What are some good tips for finding balance and mindfulness in life? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Justin Kan, Entrepreneur & investor. CEO of Atrium, on Quora:

As a repeat founder, I am just as stressed as I was during my first company, but I am also the happiest I've ever been (in a sustained way) in my adult life, and completely independent of my external circumstances. I've made intentional behavior changes related to the items below and so far it has helped tremendously:

  • Gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Phone Use
  • Exercise and Diet
  • Alcohol
  • Therapy
  • Feeling and Naming Emotions


Five Minute Journal

I started off using The Five Minute Journal, a simple app that asks you every morning to name three things you are grateful for, as well as three things you are going to do to make that day great, and the positive affirmations you have for yourself that day.

Explicit gratitude is important because it helps re-contextualize the short term negative things that happen to you throughout the day in the greater context of all the positives in your life.

The good thing about the journal is that it really just takes five minutes a day. My recommendation is that you commit to it for a week (that is only a commitment of 35 minutes) and then see if you feel better.


I started off using Headspace, which worked reasonably well to create a sense of calm for me throughout the day. After a couple of months, I would do focused meditation following my breath (on average once every other day) for about ten minutes.

I am now doing Transcendental Meditation (TM), which Ray Dalio recommends in Principles: Life and Work. TM is a form of mantra meditation that is quite easy to adopt, that you do in two 20 minute daily sessions (I do them right when I wake up, and then in a supply closet at work in the afternoon). While this is a big time commitment, I feel like it has paid dividends to my daily happiness, energy, and ability to be present (note: it is hard to disaggregate this effect from the other things I am doing).


After turning on Screen Time, I realized I was spending 5.5 hours a day on my phone. Even worse, I self-justified this by saying that some of it was work (email and Slack), even though a large portion wasn't (Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, etc). Last year, I finally decided I needed to kick the habit, and that even the work-related things could be contained to times when I'm on my laptop without productivity really suffering.

I tried to go phoneless, and replace my phone with an Apple Watch, but unfortunately, I still wanted to use some utility apps like Uber and Venmo.

The solution I've settled on is that I've turned my phone to greyscale (to reduce its addictiveness; go to Color Filters in Settings), deleted email, Slack, and all entertainment apps (YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and even the browser), deleted the app store (locking it with a passcode that I don't have access to).

My phone is now only useful for reading, music, texting; I find myself using it much, much less, at basically no cost to my quality of life.

Exercise and Diet

I try to exercise every day, even if it is just five minutes of crunches or push-ups. In order to hold myself accountable, I have a trainer who shows up at my house 3x a week (I built a small gym in my garage). If you can't afford a trainer, I suggest committing to meet a friend at the gym on a regular schedule: a social commitment will further obligate you to go to the gym and remove it from being an active decision that you need the willpower to make.


I also quit drinking this year. My entire life I've used alcohol as a way to escape from negative emotions I've felt. Recently, I've felt that this has prevented me from understanding the full nature of my consciousness (as well as making it difficult to work out every day), and I decided to make a change.


I was very resistant to trying therapy. Finally, after a breaking point at a previous company, I realized I had to make a change and found someone. This was life-changing for me: I worked through a lot of paralyzing guilt around failure that I felt and learned how to detach myself from my daily emotional ups and downs. I still see someone (different) today.

I think therapy fundamentally works because it is cathartic to talk to other people about your problems. Unfortunately, many people don't have a close, impartial person they can talk to: therapy simulates this by making it someone else's job.

Being Authentic

In today's society, we are often afraid to say what we truly feel: we find it awkward, we are scared about how other people will react, or we don't think it is appropriate. This is very unfortunate because it shallows out our connections with those around us.

For my friends, I find times to tell them the positive qualities that I appreciate about them, even if I feel awkward about it. I will literally say things like:

"I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your friendship, and I've always admired that you are someone who connects well with other people as that is something I've always aspired to myself."

At work, it might be something like:

"I wanted to tell you I appreciate your willingness to give me constructive criticism; I know it is not always easy to honestly criticize the CEO. I think that takes guts and it has helped me improve."

Of course, when you do this, it is important that you are actually authentic and not just blowing smoke up your friend's ass.

Feeling and Naming Emotions

Emotions (anger, sadness, fear, joy, excitement) are just a signal. Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are just a form of data. Unfortunately, from a young age, we are socialized to suppress the emotions considered "bad" (anger, sadness, fear), in both our work and life. Ironically, by doing this we don't let them pass through the body, and instead, they linger and become long-lasting moods.

I've become committed to feeling all my emotions (and not trying to avoid them through escapes like drinking alcohol or distracting myself through media). Also, I've tried to develop the skill of being able to name those emotions explicitly with myself and other people ("I feel anger right now") as a way to drive more deeply into the underlying interpersonal issues ("I think this may be because I don't feel heard by you in this conversation"). This was very scary to do when I was first starting out (generally we are afraid that talking about our "bad" emotions might cause others around us to withdraw their approval) but has really helped me connect more deeply and authentically with people around me, both at work and at home.

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