“ How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works ”

by Dan Harris

Book Cover

I took this as a recommendation from the library app without a lot of excitement. I almost dropped during the first chapter. Then it became interesting, then captivating. This book convinced me that I need to meditate. It doesn’t make promises or over-sell it and takes a funny turn around the hippy-culty-misty self-help books. It’s short, I recommend it. Will re-evaluate rating based on what results this gives me.


What I keep from it:

  1. Meditate, learn to tame the tumult in your head, and to notice and decouple emotions from reactions.
  2. Realize that nothing will last forever
  3. No attachment to results
  4. Be kind

Everything will end, the world is unpredictable, we’re cabled to desire, accumulate and compete, but it’s never enough and the next thing never makes us happy. You can’t control your emotions but you can control our you respond to them rather than react. Meditating is a training to notice things, those emotions, their effect, and then acknowledge them and respond in a conscious way.

Don’t attach yourselves to results, you can’t control them. Don’t waste your energy on variables you can’t control. Instead, do everything you can to succeed, but don’t get attached to the outcome. Then if you fail, move to the next thing.


We have a voice in our head that keeps commenting and judging, everything, everyone, and ourselves.

The voice is ruminating on the past and fantasizing about the future, while everything we have is the present. It’s the childish monkey brain that wants and compares.

Anxious forecasts in your head are just thoughts, not predictions. Recognize these as thoughts. The craving to be otherwise and elsewhere

self help

Eckhart Tolle wrote books that diagnosed the importance of leaving in the moment but didn’t give solutions to do so.

The solution he proposes is to recognize that the voice is a thought, and separate from it. Stop seeing the present moment as an obstacle to tomorrow, and accept things that happened, good and bad, as immutable facts, nothing worth ruminating about them since they are.

If you stay in the moment what’s before and after is not important all that remains is the moment (?)

Most “transformative” self help is BS

Buddhism and meditation

The root of Buddhism is that we suffer because we get attached to things that are temporary. The way to happiness is to achieve a state of impermanence, let go and leave attachments, recognize the wisdom of insecurity

If there’s nothing such as security, why bother with insecurity

The way to tame the monkey brain is to meditate.

Fight or flight in modern life is triggered too often. Meditation is supposed to help quiet this down.

Prescription is:

  1. Sit comfortably
  2. Focus on the breathing
  3. If you catch your thought, forgive yourself and get back to the breathing

Start with 5 or 10m and increase.

It’s an exercise and a training to tame the monkey mind.

We want, we reject, we zone out. Mindfulness is to witness the discomfort. Note the feeling, observe it, accept the pain and shortcut the impulse. Alternative, to live reactively. For example, recognize that you’re furious, realize you expand energy for something,…

How to have mindfulness RAIN

Recognize - ack feelings Allow - lean into it. Let it be. Offer the inner whisper of yes Investigate - how is it affecting my body? My face hot, my heart fast Non investigation - this is just a passing state of mind.

You receive thoughts and emotions from the void and can’t control them, the only thing you can do is changing how you react to them, mindfulness creates that.

It’s not that you can’t desire but you should not get led by it

It’s not that you can’t enjoy the things in life, but if you can achieve a deeper understanding of suffering, of unreliability, it brings much greater happiness

We seek to get pleasure or avoid pain, but learn to begin by being happy

Sometime you worry about something practical, such as missing a plane. Is this useful? when you worry about something, is this useful?

Accept that negative feedback might be right

We spend lives telling ourselves “what if” stories, wanting the next thing without analyzing the fact that everytime we get it it sets the new baseline.


Meditation is an exercise. It reduces the stress zone of the brain, and increases the urge control zones. Thanks to neuroplasticity, it does so in the long term.

Use small breaks to get to mindfulness - feel your hands when driving, be in the moment during meetings,… Helps leaving the unconscious make connections.


Dalai Lama > Be compassionate for selfish reasons. Beyond the mystical meaning of karma, you judge yourself, and being bad has a bad influence on your happiness.

Being kind reduces levels of cortisol.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel happy for someone who got something we wanted.

Often it’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s that we think we know what’s going to happen, and it’s gonna be bad. While in fact, we really don’t know! The smart play is to turn the situation to your advantage. Fear of annihilation can turn to great insights because it reminds us of impermanence and the fact that we are not in control.

Being nice and simpleton doesn’t mean being a simpleton

non attachment to results

Striving is fine as long as you realize that in a highly entropic universe, you can’t control the final outcome. If you don’t waste energy on variables you can’t influence, you can maximize energy on those you can. If you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you don’t get attached to the outcome, so that if you fail, you get maximal resilient, dust yourself off and carry on.

This is the marriage of the price of security, and the wisdom of insecurity.

the way of the corporate warrior

  1. Don’t be a jerk
  2. Hand, but when necessary hide the zen -> be nice but don’t be a victim. Sometimes it’s important to compete aggressively.
  3. Meditate -> the biggest benefit is to respond instead of react to impulses, and tune down the ego non judgmentally
  4. Price of security is insecurity, until it’s not useful -> figure where security or insecurity is useful or useless. Comparing yourself to someone nice is good. Knowing your + as well.
  5. Equanimity is not enemy of creativity -> being nice doesn’t make you a zombie
  6. Don’t force it -> don’t bulldoze your way to an answer
  7. Humility prevents humiliation -> sometimes you’re wrong
  8. Go easy with the internal cattle prod -> firm but kind is the smart play. You are allowed to fail.
  9. Non attachment to results -> Don’t assume the fetal position when you fail.
  10. What matters most -> What do you really want? (begin with the end in mind)

About Reading Notes

These are my takes on this book. See other reading notes. Most of the time I stop taking notes on books I don't enjoy, and these end up not being in the list. This is why average ratings tend to be high.