Ep. 38: Clif Smith - How an employee led initiative turned into a full blown mindfulness program - Ernst and Young


Clif Smith, Ernst and Young's (EY) Americas Mindfulness Leader, has personally facilitated mindfulness training to over 20,000 EY personnel.

Clif was first introduced to mindfulness as a 10 year old during martial arts training classes. It was there he learned that the practice can help one overcome fear, self-criticism and self-doubt. This would one day be the tool which he used to overcome his fear instilled in him from being a “trailer park kid” and become a Chinese linguist, a diplomat, and apply to Harvard.

He started a small grassroots mindfulness network in EY’s Americas region and began “teaching small classes and 6 people turned into 12 people, 12 turned into 24, 48, etc.” Then, when his CEO Mark Weinberger had to cancel a keynote at an annual event for newly promoted leaders, Clif Smith was asked to step in. It was then he knew that mindfulness was not work, it was not a career, it was a calling.

Since then he has been helping people improve their wellbeing, focus and leadership as a result. Just knowing you have the tools to better navigate the normal ups and downs in life will reduce your stress.

More From Clif Smith

Facebook @clif.smith.94

Twitter @mindfulclif

Linkedin Clif Smith

Other Links

EY Website www.ey.com

Facebook @ey 

Twitter @EYNews

Instagram @ey_global

Linkedin EY

Recommended Books

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn


Learn more about BB&R and Achieving Optimal Health Conference by visiting BBRconsulting.us

Show Notes

  • [01:01] My first foray into mindfulness occurred between the ages of 10 and twelve. My mother entered me into a contest. I was a young boy who was into martial arts and she entered me into a contest for families in a low socio economic situation to win free lessons and was fortunately one of the kids who won one of five kids. And in that process we did mindfulness. And I really learned three things from that experience. I began to be more mindful of my fear and to be able to move forward despite feeling those sensations of fear thoughts as well. I also began to become more mindful of negative self talk self-criticism self-doubt. 

  • [03:08] I realized I could be afraid of something and still do it.

  • [03:24]... there is that negative self talk that started to come up you know who is this kid who could barely graduate high school thinking he's going to learn one of the most difficult languages in the world and I would be lying to say that the fact that there was a bonus associated with if you could actually learn it that played into my decision. But moving forward despite that negative self talk and then being able to learn and become a Chinese linguist really changed my life. 

  • [00:04:16] And so I was poor kid wrong side of the tracks enlisted soldier became a Chinese linguist to become a diplomat represent our country was really the pinnacle of that part of my career and you would think that I was on top of the world and I was outwardly I mean I displayed that but inwardly I had those thoughts flowing around of not being good enough. Do I really belong with these people feeling like an imposter. And so when a friend of mine suggested that I apply to Harvard when I was thinking about going to grad school I told him he was out of his bleeping mind and -- I will let you and your audience fill in that part.  

    But it was clear I had enough evidence in my own life that just because something seems difficult doesn't mean that it's impossible. And yet that's what my brain served up. Basically my brain served up this idea that this was impossible. I think the reason for that is our brains are designed to keep us safe to survive not to make us happy. And so my brain projected out what it thought was going to happen which is failure and what does failure equal pain in order to protect me my brain served up this thought this belief that this was impossible. 

  • [06:13] But what I realized in that moment was mindfulness is such a powerful tool to uncover these limiting beliefs. 

  • [6:38] And what started out as a presentation to six people around a conference room table turned into a much much more.

  • [07:39] I would say that mindfulness EY grew out of a grassroots effort and I certainly can't take credit for starting it. I mean I think I could take credit for being the first person in this region to really start to push and grow it but obviously nothing happens on your own. 

  • [08:47] But I think what happened is we started giving small classes and six people turned to 12 people and twelve turned to 24 and 48 etc. 

  • [13:07] I would say that the purpose of the Americas mindfulness network is really to positively influence three key aspects of our employees of our people. I should say leadership, well-being and performance. And so from a leadership perspective we really want to develop mindful leaders who are more emotional intelligence, more empathetic more inclusive. Well-being really to enable our people to better manage stress be less reactive be more present. And from a performance perspective to increase our people's ability to focus amidst a complex and distracting world and take a wider perspective and really to be able to respond with clarity even if they're under pressure. 

  • [14:29] We live in this modern world where the volume and velocity of information is coming at us at a rate that's unprecedented in our history. We have an almost “always on” type of a culture right now and we have leaders that are amazing and they say things like “Don't give up a seat at the dining room table for a seat at the boardroom table” which I absolutely love. 

  • [14:58] What mindfulness does is it gives them the tools to better manage the normal ups and downs of a corporate life but also personal life.

  • [15:20] Much of our stress is internally generated.

  • [15:36] That's it. John Kabat-Zinn talks about is that, there really is no stress. It's your reaction to a situation right.

  • [16:01] You see a colleague walking towards you down the corridor down the hallway you make direct eye contact with them and they just walk right by you. They don't say, “Hi”. They don't wave. They don't nod. Nothing. How do you feel? And I normally get between five and seven different reactions. Anger, embarrassed, confused, concerned, furious you know all of these things. 

  • [17:08]And so there's a lot of stress comes internally out of our internal appraisal of what's happening outside -- and mindfulness gets to the core of that. 

  • [18:10] I'm far from perfect in my mind from this practice, but I can genuinely say that it makes me feel happier or less stress and more loved as a result.

  • [18:54] Developing an intention, whether it's for your practice or for other things, is really important as well. 

  • [26:14] Aetna that talked about 62 minutes per employee increased productivity and thousands of dollars reduction annual medical costs. SAP released data, not the granular data, but sort of top line data - 200 percent return on for every dollar spent in mindfulness increases in employee engagement and they've calculated that a mere 1 percent increase in employee engagement across the firm leads to like 50 to 70 million euro to the bottom line. So this is not an insignificant amount of money and it's win win. 

  • [28:26] They injected meditators and non meditators with flu virus and meditators had much more robust immune system response.—

Thank you for joining us on HealthGig. We loved having you with us. We hope you'll tune in again next week. In the meantime, be sure to like and subscribe to this podcast, and follow us on healthgigpod.com.

“I had enough evidence in my own life, that just because something seems difficult, doesn't mean that it's impossible. I realized I could be afraid of something and still do it.” – Clif Smith

“Developing an intention is really important.” – Clif Smith

“Mindfulness is a powerful tool to uncover limiting beliefs. ” – Clif Smith

“They injected meditators and non meditators with flu virus and meditators had much more robust immune system response. ” – Clif Smith


#mindfulness, #earnstandYoung #Jon Kabat-Zinn #EY #mindfulness-based stress reduction #MBCT #MSRT #Search Inside Yourself #emotional intelligence #Mark Coleman #the potential project #Bhagavad Gita #Dan Siegel #Sharon Salzberg