation but the gift of learning is universal to most of them.  Ask yourself, “what am I learning now?”
  • Lastly, clinging prevents you from expanding. Holding on so tightly to what you already have or hope to gain, blinds you to what else is available to you.

Say to yourself, “although uncomfortable, I’m expanding now.”

In conclusion, I quote the great yogi Patanjali, when he said, “don’t be addicted to anything, but if you have to be addicted to something, be addicted to yoga.”  If you practice on the mat, or simply ¨yoke¨ yourself to best practices as it were, is up to you… All perhaps in today’s world and in our glorious humanity we will always have to fight our urge to control circumstances.  Patanjali’s advice to cling to the yogic way of non-attachment may be our best bet in directing our fear and letting go.  Either way, when you feel clingy – vairagya will free you up any time you are willing to practice it.

Please let me know how you do.


Coach Jo

Article About the Benefits of Executive Coaching

Hi all –

I am re-printing an article I co-wrote with an executive coach associate about the benefits of (executive) coaching:

The reason I am bringing it back to life is because it is a more pertinent topic than ever. I just read that the most successful companies spent up to three times more money on coaching and staff development than your average company.

Do read or re-read the article. Do share it if you think someone would benefit. Coaching used to be something elective, a nice ¨perk¨ for employees and leaders interested in developing themselves. It is no longer so. Coaching has become mandatory in order to keep up with fast paced competition and a fast moving world.


Johanna Sawalha

Private & Executive Coach





People who say they hate sales better learn to love it.

It’s best to learn to love something you have to do anyway.

The reason is that you sell all the time; to your wife or eventually she’d divorce you.

To your children so that you’ll get buy-in for your raising methods. And selling involves negotiating.

What’s new in how one negotiates well? Well, it’s tempting to think negotiations are over once you seal the deal. Think again. This is where the term ¨re-negging¨comes from. The deal closed, you let down your guard, thought you were home free and suddenly the client doesn’t like the feel of the deal and wants back to the table.

I had the pleasure of taking a course in negotiation with Gaylen Paulson, the Associate Dean of the McCombs School of Business, Director of Texas Executive Education, and faculty member in the Department of Management. She said to approach negotiation as an ongoing process.

  Negotiations always end later than you expect…far beyond the contract signing. You have to think ahead to deal execution and future iterations.

Good negotiating gets done by watching a few simple things:

  1. Watch getting triggered. If your buttons get pushed, quietly count to 10. The client doesn’t know you well enough to knowingly offend you. Rack it up to coincidence they should have hit a sore spot.
  2. Make a point to practice ¨sitting in it¨- resist the temptation to get out of an uncomfortable position but continue to communicate till you make it to the other side of the sticky parts of the negotiation.
  3. Trust that a fit-is-a-fit-is-a-fit. When you close a deal it’s most likely because you and the client worked well together already in closing it. That bodes well for the future.

Even though you may be the party receiving compensation for your services and you are the one not benefiting from but providing them, you are still in a 50/50 partnership. Both parties work to make it work. Therefore, it is vitally important that the ongoing negotiation you will be doing is not in being at odds with the client.

Stanford Business outlines this in its Five Steps to Better Negotiating –

Inhere, Neale argues that getting out of the us-vs-them mindset when negotiating is crucial for success. View negotiation as being on the same half of the playing field. You don’t just want to score. You want the ball to go into the same goal.


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This now popular quote attributed to Peter Drucker is pointing to the Titanic ship it is to steer, not people, but a culture in a new direction. Apparently, it’s been top of mind for business leaders recently. What is culture though…? Isn’t it really a bunch of habits consciously or unconsciously agreed upon by a bunch of people…? And that if we change the habits, we can change the culture…?

The most engrained and potentially sinister habits we have are our thinking habits, mainly because they are not overt and therefore not easily impacted. If a person or a group of people in a company implicitly or explicitly have agreed that ¨the company simply sucks¨, it can be a real challenge to break that thinking up. It is not even their ¨fault¨. In other words, if aware of their own thinking, they would likely not consciously conspire to take the company down.

In coaching people to drop negative habits, there are a few things I focus on:

  1. It’s not even the people, but their minds, that need a powerful distraction from their ordinary way of thinking. The distraction needs to be inspiring, and therefore comes from a place of bigger thinking than their habitual one. One has to give the mind something to do or it will complain. A bigger vision, a greater goal, a loftier purpose is a top remedy for this.
  2. Energy management. It takes a lot of extra brain power to change habits. People need to economize their thinking. The motivation for cultivating a ¨more positive¨ frame of mind might be that it takes a lot of energy to engage in negativity. We even know by the way we feel – drained. Although it takes energy to change our minds, I daresay it takes even more staying negative.
  3. How people see themselves. We tend to like ourselves a lot more when we are positive and ¨the bigger person¨. Even when we are perhaps justifiably angry, there is a part of you that just doesn’t like being that way. Fostering a new way of ¨being¨ leads to a better self-image and more self-esteem.

Much more can be said about this era we are in of ¨culture & change management speak¨. A great article providing further detail can be found at:


Coach Jo


In a recent conversation with a friend working in government she confided that, due to budget cuts, she had been asked to ¨self manage¨. I.e., work without a manager or direct supervisor to help and guide her. She had to talk to herself about what to do next and if her choices were good or not. At the risk of seeming like a cray person, sparring with yourself out loud, what can you do to stay engaged in such a situation? Especially when there is no one around to motivate you, or when you are in a business environment with low morale?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Do you have a vision within the vision? In other words, do you have a smaller personal vision that is aligned with the larger company vision? If not, create one – or get help creating one. It is instrumental that you feel that the company vision forwards both your professional and personal goals somewhat.
  2. Are you dissatisfied? That means you want something. The kiss of death at your job or in your project is when you no longer care. If you have complaints, underneath there is almost always a commitment to something better. List your complaints, what could be done about them, and who could help resolve them.
  3. Collaborate-collaborate-collaborate. Like the saying goes, ¨No one of us is as good as all of us.¨ Not to mention the manpower and elbow grease you get from working with others, the treasure trove of ideas and new ways of doings things that others provide are immeasurable. Not to mention the fun factor – it’s so much more fun to work with others than alone most of the time. It fosters engagement in every way. A day that you are down they will bring you up, and on a strong day, you’ll take others with you.
  4. Become an expert. Rather than clocking in and out, learn everything there is to know about your job. Not only will your work gain a new depth for you, it may also lend you a certain autonomy where your knowledge is highly valued by the company.

Not engaged yet? Simply remember that every idea takes flight in a conversation. While it may feel like over communicating, communicate more. Connecting more with others may just be what you need to get yourself going, thinking and moving forward…


Coach Jo


Or rather, in Amy Cuddy’s words, the way you tell your story to yourself matters.

A big part of success in life – whether it be personal or professional has to do with self-expression. However, it’s difficult to be self-expressed when you feel you have to hide something. Many people feel they have to hide their past, or at least parts of it. They may not be so proud of some things they did. The irony is that the people they think are keeping tally are too busy with their own lives to care!

The story of your past lives entirely in your own mind. Who is to say the past even happened? Photos? Relatives? From a conspiracy theory standpoint, both could be rigged. Therefore, the past makes as good a story as you are willing to tell, because no one can really go back and fact check. It then matters greatly how you tell your story to yourself. Are you willing to stand behind the statement that mistakes you made was how you learnt? You really could if you worked on it. We can also tell the story about mom or dad in a different way. You may tell yourself the story that your mom was a meanie that yelled. Did you ever ask what you did to provoke her? If you have your own children, you know that they are relentless. They don’t stop until they see your crumble and not even then. Maybe the story about mom is that she was both a human and a saint.

If you tell yourself you have been nothing but a failure, that’s what you’ve got. Underneath it, however, you may not want to cop to that you didn’t do the work required to be the success you wanted to be. That is fine too. What is not fine is taking yourself down for something you didn’t do. You didn’t fail. You didn’t even do the 10,000 hours of practice required to even assess success or failure. Hence, the judgment of failure’s way premature!

 The hardest part is to admit that your story has some holes in it. After that you can move the story along the trajectory of your life that can be proud of. Why would you want to live with this kind of pebble in your shoe anymore if you don’t have to? Do everything you can to tell your story about yourself anew. Know that you have everything you need to do so. Have it go your way. It is your life.


Coach Jo


You may have been chided in childhood by both teachers and parents.

¨Back to earth! ¨, ¨Where did you go? ¨ You daydreamed and you loved it. It added to your day. Now, however, you may finally get vindication for this secret pleasure of yours. Recent research calls daydreaming “positive mental time travel”. Daydreaming has in fact been linked to greater creativity, the ability to delay gratificationproblem-solving, and future planning

 Einstein himself valued imagination over intelligence. And isn’t that what daydreaming is…? Practicing imagining all that could be…? Not to mention the positive neuro chain reactions that get set off at the thought of something pleasurable…

To prove it, all our great forward strides of humanity have been made by people agile in their imagination. Also – on a personal note – if you don’t do it for your own life, your life will look pretty much the same in twenty years as it does now…

 It costs nothing to dream and everything not to. Let your imagination soar.

Langston Hughes on Dreams

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.


Coach Jo



I just finished Seligman’s ¨Learned Optimism¨. Again it was proven that your mindset makes all the difference in your experience of life Luckily, according to Seligman, the optimistic mindset can be learned. If that wasn’t the case, it would be a bummer for all of us not born with it, wouldn’t it…?

I am bringing it up because I think our mindset is the secret weapon when dealing with stress. A recent Stanford study has delved into how to make stress work for us. Personally, I don’t like it, but like aging, it is going to happen – better learn to deal with it well…

Actually, they found that trying to get rid of stress may do more harm than good, due to the the way we customarily do it through escapism – avoidance, entertainment, numbing…

Stress can either break us down or make us more resilient. The reason for that is that ¨stress leaves an imprint on your brain that prepares you to handle similar stress the next time you encounter it.’ It is called stress inoculation and you have basically given yourself a stress vaccine once you are on the other side of the stressful situation at hand.

Lastly, I myself like the ¨temporality vaccine¨ that lies within Buddhist thought. Nothing is staying the same, everything is always changing. In ¨Learned Optimism¨ they also show that optimists tend to relate to a negative event like it’s temporary, while pessimists view it as here to stay. Therefore, I tell myself as often as I can remember…. this too shall pass…


Coach Jo

Is it bad? Is it good? We’ll see…

How often do we judge whether what befalls us as either good or bad?

How we rejoice in our fortune – and how we lament our downfalls…

We must look really funny from the outside, us humans, with how we scurry hither and thither to create the former and avoid the latter…

I take great comfort in remembering to say, ¨we’ll see…¨

Enjoy the many times recounted Taoist story of the farmer and his son…


Coach Jo



There was an old with a small farm in China many years ago. He had one son, who did most of the work on the farm and a neighbor, himself old with a son.

One day the old man’s horse ran off, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how terrible, your horse has run off, now work on your farm will be so difficult.”To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”

The next day the old man’s horse returned leading a group of wild horses, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how wonderful! You have many horses, now you have great wealth and may live easily.” To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”

The next day the old man’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how terrible, your son has broken his leg, now your work will be doubled as nurse and farmer.” To this
the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”

The next day the king’s men came to the farms seeking all able men to fight a distant battle, and the neighbor, sobbing as his son marched off, said “how fortunate you are for having an injured son, mine will surely perish.” To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”


You know the feeling – you have a pile of things to do that just aren’t any fun.

Be it admin, taxes or calling your mother, they may all feel burdensome and not how you want to spend your time. Howver, just like it behooves us to create a great way to relate to any area in our lives, it helps to do the same with this kind of task list.

There are a few simple tools you can use to create that good relationship with things you just don’t like doing:

  1. Context shift – why are you doing them? The reasons ¨why¨ can likely motivate you to take action. For example, you do them so that the finances will work in your household and that will make everyone in it feel relaxed and at peace. You call your mother because this is only the woman who gave you life and that alone is enough reason to say hello.
  2. Transcending your own likes and dislikes makes you operate on a higher plane of consciousness. Constantly viewing life through the lens of whether you like it or not becomes wearisome. What if we don’t have to vote on everything we see? Again, a sense of peace will instill itself.
  3. Your own sense of pride – the pride you will feel when you ¨got over yourself¨ and did something in spite yourself. You got to the gym, you finished that worksheet…it just feels great afterwards – and you are proud.

What other reasons can you think of that would help motivate to action?


Coach Jo