I begin my day by plucking fistfuls of olives from their branches, knowing that each small oval fruit represents a source of oil and sustenance.
I’m in my hometown in Turkey for the olive harvest. Together, with my family, we spend hours in the heat of the day, picking these stone fruits in batches. When a waft of air approaches, we’re especially grateful.
At the start of each day, I know that we’ll be there till sundown, plucking until our foreheads glisten from sweat and our arms turn sore.
The liquid gold produced is the heartbeat of my nation. Historically, olive trees symbolize peace, hard work, and a shared love of culture and family.
But for me, it represents something much greater: the experience and power of awe.
Like most entrepreneurs, I am someone who wears many hats during the day: CEO, father, husband, friend, colleague, mentor. But when I am picking olives, I’m free to just be another part of nature.
Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world, psychologist Dacher Keltner tells The New York Times.
“It’s vast, yes. But awe is also simpler than we think — and accessible to everyone,” he writes in his book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.
This has been true for me in the past 16 years of building my business.
Incorporating experiences of awe in my everyday life has been vital for my personal and professional growth, allowing me to save my brain for the big stuff.
While many of us tend to associate ‘awe’ with dramatic, life-changing events, if you stand next to the ocean and look into its horizon during sunset, you’ll understand that many of these instances are smaller and fleeting.
But they change us, nonetheless.
The benefits of experiencing ‘awe’
Researchers have found that awe benefits us more than we know — both physically and psychologically. Studies show that these feelings can produce a change in heart rate, give us “goosebumps,” and that sensation of chills.
Psychologically, awe can create a diminished sense of self — an effect researchers call “the small self”. It gives us the sense that we have more available time, increases our feelings of connectedness, our critical thinking and skepticism, creates a more positive mood, and decreases materialism.
The best part? We don’t need to take a special trip around the world to reap these benefits. We can harness it today, at this moment.
Here’s how to build more ‘awe’ into your routine
According to Eben Harrell, the “overview effect” — envisioning yourself or the world from a great distance — is one of the most reliable ways to evoke awe.
In his story for Harvard Business Review, Harrell notes that it can be a way to unclench our minds and find greater peace. In his research, he found that:
We can break up the humdrum of daily life simply by adopting fresh eyes that allow us to discover awe in everyday things.
Here are a few methods you can try to experience more awe for yourself.
1. Indulge your artistic inclinations
It doesn’t matter whether you’re naturally drawn to poetry, film, music, or museums — what matters is that you embrace the emotional power that comes from witnessing beauty in all its forms. And this directly translates to your overall productivity at work, because it reminds you how small those daily hassles really are in comparison.
I am an avid reader, myself — immersing myself in the joy of a good novel. I’ve spent much of my free time reading line after line of beautiful language that provokes awe and inspires a sense of transcendence.
While it’s different for everyone, the point is to constantly expose ourselves to the arts that give us a greater sense of meaning.
2. Find solitary time in nature
Author Rachel Carson notes in her book The Sense of Wonder:
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
This has certainly been true of my experience among the olive groves in Turkey. But I haven’t designated my time there as my only source of awe-inspiration. I take regular walks in nature when I am in our San Francisco headquarters, spending time outdoors and taking weekend hikes.
I’ve noticed that how I feel — mentally, physically, and emotionally — directly benefits from spending time outside. These daily encounters with awe allow me to go back to the office feeling replenished and peaceful, with an unburdened mind.
Research also shows that awe improves our mood and sense of well-being. In one study, people who watched a slideshow of extraordinary natural scenes reported a better mood than before they watched the slideshow.
3. Cultivate an ‘awe-based consciousness’
Regularly trying to see the world as rich with meaning makes it more likely that we’ll see more wonder around us. Experts note that experiences of awe are deeply intertwined with our beliefs about the universe and our place in it.
Understanding that we’re all a part of something larger than ourselves helps us view our lives through a different lens — one where we all contribute to the whole.
In writing my book Automate Your Busywork, I took many pauses throughout — to seek out nature, to listen to an inspiring piece of music, or just stare at my kids play on the swings — all of this helped convey the messages I attempt to instill with my writing: our work is only a small part of a much bigger, heart-filled life.
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