How to Stress Less and Accomplish More with Emily Fletcher

July 21, 2020
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

“What you seek is seeking you.”

– Rumi

Wherever you are in the world, there’s a strong chance that you’ve been feeling a great deal of stress lately. And 2020 certainly seems like a year of transition for all of us.

What started with the Australian bushfires, where we thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, led to a pandemic. Job losses skyrocketed, incidents of violence dominated the news cycle, and if you combine that with the forced isolation that most people have been in for a good chunk of the year, it’s an absolute recipe for disaster for our mental health.

So how bad is it? Well, Harvard suggests that up to 80% of doctor’s visits are caused by stress, and that was before all of this hit. This made it the perfect time to have Emily Fletcher, who is regarded as the leading expert in meditation for high performance, on the Win the Day show.

I want to clarify something right off the bat here: Emily is not the person you might have in mind when you think of a meditation guru. It’s not about sitting cross-legged in front of an incense candle while you chant out loud and block out your thoughts.

What she teaches is extremely practical and eliminates the shortfalls that I’ve personally experienced from other types of meditation. Every session also ties in directly to goal-setting and manifestation, which is one of the attributes I love most about it.

But don’t just take my word for it!

Emily has worked with Navy SEALs, NBA players, Academy Award winners, leading physicians, and globally recognized CEOs. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Today Show, and Vogue magazine, and she’s spoken at Google, Viacom, and Harvard Business School.

Today, The Ziva Technique founder has taught more than 20,000 students around the world how to perform at their best. Emily’s new book ‘Stress Less, Accomplish More’ is also a wonderful introduction to the challenges we face today and a practical guide to living at your best – in all areas of your life.

In this interview, we talk about her 10-year career on Broadway, what she teaches the most elite performers on the planet, how to reach new levels of productivity despite what’s going on in the world, and how you can use meditation to unlock your full potential.

James Whittaker:
Emily Fletcher, great to see you again! Welcome to Win the Day.

Emily Fletcher:
I am really happy to be here; and happy to see your face again. Thank you for having me.

Let's start broadly. What's the problem with society that meditation solves?

[Laughs] There's a long list right now! I think the underlying problem for so many symptoms is stress. There's so much stress in our nervous system and so much stress that we've inherited from previous generations. It’s all showing up in big ways right now.

Stress weakens our immune system, which is making us more vulnerable to the pandemic. That inherited generational trauma is certainly pouring gasoline on the fire of the racial injustices happening around the world, but certainly in the US. And it also makes it harder to heal them because when you're very stressed it's hard to let go of your own unconscious biases. It's hard to even look at them. 

And so once you start meditating, once you start getting rid of your stress – not only from today, but all that accumulated stress from your past – it really revolutionizes the way you interact with other humans; the way your immune system works, your productivity, your clarity, and your creativity. 

It's a pretty profound list of changes that start to happen in your brain and in your body, when we really handle the root issue – which, for many of us, is stress.

It’s counterintuitive how we have quickly increasing standards of living and many other benefits to modern society, yet we’re more and more stressed. Is being accustomed to comfortable beds, warm showers, and Nespresso machines contributing to this at all? Although, I should mention I recently converted to cold showers in the morning and am loving it.

Well, it's an interesting double-edged sword. We have modern advancements like plumbing that have really decreased communicable diseases. We have surgeries and antibiotics that have really upped our longevity and the quality of our life. 

But the other side is that much of our modern conveniences are directly opposed to nature. Like staying up late and looking at your phone – your brain thinks the sun is up and that it should be awake. Drawing the shades and sleeping past sunrise – your body thinks the sun has not yet risen. Eating food that isn't food – this over time creates chronic stress in our body. The fact that our soil is depleted from over-farming. Our bodies are not being nourished in the way that they could and should be.

The fact that we're over-sexualized but not having enough sex – this is changing us. The fact that we don't have our feet in the soil. There's so many “modern conveniences” … plane travel, car travel, eating mangoes in the wintertime. You know? All of these things ... microwaves! 

Check out the podcast or YouTube version where Emily does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, her favorite book, and a whole lot more ?

These all seem convenient, and they might seem to be saving us time in the short term, but over the long term these chronic stresses really cost our bodies and they are asking our bodies to adapt.

None of the things that I mentioned are inherently bad, but over time you're asking your body to adapt, adapt, adapt. And when you burn up something called ‘adaptation energy’ and then you have another demand on your nervous system, your body will launch involuntarily into fight or flight. 

Whether you've read Eat Pray Love or not, whether you’ve read Think and Grow Rich or not. If you're stressed and you're out of adaptation energy, your body is going to start preparing for that imaginary tiger. And that's unfortunately what so many of us are dealing with – this low-grade chronic stress, which is different than something like a cold shower.

A cold shower, boxing match, or a sprint, even though they are “stressful,” this is what we define as good stress or hormesis. You’re actually inspiring your strong mitochondria – which are the energy centers of our cells – to get stronger, and you're killing off the weak mitochondria.

So acute short-term intentional stress, that can be very good and help strengthen you. But the low-grade chronic stress is what's making us stupid, sick, and slow.

In your awesome new book Stress Less, Accomplish More you mentioned, “It's not bad to get stressed. It's bad to stay stressed.”

How does someone disconnect from a world that's increasingly connected? People are multitasking like crazy – on their phones while eating dinner and watching television. How do we disconnect from that stress?

Well, I would even take that one step further. People are now on their phones when they're meditating! [Laughs] It's like having an AA meeting in a liquor store. Why would you want to be tethered to your phone for your meditation practice? It would be good for us to just have one thing to do that didn’t require being glued to our phones.

That's why I’m so big on self-sufficiency and giving people the tools to do meditation on their own, without needing wifi or headphones or someone guiding them.

But how can we unplug? Well, I think first it’s letting go of the “I'll be happy when...” syndrome, which is what you and I were talking about before the show. This idea that your happiness is going to come on the other side of a person, a place, a thing, another follower on Instagram, another 100 likes on your post – the little dopamine hit that we're even subconsciously chasing and craving. And if we can stop to really remember that our happiness exists inside of us, it exists right now, then perhaps that will stop the constant searching, the constant strolling, and the constant checking. 

And it's a practice, you know, because we're all addicted. Just like strengthening any muscle, we need to say, “Okay, let me put my phone down. Let me turn it off. Let me put it in a drawer. Let me create a consequence around it.”

"If we can remember that our happiness exists inside of us, it exists right now, then perhaps that will stop the constant searching, the constant strolling, and the constant checking."

I'm big on promises and consequences. My rule for myself right now is that I have to be in bed by midnight, asleep – like lights out by 12:30am – or I can't be on social media at all the next day.

Social media is my big vice and I know that it's an addiction; because I feel myself. I'll do it mindlessly, so I have to create some boundaries for myself; otherwise, it becomes destructive.

Completely agree. My wife and I, we have a 14-month-old daughter and I mean, what a weird world we live in where you've got to consciously say to yourself: “Look, I'm going to leave my phone on airplane mode in a different room so I can actually be present with my daughter.” Like you, I'm completely addicted to my phone – and you and I teach this stuff, yet we're still not immune from those things!

An interesting point from your book was when you said that “nature doesn't allow your body and mind to rest at the same time.” A lot of people associate exercise as a way of getting a mental reset, which can be beneficial if they're in a demanding job doing really long hours and they have an opportunity to go out for a run. But when it comes to peak performance, what's the optimal balance between exercise, sleep, and meditation?

Like you mentioned, it's important to differentiate exercise versus meditation because so many people say, “Well, working out is my meditation.” And exercise is good for you – of course! But it is exciting your nervous system. You are speeding up your metabolic rate, whereas meditation is the opposite.

In Ziva, we are de-exciting the nervous system. We are decreasing the metabolic rate. And the really important differentiating point there is that exercise is good enough to handle your stress. When we get stressed, our body is preparing for an imaginary tiger attack. So we need to either fight or flee.

People say: “Oh, I box out my stress” or “I run off my stress.” And again, that's good enough to handle your stress from today, but if you want to handle the backlog of accumulated stresses that we have in our cellular memory then we have to give the body rest – deep, deep rest – and that's what meditation does.

So I think that both is really the answer, and I think that it's a personal preference as to what you do first. My loose recommendation is that you wake up, meditate, and then workout because you're giving your body this rest so you have more energy for a workout.

The only exception to that would be yoga because yoga was designed to prepare the body for meditation. Every asana; every pose. Asana is a Sanskrit word that means “seat”; and so what we're doing with yoga is we're preparing our body to become a seat for meditation.

Ah, like savasana. 

Yeah, exactly. Savasana actually means “corpse pose.” It’s practicing dying. Sometimes that’s what I'll say to folks about Ziva when I'm like “Well, Ziva's actually practicing dying” if you get to that savasana without having to do an hour and a half of yoga.

Within 30 to 45 seconds, you're moving beyond the left brain, which is in charge of individuality, and you're tapping into that right brain, which is in charge of totality.

But for me personally, I meditate every day, twice a day, and I exercise about three times a week. I could probably stand to up that especially in this sedentary time of pandemic. My normal life is so active. I live in New York City and the subway and stairs, and meetings, and walking 10 city blocks.

Normally, I could exercise once or twice a week and feel strong and my body has enough energy moving. But because I'm much more sedentary now, I'm needing to exercise more.

Let's dive into your story for a moment. You had a 10-year career on Broadway, which is a very public forum of mental and physical capabilities. What was it about a career on Broadway that appealed to you in the first place?

I remember when I was in fourth grade. I was sitting on the floor of my mom's bathroom reading the newspaper while she was in the shower. I saw an ad for a thing called Young Actors’ Theater, and I said to my mom, “Oh, I need to go here. I'm going to be an actress.” At fourth grade and eight years old, I knew that’s what I was going to do. 

There was no wondering or guessing or wishing or hoping. It was just like, “That's what I'm going to do” and it was just one of those crystal clear moments. But I knew even then that I wasn't going to stay there. I knew I would do it for a while and then I would move on to helping people.

I started at the Young Actors’, which is this amazing children's theater in Tallahassee, Florida, where I got to study voice, dance, and acting pretty intensely. I would go every day after school, and that was in addition to my other dance classes and then doing musical theater at my high school.

So even at a public school in Tallahassee, Florida, I had a pretty intense training in these three disciplines. Then I went to Florida State to study musical theater, and moved to New York in 2001, just three weeks before September 11.

And I was very fortunate to get my first job on my second day in New York. So I was employed when all of Broadway shutdown due to 9/11 – because tourism stopped. A lot of my friends and colleagues who were starting their careers as actors went years being unemployed because the whole industry shutdown and it took a long time to recover.

It was a blessing that I was able to start working right out of the gate, and then I worked for about 10 years back-to-back-to-back. It's intense and a very competitive industry, and I think that's where I really learned, like you said, to use my voice, my mind, and my body as an instrument, and where I got my hardcore high performance training; which I've now taken into the meditation arena and with Ziva.

It sounds like trial by fire! How did you deal with literal stage fright before you even discovered meditation?

Not well! [Laughs] I mean, I guess okay, because I was working, but it was what drove me to meditation.

My last Broadway show was A Chorus Line where my job was to understudy three of the lead roles; and that means you have no idea which character you're going to play when you show up at the theater.

Sometimes I would start the show as one character. Halfway through, they'd switch me to another one. I would just be chilling in my dressing room doing my taxes and they would say "Emily Fletcher, we need you on stage". I would start panicking and having full-blown anxiety attacks. I would grab all three of my costumes and run down seven flights of stairs. Someone would throw me in an outfit and sometimes I would be on stage before I knew which character I was playing.

Some people are good at this job. I am not one of them! I was having panic attacks. I was going grey. At the tender age of 26, I was having debilitating insomnia, I was getting sick five or six times a year. And thankfully this amazing woman – and you'll like this story – this amazing woman was sitting next to me in the dressing room. She's understudying five of the leads, including Cassie.

So it's an incredibly hard job and this woman is nailing it! I mean, every song she sang was a celebration; every dance she danced was a celebration. Every bite of food she ate, she went “Oh, this is sensational!” and she was an Australian. At first, I thought she was just an Aussie because all of you are so happy – I don’t know what you put in the water down there! [Laughs]

It's our Australian coffee!

It really is! That's strong stuff. But finally I thought, “No, this is special. I need to have some of what she's having.”

I said to her, “What do you know that I don't know?” And she said, “I meditate” and I rolled my eyes and thought “Oh god, one of you.” Finally, I was so embarrassed about my performance, and I was sucking so bad at my job, that I thought I have to try something.

So I went along to an ‘Intro to Meditation’ talk. I liked what I heard. I signed up for a course, and on the first day of my first course, I was meditating! I did not know what that meant, but I was in a different state of consciousness than I had never been in; and I liked it. That night, I slept through the night for the first time in 18 months – and I have every night since. 

That was 12 years ago. Then I stopped going gray. I'm 41 years old now and you know I have not been to the salon because it's illegal! So this hair right now, you know it’s real! I didn't get sick for eight and a half years. I started enjoying my job again.

I just thought “Why does everybody not do this?”

Then I left Broadway and went to India where I started a three-year training process to teach.

Now you're a veteran of meditation and teaching others how to unlock that extraordinary performance. What do you incorporate with Ziva Meditation that you noticed was missing from traditional and more mainstream meditation?

Well, it's interesting because when I first learned I had the blessing of beginner's mind. Twelve years ago, there were no apps. There were no drop-in studios. I know that it's hard for people to conceptualize now, but it was really just monks and me in New York.

I mean, that's not totally true, but it was nowhere near as mainstream as it is now, so I have the gift of no comparison. I was just like, “Oh, here is this thing” and it made my life so much better.

Now, interestingly, what people consider ‘mainstream meditation’ is the free apps. There are hundreds of millions of downloads of these different apps and then very little continued usage of them. What people now consider mainstream meditation apps are actually what I would call mindfulness.

Mindfulness is very good at dealing with your stress in the now. Mindfulness is the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment. And it is necessary, especially in this day and age.

The type of meditation that I teach at Ziva is all about getting rid of your stress from the past. And that's not an insignificant shift; because I would say that eradication of the backlog of cellular stress is really what gives you this surge in cognitive ability; this surge in productivity. Like we were saying earlier, with that chronic low-grade fight or flight thing. Over time, that's what's making us stupid, sick, and slow.

“Eradication of the backlog of cellular stress is really what gives you this surge in cognitive ability.”

While mindfulness or using a free app may create a state change – it might make you feel better in the now – meditation is creating a trait change. It is going in and healing you on a cellular level; so that your brain gets faster, your IQ increases, your neuroplasticity increases, your body age reverses, your immune function gets better. 

These aren't, “Oh, let me just imagine rainbows and gurus and incense.” You're actually healing things on a physiological level. You are changing your neurochemistry. And then over time – just like the cumulative effect of stress can be very detrimental over time – the cumulative effect of meditation can be very beneficial.

It's interesting that one of the greatest discoveries of our time is that we can improve our own IQ. More and more studies are proving that’s the case, which you reference in your book, for example, that meditation can improve one’s IQ by as much as 23%.

And a smile came to my face when you were talking about people who have downloaded a meditation-type app and then deleted it. I downloaded Headspace because I'd heard everyone talking about meditation, so I sat down to give it a shot but it was just really brutal for me. I couldn't stand it. I was very uncomfortable and couldn’t block out my thoughts or the sounds. I all but swore that I would never do meditation again because I found it impossible to switch my brain off.

Around the same time, I started doing yoga which, although didn’t allow my brain to switch off, it was definitely a break from the usual chaos of thoughts.

Recently, I started doing Ziva Meditation for the first time, and one of the first things that I noticed was that I was completely present in the yoga session and I think it's the first time that has ever happened.

So I wanted to talk to you about ‘meditation failure.’ I’m one of those meditation failure people, and if you and I weren’t connected I would likely still have a distaste for meditation! But now I'm really, really excited for it. I have committed to it – my wife and I incorporated it into our daily routine.

What is the meditation shame spiral? And why should people give it another shot if they’ve done meditation before and didn’t enjoy it?

Yes! Thank you for sharing this and thank you for being open enough to give it another go. Know that you are not alone; I hear this story multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day: “I downloaded this app; I tried to do it, I couldn't stop my mind from thinking; I felt like I was failing and then I quit.”

It makes me sad just because I know that there are millions and millions of people out there who think that they are failures. I actually dedicated my whole book to it. Anyone who's tried meditation and quit because you felt like a failure; you're not a failure. You just haven't been taught yet.

"Anyone who's tried meditation and quit because you felt like a failure; you're not a failure. You just haven't been taught yet.”

And so the beautiful and hopefully stress-relieving fact here is that the mind thinks involuntarily just like the heart beats involuntarily. Trying to give your brain a command to shut up is as uncomfortable as trying to give your heart a command to stop beating. It does not work, yet this is the criteria by which we're all judging ourselves as to whether or not we can meditate. 

There's like one dude out there telling everyone to “clear their mind” and we've got to find him and we've got to teach him how to meditate.

We do. Patient Zero!

[Laughs] Exactly! He's Patient Zero – and he's got the same publicist that kale has. Even people who have never meditated before are convinced that the point is to turn off the brain. But I would argue that the point of meditation is to get good at life.

No one cares how many or few thoughts you're having when you sit quietly in a chair. Everyone cares about how kind you are, how present you are, how creative are you, how is your immune system, how is your sex drive, how is your intuition? People care about that stuff. Nobody cares that you can clear your mind.

And the beautiful thing is that all of these physical and mental IQ-increasing benefits that we're talking about can happen even when you don't “clear your mind.” Those thoughts, especially during Ziva, are an indicator that stress is leaving the body. And once you understand that meditation is a cycle – it's like a washing machine, like a cycle of stress release – then you stop beating yourself up for having thoughts and you celebrate them as part of the purging healing process. And that can be revolutionary for people and their practice. 

When I first started Ziva, the apps weren't around yet. I was just teaching straight up meditation face-to-face in my studio in New York, and people were having profound results. People were committing, people were noticing their lives were changing, their insomnia was going away, they were becoming fertile after doctors told them that they were infertile. Their IBS was going away, migraines, panic attacks... All of this stuff just falling away.

And then they would say: “Well look, I want my mom to learn. She's in Idaho” or “I want my cousin to learn; she's in Brazil.” “Hey, do you ever go to the Virgin Islands?” And I'll be like, “Yeah. I'll be on a plane tomorrow!”

Technology was getting better and so I just thought that this thing is too good to rely on geography. Not everyone has access to a teacher in their hometown, and so we actually created the world's first online meditation training.

It was before Headspace, before Oprah and Deepak Chopra, and it was just me with my musical theater degree, my tap shoes, and zero technology experience!

But a hell of a lot of life experience!

Yes, a lot of life experience and thankfully some really smart friends! And so we made the first course and it was an experiment. We didn't know if it was going to work or not, but slowly but surely it just grew and grew, and then we revamped it in 2017 and that is when I created the Ziva Technique.

I created the Ziva Technique because after six years of teaching meditation I realized that meditation alone was not enough; that more people were falling off the wagon than I would like; more people were not starting than I would like; and so as I started to ask deeper and deeper questions of “Why are you not starting? Because you know this is good for you. The science is in. Why are you not giving this practice or yourself a fair shot?”

And the other question I really was interested in answering is why anyone could get the keys to the kingdom and put them down? That was the one that was really mind-boggling to me. And for most people it was about time. When you're stressed, you feel like you don't have enough time, that you're always behind schedule, that your to do list will never fit inside of your day; and the reason we have that relationship with time is because our brains are not functioning as well as they could.

And so if you really just drill again and again that meditation gives you more time; it makes you more productive; it makes your brain more efficient; your sleep more efficient; you get sick less often and just keep reminding people that the return on time investment is exponential, then that sometimes solves that issue.

But the quitting issue, as in why people were starting and quitting? They would say: “Well, I'm too busy”, but when I got to the root of it, what I realized is that people were terrified of feeling their feelings. People were terrified of facing the intensity of emotion, and trauma and stress that most of us have stored inside – and most meditation teachers aren't talking about that. They're not talking about the purge of the catharsis that often happens when you do something as powerful as this.

So I just doubled down and I started warning people. “Hey don't start Ziva on your wedding weekend” and “Do not start Ziva the week that you just got a new job”! Because stuff's going to get a little messier before it gets cleaner. 

And then on top of that; I wanted to equip people to handle the purge, to handle the catharsis, if and when it comes, rather than saying like, “Oh, don't worry about that; let's just focus on enlightenment!” It's like “No, we have to integrate that. We have to celebrate it.”

We have to equip people to process the level of intensity that we've been dealing with in our lifetimes, but now scientists are starting to say we can inherit trauma from somewhere between two to seven generations prior – and that's not insignificant, especially in today's climate. 

Inherited generational trauma, it's a thing. And the cool thing about Ziva is that you can stop it in its tracks; by you healing your stress, your cells; you're changing your epigenetics; you're changing what you're passing down to future generations.

With the Ziva process, you’ve got mindfulness, meditation, and manifestation. Can you give a quick insight into those three “M's” and what they do for the brain?

Mindfulness is really good at dealing with your stress in the now. It's like a focused meditation, and that's what most of the apps and YouTube videos are. Anytime someone's guiding you through, then you're directing your focus. And when you're using a directed focus style of meditation, a small part of the brain lights up but very bright.

This is different from the style of meditation that we teach at Ziva, which is all about letting go. It's all about surrender and rest. It feels kind of like a nap sitting up, and this is where that healing of the old stress happens – where the trait change starts to go. Also, it’s where I would say you get this return on investment, meaning that you get more time in your day.

And then the manifesting piece is all about dealing with your dreams for the future. So it sounds a little hippy-dippy. It sounds a little woo-woo. Maybe not to you or your audience!

I would define manifesting as consciously creating a life you love. It is reminding yourself of your dreams. And what I've found is that the combination – and this might really be the thing that keeps you committed to meditation – the combination of meditation and manifesting is so much more powerful than either one alone. Because you could meditate all day, but if you're not clear about what it is that you want it's very hard for nature to give you the thing.

“I would define manifesting as consciously creating a life you love.”

And conversely, you could manifest all day, lining your walls with vision boards, but if you're not meditating and your nervous system is riddled with stress and trauma, and limiting beliefs that you can't even see, then again it's going to be a lot harder for you to achieve your dreams. But when you do them together, you get rid of the stress in your body, you peel away these subconscious limiting beliefs, and you remind yourself of your dreams every day, twice a day, and things start to show up a lot more quickly. 

It's interesting because it's like what you said earlier about meditating for life, rather than to get good at meditating. If we have an idea of what we want, this is simply a weapon we can have in our arsenal that's going to get us there and achieve it as quick as possible.

There are so many themes from what you said that I think are really valuable to anyone who actually just wants to achieve anything – whether it's a successful marriage, a strong relationship with their children, or a business goal.

You've worked with a lot of elite performers from Navy Seals and the NBA, to top executives and doctors, and Academy Award winners. Who stands out as the most ‘elite’ out of all of those people, however you want to define it?

Fascinating question! I think you have to say Navy SEALS, just as far as the mental and physical performance and what they put their bodies and minds through. 

This one Navy SEAL, he did Ziva online when he was in Afghanistan. He said he was meditating in a porta-potty and I was like, “Dude, you are more committed than me.” I was like, “I love meditation, but I cannot say I would meditate in a porta-potty!”

That's a nice testimonial to have!

Yeah! [Laughs]

But I mean, he said it saved his life. He said that having the ability to deregulate his nervous system or to down-regulate his nervous system – because when you're in that chronic fight or flight for a living, for your job, you aren't granted the luxury of turning off or getting into rest and digest. Over time, that can lead to adrenal fatigue, it can lead to PTSD, and it can also lead to you not even having the capabilities of down-regulating.

I think that's why we see such high suicide rates from folks certainly after being in active combat. So the fact that these Navy SEALs were using it while they were in the trenches, and then many of them are interested in actually becoming teachers now, really is very heartening to me because it means they might be able to enjoy their lives for the rest of their lives, which can be difficult if you’re used to intense situations because the rest of life can just feel boring.

I had an interview yesterday with Larry Sanders who is a former NBA player. It was an interesting story, but his manager asked me to teach him because he was about to walk away from a $44 million contract, and his manager was like “No! Please come teach him to meditate!”

So I taught him and I was like, “Look, I can't guarantee anything. I'll teach him to meditate, but I can't guarantee that he's going to stay in the NBA.” But he ended up leaving. We fell out of touch until a few days ago, and he posted this photo on Instagram with “What advice would you give to your younger self?” and he had Photoshopped a picture of him now and a picture of him eight years ago – and he looks so much happier now. 

His face is like beaming sunshine. And the picture of him eight years ago, he looks sad and depressed. I'm not outing his secrets here; he had a very public struggle with anxiety and depression. 

And so anyway, we just sat down for this interview and he said that he considered Ziva a really important part of his mental and physical boot camp when he was transitioning out, and he feels happier now than he's ever been.

And he said that when he was in negotiations about walking away from $44 million; he was in the room, with these people, and he said they were just talking, talking and talking; and it was like “I couldn't hear anything they were saying. I was meditating, and I was imagining just cutting the cord from my root chakra to these people that represented my survival.”

And I was like, “Dude, good for you!” Because there's a lot of people who say that they would and who think that they would, but they wouldn't actually, and he did!

Wow! That's powerful. How receptive were the Navy SEALS to everything that you were teaching?

Several Navy SEALs reached out to me organically and then shared it among their groups, and there’s another retired Navy SEAL who wants to become a teacher. While I haven't officially been hired by the Navy SEALS, the ones I’ve worked with are super-duper gung-ho; and I think they like it because Ziva is so focused on performance.

It's so much about optimizing your brain and body, and I think it speaks their language. Whereas a lot of meditations are about ceremony and incense. If that's your thing, awesome. It's just not my thing.

What about people who want to try meditation, or want a partner to try meditation, but they don’t feel like doing it in the first place? How do you get people to give it a try, especially if they think it’s too woo-woo?

Good question. I can't tell you how many people come to my intro talks and they're like, “I really need this for my husband. I'm not going to take the course, but I'm going to get this for my husband.” Or like, “Hey, can you give this to my wife? Can you get my wife meditating?”

Always, always, always you've got to clean your own house first! 

If you want your dad, your mom, your brother-in-law, or your sister to meditate, you've got to start with you. 

“Everyone else should do it. Not me! Just everyone else.”

That's it. “It's their problem!” [Laughs] – “If my husband would just go to therapy, then I'd be fine!” I definitely heard that story for a couple of years. 

So we have to clean our own house first. And the beautiful thing that happens there is that as we change the lens through which we are seeing everything, everything changes. If we have stress lenses, then the whole world looks stressed!

If we start to peel away our own layers of ignorance, then sometimes relationships might change, our job might change. You're going to think that the world is changing, but actually it's you that's changing. And your life gets better. You get less stressed. You get healthier, you get happier.

And as you do that, you inspire something that I call ‘worthy inquiry’ which is basically like: “Does someone want to know about this thing; and are they willing to surrender something to get it?”

Because here's the meditation course that everybody wants: they want it to be free; they want it to take zero minutes; and they want to never have to meditate again. That's really what everyone is looking for! And I don't teach free meditation. I don't teach a one-day meditation class. I've got no interest in it. I want to teach people who want to learn, and that usually requires some skin in the game.

"I want to teach people who want to learn, and that usually requires some skin in the game.”

The online course is 15 days. When I teach it in person it's four days. So at the very least you're surrendering your preference of your time. This weeds out the people who don't want to be there, and that's great because no one should be forced to meditate.

Everybody comes to it in their own time and when they're ready, but I would say it depends on who you're talking to. If you're trying to convince someone else to meditate – and you’ve started with yourself, and cleaned your own house – then the most powerful thing you can share is your own experience.

You can say, “I used to be struggling with this and now I am this…” or “I used to feel this and now I'm this…” and no one can argue with that. You don't have to be a neuroscientist. You don't have to pretend like you're a meditation teacher, if you're sharing your story. 

And then, if people want all the science, if they want to be equipped with facts – they go to our website. We have hundreds and hundreds of articles and studies; and we have been collecting them since 2011.

So basically every study, story, or research that's been published, I've been categorizing based on: mindfulness, meditation, or manifesting. And people can find that on our blog. 

High performers are always trying to squeeze as much as they can out of every single minute. Have you noticed an effect on a reduced number of hours of sleep required by people for those who have been doing Ziva Meditation during the day?

Yes – but for a lot of folks, especially in the beginning if they're sleep deprived or if they've been dealing with insomnia, oftentimes in the first few weeks and even months they need more sleep and sometimes a lot more sleep. 

I have an interview right after this with my friend Amber; and when she first took the course, she was sleeping 14+ hours a night. She said, “Emily, I have a job. I can't sleep for 16 hours a day, and then come here for an hour and a half a day!” But that's extreme. Normally, most people are not like that. 

A lot of people are sleepy for a couple of weeks as their body is detoxifying and moving through the purge. And then because the meditation is so restful – because you're inserting these 15 minute chunks twice a day, which is an equivalent of about an hour long nap, or 2 hour long naps – over time, as you're building up that backlog of rest and sleeping more efficiently, a lot of people end up needing less sleep.

Even if it was one hour less. You usually need eight hours of sleep, but then you start to need seven. Then for a 30-minute time investment, where you meditate twice a day for 15 minutes, if it shaves off one hour at night that you need of sleep, you're already 30 minutes in the black. And that doesn’t even take into consideration better decision making, getting sick less often, the opportunity cost of stress or losing your temper when you are frazzled. So over time the return on time investment is a real thing.

How has what you’ve learned about meditation changed your life as a parent?

My son turned two yesterday. When he was born, I had been meditating for 10 years, so I don't have any frame of reference of what it would be like to meditate or to be a parent without meditation. 

However, I will say that he has been my greatest teacher in presence. He has been my greatest teacher in surrendering and really embracing the now; because everything just changed so quickly! And as you know, because you have a 14-month old, it's like they take a nap, and when they wake up they have five more skills! They have five more words! 

Five more teeth!

Yes! Things are falling away and new things are being acquired hourly. Like: “Oh, you don't suck your thumb anymore but you do know how to climb that couch!”

It's just a fascinating lesson in impermanence. And I will say that I never felt happier or more present than when I'm with him, but it feels like this is almost like the reward for the 12 years of meditation, that I've been training to be able to be with him fully. And that is such a gift and a blessing.

But I will say that I went to classes with him when he was a baby. They were RIE classes, which is about respectful parenting. It's about nonviolent communication where you're speaking in observations versus judgments, and you're just present.

In the RIE classes, there would be seven or eight babies and you would just sit there. The adults are in the circle; not touching, not speaking, and not interacting. You only intervene if someone's in physical danger. Other than that, the babies are on their own and you are just super-duper present with them; on their level, watching them. 

You can affirm them. Like “I'm right here. I see you.” And then, they call it sports casting, where you're like, “Oh! You picked up that cup!” or “I hear that you're crying. Are you upset?” which is different than “You look angry.” 

So you're speaking an observation rather than a judgement, which is almost like an out loud meditation practice. “I hear that you're crying” and “How are you feeling?” is different from “Are you scared?” and “You sound upset.”

It's an interesting thing that I'm still practicing obviously, but the nonviolent communication, and speaking in observation rather than judgment, and the hyper presence, have all really served me as a parent.

So now we're working on a kid’s course. We're creating what I hope to be the world's best kid meditation training. We're working with creators from Sesame Street and a Harvard child psychologist. And it's been really fun to get inside a child's mind. So even though my son is only two and the course starts for four-year-old children, it's still letting you live in that world a little bit more.

What do you tell the athlete who is about to start their gold medal race at the Olympic Games, or the university grad who is interviewing for their dream job, or the CEO who is about to deliver a presentation to the board for the first time? What do you tell them in that last one or two minutes to focus on before they're about to embark on something that feels life-changing or is potentially life changing?  

Good question. So there's a couple of techniques. One is a very tactical technique and the other is a bit more conceptual. A tactical thing is something I call ‘Balancing Breath.’ You can be backstage, or in a bathroom, or in the locker room. You probably don't want to do it in front of people because it looks weird because you're closing it right and left nostrils, but it's just an adaptation of alternate nostril pranayam breathing. 

It helps to balance the right and left hemispheres of your brain. But when you close one nostril, you are de-exciting your metabolic rate and you are de-exciting your breathing. And when you close the right and left nostrils, you are helping to marry the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which is your critical mind, and your creative mind.

And the cool thing about balancing breath is you can do it quickly or slowly. So if you were just exhausted but you had to amp it up for a game, you can do it fast. Or if you're really nervous and you needed to appear relaxed for your presentation to the board, then you can do it slow and sort of deescalate things.

Also, it helps me to just feel much more creative. I like to think that it's giving you this simultaneity of critical mind and creative mind. 

For a more conceptual thing, I gave a talk at Google many years ago, at the beginning of my career. I’d only been teaching for a year or two, so to be asked to speak at Google felt like a make or break. I thought, “Well, this is it! If I mess this up; my career is over. But if I nail this, my career is made!” It felt like the penultimate thing. 

And my husband just reminded me, “Look, even if you totally blow it, like you just forget everything and you are just a blithering idiot, what's the worst thing that can happen?”

He said, “The reality is, even if you were to be your worst day, it would probably be an 85%.”

“What's meant for you is coming, and what is not, is not.”

He helped me understand that more realistic 15% range, which is not going to make or break your career. And even if you totally forgot your name, how to speak, or how to read and write, this one thing is still not going to make or break your career. And I think that’s the important lesson to remember: that what's meant for you is coming, and what is not, is not.

Check out the podcast or YouTube version where Emily does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, her favorite book, and a whole lot more ?

Final question. What's one thing you do to Win the Day?

I think it's the manifesting piece. It doesn't take long; it's just that two minutes at the end of the meditation where I ask myself, “How would I love to feel today? What's one thing that I would love right now?” It varies in length depending on how intensely I’m working on something.

Also, something I learned from BJ Fogg is a tiny micro habit version of that, where you hit your feet on the ground in the morning and say, “Today is going to be a great day!” Our mind has that confirmation bias – it wants to be proved right. So just saying “Today's going to be a great day” is like the micro super-fast manifester's trick.

I love it. Everyone's looking for a magic bullet, but it's often those simple habits reinforced with consistency that can be the most powerful. I want to finish with a quote from you. “We meditate to get good at life not to get good at meditation.” Such a great lesson. Thank you for being on Win the Day.

Thank you for having me. Thank you for your clarity, your inspiration and your wisdom.


Connect with Emily Fletcher and learn more about the resources/links mentioned in the interview:

🧘 The first 3 days FREE of Emily’s flagship Ziva Meditation training (plus a guided visualization for deeper sleep).

🕯️ Balancing Breath exercise.

📷 Emily Fletcher on Instagram.

📝 Ziva Meditation on Facebook.

📗 Emily’s new book ‘Stress Less, Accomplish More’.

Get out there and win the day! Until next time...

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

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