Jason Connell is a consultant to emerging speakers, writer, meditation teacher, and therapist in training. He’s worked with everyone from senior members of the Obama administration and professional athletes to middle school students and emerging entrepreneurs. Connell is the founder of Ignited Leadership, a company dedicated to creating better leaders for a better world.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

That I need to take good care of my mental health and invest in my relationship to myself. To those ends, I really wish I that I entered into therapy earlier in my life than I did. It transformed everything… for the better. I urge anyone who is thinking of seeking the help of mental health professional to do it!

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Fake it til you make it” is pretty bad advice if you ask me. To pretend to be more confident or secure than you are subtly sends the message that who you are isn’t good enough.

A far better approach is to acknowledge that you’re anxious or afraid and then break the task you want to accomplish into small pieces. Then, temporarily leave you comfort zone to tackle each piece.

It’s just as important to return quickly to your comfort zone. In fact, leaving your comfort zone, for the most part, is pretty bad advice. I think we should spend the majority of our lives happily in our comfort zones, only really leaving them for something awesome.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

In my mid 20’s my life kind of collapsed. Over the course of 2 weeks a girlfriend of 2 years and I broke up, a close friend died (he was 28) and one of my best friends moved away.

Looking back, I should have shut my entire life down for a week or two to mourn my losses and lick my wounds. Unfortunately, I had an international speaking tour lined up, so instead of taking care of myself, I compartmentalized everything happening in my life.

Bad idea. During the tour, I kept breaking down.

When I finally got back, I decided I needed to take better care of myself. This led me on a long journey of learning to love myself, healing old wounds, developing some better life skills (like reaching out for comfort), developing a healthy sense of self-worth, etc.

I worked with therapists, life coaches (who are not good substitutes for therapists), meditation teachers, and a bunch of other cool people to really turn myself around.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far? 

This answer won’t be very popular, but honestly, luck. Everyone who is chasing success likes to assume that they succeed (or fail) purely because of their own agency and cleverness (or lack thereof).

As far as I can tell, that’s pretty delusional. Luck has a MASSIVE role in success. Yes, you can do things to tilt the scales in your favor, but ultimately, luck and the Fates seem to have at least as much to do with success – especially extreme success – as hard and thoughtful work.

What is your morning routine? 

When L* and I are together we get up at 7:30 (8:30 if I’m by myself). She goes to work, and then I spend 45 minutes meditating and then journal for a bit. After that, I usually start work.

That said, there has been a lot of emphasis on morning routines lately. People seem to think that if they get their routines just right, that everything else will go well. In fact, to do that is to miss the entire lesson.

Having a morning routine isn’t about the contents of the routine; it’s about defining your day (and really, life) for yourself instead of being reactive all the time. It’s about being thoughtful and proactive, instead of automatic and reactive.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Meditation, by far. I practice Vipassana meditation and it’s changed my life for the better in ways I never expected.

A more subtle habit that’s also made a huge difference: (mostly) giving up alcohol. On rare occasions, I’ll have a drink or two, but for the most part cutting out alcohol has been a huge win. It makes me happier, more productive, and more stable.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

I’m much more organized than the average person, but after that, I don’t really have any special strategies. Instead of efficiency and productivity, I try to focus on enjoying the process of my work. If I really hate the process, I’m likely to abandon it.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

LOVE this question. If it’s a small issue, I’ll go for a 20 or 30-minute walk by myself without my phone. Usually, this allows me to clear my head enough so that I can return refreshed and focused.

If it’s a problem that’s been going on for days or weeks, I’ll spend a few days resting. During this time I focus on sleep and relaxation. I keep my phone and computer off and spend my time going on gentle hikes, meditating, journaling, and reading. After a few days of that, I feel fully refreshed and ready to take on the world.

All of that said, one of the big life skills I’m focusing on right now is learning to rest before I’m tired.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m a huge lover of books! I’ll try to keep my list short:

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Galloway – this is by far the singular most important book in my life. Before reading this book, I had no idea that it was even possible to control my mind. After reading it, I had a much better understanding of how to harness my mind and release myself from my own harsh judgment.

Peace is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh – more than any other book, this one helped me understand how to meditate. Hanh explains meditation in a simple, fun, and playful way. The section called, “Tangerine Meditation” is so good that I used to use it when I was running advanced leadership trainings.

Play it Away by Charlie Hoehn – I read this book while I was on the tail end of a world tour. I was wildly burnt out and jaded. Play it Away helped me reconnect with my inner child. To this day, it remains one of the most influential books in my life.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

There are a few:

  • “If you’re afraid of what you need, look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better” – James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem on the song, “Home”
  • “The proper response to life is applause” – William Carlos Williams
  • “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” – unknown. I first heard this when I was training to become a lifeguard at my summer camp, and I still think about it all the time. Apparently, it comes from the world of sniping and combat.
  • “What is the kindest decision you can make for yourself right now?” I heard one of my meditation teachers say this and have been using it as a filter for… almost every decision in my life. The trick is to realize that “Kindest” doesn’t always mean easiest. A lot of times doing that hard thing at this moment is actually the kindest thing you can do for yourself.