Infinite Possibilities: Deepak Chopra, Founder, The Chopra Foundation
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"What I like about the UAE is the diversity of cultures, talent, technology, and opinions,” Deepak Chopra, M.D., tells me, as I speak with the renowned doctor, thought leader, and New York Times bestselling author on the sidelines of the Milken Institute’s Middle East and Africa Summit in Abu Dhabi in February. “Those are the ingredients of creativity. If you want creativity, you have to have the maximum diversity in every area, science, technology, art, sport, and so on, and you have to be able to see what is the need of society of today, and then to come up with something that will be a catalyst for that.”
Chopra certainly knows a thing or two about creativity- he is known as a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, but he is also a successful entrepreneur in his own right, having founded The Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit entity for research on wellbeing and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality. Since entrepreneurship involves risk, he says it is crucial for entrepreneurs to understand “what the cultural mind is looking for at the moment.”
By way of example, Chopra mentions the evolution he has witnessed in his own field. He says, “I’ve seen the shift from the industrial age to the information age, and now to the whole tech revolution, and what I’ve found, at least in my field right now, is that the focus has moved from treating, to preventing the disease, and to also understanding that a lot that happens in our life is totally influenced by our daily choices.” In line with this sentiment, his interactions with students as a clinical professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, as well as his work as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization, lead him to advise entrepreneurs to keep an eye on today’s technological revolutions in different fields, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, brain and cardiac bio feedback, genetics, and so on.
“These are very important fields which have huge implications for society, and unless you look at what society needs at this moment, you are a blind entrepreneur,” he declares. “You now have kids who are what we call digital natives, so when I’m looking at the future, I assume that the cultural mind is looking for things like peace, conflict resolution, help, well-being, sustainability, social, and economic justice. So, you can have a great idea, but it can fizzle out if you haven’t asked yourself about its relevance in today’s ecosystem of relationships.” Another piece of advice Chopra shares is not to start a business with an exit plan in mind. “That’s what entrepreneurs are [often] doing all the time,” Chopra adds.
“You should start a business because you want to build something long-term, not only for your generation, but for the next one, and the one after that. If you are of that mindset, you are not in a hurry to scale, but to refine, improve, improvize, until you think that it is perfect. As the saying goes, ‘you build it, and people will come,’ so you should not worry about people while you are building it.” However, today, we do live in a highperformance culture, and Chopra agrees that “performance anxiety is the biggest source of stress in the world, particularly in the business world.” While people are more prone to opening up on their mental health struggles these days, the majority of symptoms are still hard to identify and mitigate; yet, many are clear that the pressures of business and workplace performance are one of the main stressors.
In its recent study, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America pointed out to deadlines (55%), interpersonal relationships (53%), and staff management (50%) as the biggest culprits. One solution, Chopra says, is in re-evaluating the whole premise that success leads to happiness and fulfillment. “If your motivation is to make money, in order to make more money, in order to make even more money, then you are like a bank teller, and you don’t enjoy that money,” he says. “You have to ask yourself what quality of life you want. The quality of life, according to everything that we know from social sciences, is that financial success maybe adds 10% to 12% to your experience of happiness in life.” The rest, Chopra explains, is determined by big values that drive humans in the long-term, such as one’s attitude, relationships, meaning, purpose, and so on. “Short-term thinking ultimately leads to catastrophe, even if you are successful, because you have to ask yourself, ‘If I’m extremely successful in making a lot of money, does that guarantee that I will be happy?’” he says. “The answer is that it does not. You’ll be ecstatic for the first six months, and after that you’ll return to your baseline, and in five years, you’ll be even more miserable, worrying about the taxes and stock market. That’s collective insanity.”
I zoom in now on one of Chopra’s criteria for happiness, i.e. the quality of today’s human connections, and I ask him why people struggle with establishing and maintaining harmonious relationships. “The quality of your relationship is a reflection of your intimacy and understanding of yourself,” he says. “Every relationship, be it good or bad, reflects an aspect of yourself. It’s very difficult for people to come to terms with the fact that both the people you fall in love with and the people you despise are the mirrors of yourself. You fall in love with people who have qualities which you want, and you despise people who have qualities which you deny in yourself. If you could honestly look at the mirror, there would never be a problem with any relationship.”
This focus on the relationship aspect of life achievements is important for entrepreneurs, especially when you consider the famous research of Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman, who found that 65% of startups fail as a result of co-founder conflict. “They (co-founders) found each other to learn something from each other,” Chopra says. “Before you even start a relationship, you need to ask yourself whether that person is a reflection of you, so you need to work on yourself first. It’s interesting that the more you look at yourself, the more you will find contradiction, ambiguity, paradox, and confusion. That’s okay if you are honest with yourself, because that’s the basis of creativity. Everyone who is 100% convinced in what they know has no creativity. The first thing to understand is that the nature of human consciousness is contradiction, paradox, and ambiguity, and that’s the seed for any creativity and honesty in your relationships.”
Chopra’s latest book, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential offers a 31-day guide for moving beyond one’s present mental and physical limitations. “Every mind is conditioned by history, economics, culture, nationality, and everything that has happened,” he explains. “In a way, it’s good because it gives you an identity, but it’s a provisional identity, and there’s nothing permanent about it. What’s behind the conditioned mind is the creative mind, so Metahuman is about how to tap into the insight, creativity, vision, higher calling, transcendence, and going beyond the fear of death. The reason is that everything that we call normal today is actually the hypnosis of cultural conditioning. If you go beyond that, you have infinite possibilities.”
A part of that vision to transform human conciseness is also in his other project, Digital Deepak, an artificial intelligence product that’s built based off his writings and teachings. “Digital Deepak is, basically, a personal coach which, theoretically, can speak to seven billion people one-to-one,” Chopra says. “You can ask Digital Deepak different questions, because he has read all my 90 books and articles. He also has access to a digital library I’ve built, a digital equivalent of the library in Alexandria, which has been evolving over the last five years. It’s not my work, but of our collective intelligence, and I will make it available through Digital Deepak. And with every interaction, he grows, like a child. It really is the culmination of all my work, but it is not a passive entity, it learns from every interaction and grows like any other human being. One day, it will be able to speak to the grandchildren of my grandchildren, they can learn from him, but he can also learn from them, and who knows where this will go.” And if Chopra’s career so far is a measure of one’s potential, there really is no limit to where things can go.