As you travel on your financial journey, have you paused to take stock of what you’re really working towardand what it will mean for your life? Mallika Chopra, daughter of self-help expert Deepak Chopra, talks about her own journey toward living a life with intent.
Whether you grew up with a meditation expert or you’ve never been exposed to the idea of intention, peace and focus in your life, Mallika Chopra’s story will resonate with you and help you focus your goals as you work toward financial freedom.
Jenny Hoff: Mallika, thank you so much for joining me today.
Mallika Chopra: Thank you for having me.
Hoff: I’m so glad to be doing this interview right now because while this is one of the most joyous times of the year, it can also be the most stressful, both financially and emotionally, and physically with cold weather and illnesses going around, so I think taking the time to reflect and breathe can do wonders for our stress levels at this time.
So before we delve into your book [“Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy,” published in 2015] and your suggestions for living life with intention, I’d love to hear more about your background. Your father, obviously, Deepak Chopra, is very famous for his teachings and spirituality, and alternative medicine, and self-awareness. What was it like growing up with this and how did it influence your own ability to deal with anxiety and stress?
Chopra: Yes, so it’s always the first question I get, what’s it like being Deepak Chopra’s daughter, and you know what, as a reply, my brother and I really don’t do anything different because that was the way we grew up. But we grew up in Boston. My parents were young immigrants who came to this country actually with $8, and he came to do his residency, my mom soon got pregnant, and so actually, my parents never had much money.
They’re really the poster children for the American dream realized. Worked really hard.
Our early memories really aren’t of having my dad around because he was always at the hospital, and when he came home, he was usually stressed, drank to go to sleep, and just not in a good mood, so those are the very early memories.
And then around 9 years old, my dad discovered meditation and that really shifted our entire family life, and my mom, my brother, and I, and then our whole extended family and community really discovered the gifts of meditation, and most impactfully, that really shifted my dad’s life, like he just was happier, more connected, healthier, and our entire family life shifted, so that’s why I’m a big advocate for meditation, because I have a lot of gratitude for how it’s shifted our life.
Hoff: And did you feel, OK, some people would say, “Well, if you grew up with kind of all this wisdom in your household, then there’s no way that you could deal with the same struggles that I deal with everyday as far as anxiety goes and family pressure is, and wanting to be perfect at everything,” but that’s not necessarily the case, right? Because I heard you speak with the Texas Women’s Conference and, of course, and obviously, in your book too, you share a lot of the same stress and the quest for constantly doing more and being more as everybody else does.
Chopra: Absolutely. I am also a very goal-oriented person. I have the same stresses that everyone else has, whether it’s family stress or financial stress, or just relationship stress, and also, frankly, just getting through the day sometimes as a mom with two kids and a business, etc., so I feel really grateful that I learned the techniques when I was young and also, I also like to stress, it’s not like we grew up in this kind of really peaceful, wisdom-oriented place.
My dad was, like I mentioned, very ambitious and stressed out, and so these techniques that he brought into our family life helped him and helped us.
But a few years ago, probably around my 40s when I had my two kids, I was really busy with my company and writing books. I found that I was so exhausted and stressed, trying to do too many things, too many commitments, feeling like at the end of the day, I have been running around all day, but I didn’t even know what I had accomplished all day.
I just realized that my life was kind of spinning out of control without even me realizing it, really, until I took a step back and really could have perspective on it, and so I, like everyone else, am dealing with a lot of things.
My goal with my book and my work is really to one, share my story because yes, I think people have perceptions that people have it all together, and to really share, no, we don’t. We all are trying to figure it out, but there are some things that we can do to help us when we’re in that crazy place.
Hoff: Absolutely, and I really am excited to talk about this and reading your book myself, I felt like it allowed me to take a big deep breath because we all get caught up, I think, in this whirlwind of taking care of our family and being great at our jobs and earning more money, and building for financial future, being great at everything that we sometimes get so lost in it, we’d stop to even say, “What is the purpose of all of this? What am I trying to actually accomplish?” And so, your book is both your personal story about your journey to live life with intent, and it’s also a guide for others, and I want to start off with what intent means to you. Is it goal-setting, or is it something more?
Chopra: That’s a great question. Intents for me are very different from goals, so intents come really from a soulful place when we ask ourselves very honestly and authentically, “What do I want in my life?”
When we were kids, my dad would guide us through this saying that goes like this: “I am responsible for what I see. I feel to choose as I experience and set the goals I will achieve,” and “Everything that seems to happen to me, I ask for and receive as I have asked.”
When we were young, he asked us, “What did you ask for?” And we would say, new toys, new clothes, a trip to Hawaii, a lot of material things, that he would guide us to ask for the qualities in our life that would make us happier, healthier, more connected, and with purpose.
So, for me, that’s what intents are. They are who we aspire to be as individuals, members of our families, communities and citizens of Mother Earth, and so for me, it really begins with thinking about those qualities that we want in our life, and then kind of a path to intent that leads to smart goals.
Goals are very task-oriented and come from the mind, so I see those as something very different.
Hoff: OK, you use intent also as an acronym through the book to help us remember some of the practices that you feel if we adopt in our lives, would allow us to have an intent and have a little more grounding in our lives. I want to go through each one of those practices, but I want to do it through the lens of, let’s say somebody who is attempting to do something with their financial lives, whether it’s make more money or build wealth, or get their family out of debt, or save for retirement, or build their credit. Let’s go through that practice, and let’s start with the first letter, obviously, “I,” which is for “Incubate.” Can you tell us what that means and how we can do it in practice?
Chopra: Sure. So, yes, “I” is for “Incubate,” and I chose this word because I recognize that in my life, when I ask myself what do I want, sometimes I don’t even know and I have to take time to really think about it, and actually, not even think about it, like listen to it and experience it, so incubate really honors the need for quiet and time.
Quiet because I believe that we are often so distracted by all of the stresses and the anxieties around us that we lose connection with ourselves, and then time which really means honoring that sometimes, it takes time to create anything, so even when we have a child, we’re pregnant, we don’t just have a kid. It takes time, nine months for a pregnancy, or when we plant a seed, we cover it with dirt, the sun and the rains nurture it and we don’t even know what it will blossom into, but we recognize that it takes time, so for me, that’s what it is. It’s finding the practice for you that allows you to connect with your inner self.
For me, that’s meditation. For some other people, it may be walks in nature, yoga, dancing. People have different practices, or they should find a practice that allows them to be quiet and to connect, and I think just linking it to what you’re saying on the financial path is that I also, many of us come from a society that is very material-oriented and I think part of the power of this practice is to really reflect on what your deeper desire is, so yes, what is it that you’re looking for in terms of security or connection, or it may be prestige?
And so really kind of being clear with yourself of why you are on this path, and for most people, it’s a very practical life issue, but for some people, it’s about empowerment and to gain control and ownership of their own lives, for other people, it’s about making sure that you can care for your family and community. Everyone has different reasons that they enter this kind of path.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely, and I have to ask you. I have two children, a baby and a toddler who one seems to always be crying when the other one is not, so how do you find that time to get peace, to really give yourself? And how much time do you need to really get that meditation or whatever it is to just let your mind kind of release a little bit as a mother yourself?
Chopra: My kids are now 15 and 13, so I’m in a very different spot than you are. I would say, to be honest, and I will truly be honest, is that when my kids were about 10 and 8 is when I had my complete meltdown because I think for so many years, and especially the ages that your kids are at, I was so busy. You don’t have time to shower even, right?
Whether you’re working or not, we are just overwhelmed, and so I actually had lost that practice, which is why I ended up more at a crisis point, but around 10 and 8, I really made it – 10 and 8, meaning my kids being 10 and 8 – I made a commitment that, you know what? I’m going to take whatever time I can, so it started with five minutes, and five minutes may be sitting in carpool line, that’s what I was doing those days. Carpool line and just finding that five minutes of real quiet time, so for me, it’s a meditation practice but just sitting, not looking at my phone, not calling someone. It’s like, it was a great time or going for walks.
I started to really spend more time just out in nature and trying to kind of take that exercise time that again I never had, but when I did do it, not listening to music, not watching the news, not being in a really noisy place but finding a quiet time, so if you go to many places in your meditation practice, they recommend strongly 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, and there is no way I could have done that.
There is no way I can even do it today. My kids are like 16 and 13 now. I just have a busy life, so if I can find 20 minutes once a day that’s huge and also, what I did and part of the practice that we’ll talk about is, I also started to just let go of guilt that if I don’t do it, it’s OK because I can’t do everything.
Hoff: Absolutely. I think that is probably one of the things that affects most of us when we’re on this goal, let’s say you’re on a financial journey or whatever it is, if you’re on a diet journey, you want to get healthy, that guilt of feeling, “I’m not obeying every rule, I’m not doing everything -” can enhance the anxiety instead of just saying, “I’m OK.” It’s OK if you fall off the wagon once in a while as long as you get back on it.
The next letter is “N,” for “Notice.” Can you talk a little bit about that?
Chopra: “Notice” for me was going back actually to a practice that my dad used to make my brother and I do. We were guinea pigs for all of his experiments. He used to make us really notice our internal dialogue at the way we were using words and expressing ourselves, so he would make us go through days where he’d say no criticizing, condemning or complaining, and when you do an exercise like that, you really notice how your internal dialogue reflects your external reality.
So for me, when I go back to that age when my kids were about 10 and 8 and I was just feeling so overwhelmed, I realized that my dialogue, both to myself and to the external world was, “I’m exhausted, I’m overwhelmed, I’m tired, I can’t do too much. I’m stressed.” And, I really realized, if I was thinking that and feeling that all the time, obviously, that was what I was experiencing.
So, notice is really noticing our internal dialogue. It’s noticing physically what’s going on. I am one of those people that is sugar and caffeine-addicted and really use that often to just get through the days, but at the same time, what I realized is that it was having an effect on me physically and health-wise, and so instead of kind of trying the newest diet, the newest juice cleanse, or the newest whatever it may be, I really just shifted to noticing how my body was reacting when I OD’d and had three cookies.
I felt sick the next day, I had body pain, and so noticing is noticing that, and then the last part of noticing is noticing the people, the places, and the circumstances that you come across every day. I think this is a big shift between intents and goals because when we are goal-oriented, we are so laser-focused on the end result that we often don’t even notice the people, the places, and the circumstances that come into our life which may be part of our kind of deeper journey, and so noticing is really noticing all of these magical potential moments, connections that happen every day that can really feed that deeper intent.
Hoff: Absolutely, and it is especially relevant now, today when we have a phone on us at every moment, so the minute that we have some quiet time, we’re usually looking at our phone or whatever we’re doing, we’re taking a walk, we’re looking at our phone, we are listening to an audiobook, and we’re not really noticing anything else happening in real-time around us. I think that’s a really important point, especially if you are on a financial journey or you’re trying to increase your life in different ways, noticing the potential around you is a really big skill to be able to do that.
So let’s go on, the next one is “T” for “Trust,” and what do you mean by that?
Chopra: So trust, for me, is a harder one. Just really trusting your intuition, trusting that when you ask yourself in that quiet place, “What do I want?” that you really trust the answers, and for me, I am a very ambitious, goal-oriented type of person. I’ve gone to great schools and I also have pretty ambitious goals, but when I really started – and I do ask myself, what do I want – I realize that for me, at this stage, and for me, it was really honoring this time and this magical space that I’m in right now with my children, and trusting that I need to honor that and kind of figure that out, and honor those relationships as well.
So, trust is really trusting your intuition, trusting that you are following the actions that are aligned with your deepest desires and with that comes to choices, and rather than say sacrifices, I like the idea of empowered choices that you really make choices in terms of what you can do, where you’re flexible, how you spend your time, etc.
Hoff: Absolutely, and I actually like that. Instead of sacrifices, they’re choices because I think a lot of times, we put that in our mind, “Well, I’m going to make this sacrifice. I’m not going to buy that so I can save this money,” but it’s not. It’s a choice because you want to have that security or you’re trying to get to your ultimate, deepest desires of what you need, and so trusting your ability to do that and make those choices is paramount.
Your next is “Express,” so let’s talk about that.
Chopra: Yes, so I do believe that it’s important to articulate what you want and that’s very empowering, and so for me, Express is really about writing down your intent or stating it out loud. I actually have a small company called intent.com which is basically a social media company where people are expressing their intents, and I don’t think you have to do it in a public social way, but I do think that a personal ritual of expressing and taking ownership of what they want is actually like planting that seed that I talked about earlier. It’s really like saying, “OK, this is important for me. I take ownership of it. I’m planting that seed and now, I’m really ready to move forward.”
Hoff: How important is it, do you think, to actually write it down and to really even let other people know as far as the ability to stay on task and stay focused on this practice that you want to increase in life?
Chopra: So I believe very strongly that you should find the right ritual that makes it important to you because you kind of create a secretness by a ritual. So, for some people, that may be writing it down. For some people, that may be saying it in their meditation or saying it out loud to themselves, and for some people, it may be sharing it, and I think it really is a personal choice. I have found that when you do share your intents with other people, you find that people want to support you and you kind of create community around your intents.
That being said, for some people, you know what, the time isn’t right to share them, so I think it has to be something that’s true and authentic, and comfortable for you, because it is scary, and whenever I lead talks or meditations, we were at the Texas Women’s Conference together, I find that a lot of people get emotional or fearful when you ask them to state their intents and their deepest desires, and so I think it just recognizes that sometimes, that’s scary, and so it may be very much a personal journey and doing it at the pace that you’re comfortable with.
As you get more comfortable, you start to maybe share it with a few people in your life. The reason we started intent.com is we found that some people thought it was much easier to do it honestly or kind of in a community that you didn’t know everyone, but I think if you start shifting to those people who are close to you, you may discover a whole new opportunity for growth.
Hoff: Yes, absolutely, and I love this next one, “Nurture,” but I think it’s something that none of us does, or really very few of us allow ourselves to nurture ourselves as we strive to accomplish something or to achieve what we want to achieve. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
Chopra: Yes, “Nurture” was actually my favorite chapter in my book because it really took me back to an experience that I had of going to India to take care of my grandparents. Again, my kids were around 10, 8 years old and my grandparents were getting older, and so we were rotating in our family to go take care of them. So my mom came to LA to take care of my kids and I went to India to take care of my grandparents.
When I got to India, I found that rather than me taking care of my grandparents, my grandparents were taking care of me, so I’d go to sleep and suddenly, the air conditioning was on, then it was off and I had a blanket on me and a glass of water, then the newspaper in the morning, and tea and a walk with my grandfather, and I realized at 40, nobody ever took care of me.
I was so busy taking care of everyone else and I was tired and I needed to take care of myself. So, my grandparents gave me this incredible gift of just that reminder that we cannot take care of everyone else if we are really suffering and unhealthy, and tired, emotionally distraught, and so nurture is very hard for us as women because we usually don’t feel like we have the time to take care of ourselves.
We also have a lot of guilt. A big part of this chapter is also recognizing that sometimes, we have to ask for help because we try to do everything for everyone by ourselves, and so letting go of guilt, asking for help, taking care of ourselves.
Hoff: Absolutely, and I think if people take just one thing away from this, that should be the one because it’s something that we cannot accomplish anything, we cannot always put off until tomorrow to take care of ourselves. I’m saying that to myself as much as I’m saying that to everybody else because ultimately, success comes with also self-love.
Chopra: Yes, I do want to say, because I also recognize that life goes through cycles and I can kind of, now that I’m a little older and my kids are a little older, I can reflect on different stages of my life, and so that’s the thing. When my kids were your kids’ age, it was a very different time. They require a whole different level of energy. Your time is very different. I mean, it’s just very different, and so I think it’s also honoring the phase that you’re in and doing the best you can for that phase.
Hoff: Perfect, absolutely. And finally, your last point, the “T” in intent is to “Take action.” Can you go into that a little bit more and really kind of example of what that means for us?
Chopra: Yes, so I think it’s important to cite your intents, but I do believe that there is a time for smart goals. I did grow up in the self-help industry and one of the things that I found is, a lot of people will say, “Oh, well, just state what you want, and then magically, it will all happen,” and so I don’t believe that. I actually believe that there is a time when you really do need to take action and you need to actually mark and check off and things like that. So, smart goals really are, again, around an acronym which is setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, so I think that when you set your deeper desires as the base, and then you start setting these goals, you are more committed because they’re really coming from a soulful level, and it’s a very different experience.
Hoff: So, it’s really setting also these smart goals and paying attention to achievable things that you can actually accomplish and actually do because it helps you move forward to the next stage. That’s especially relevant for people on a financial path, dealing with financial issues. It’s getting yourself to a place of peace a little bit, giving yourself some time, some quietude, nurturing yourself, expressing that and how you need it, and also taking action in a way that will get you to the level that you need to get to.
Chopra: And I think that’s good. I would just say it’s really important, especially on the financial side, I mean, it’s good to be specific and to measure, to do all of those things, but when you do those things from a place of really understanding why you’re doing them, I think you feel more at peace with them as well.
Hoff: Absolutely. What are three things that someone could do right now to start living their life with intent and finding peace as they struggle to accomplish, earn and do more. I know we’ve gone through these kind of these practices, but if they were going to start right now today, what are three things that they could do?
Chopra: So, I would say one, find a practice that helps you find quiet time, so think about what that is and a really simple one, and we did this, again, the Texas Conference for Women. I opened the conference with it actually, is just sit quietly, close your eyes, and repeat the words, “I am, I am,” to yourself, say for two minutes, just with your eyes closed. And whenever your attention jerks away from the words “I am,” which it will and that’s completely normal and natural, just come back to the words “I am,” and what this practice does is it just helps your mind settle down, and your mind is going to keep racing but when you kind of bring these words in, it just brings a little bit of quiet pauses into a crazy day. So I would say the first thing is just find a practice that brings you quiet.
Second, I would say really ask yourself, “What do I want in my life?” And don’t do it as material goals. Don’t start off with, “I want to make this amount or save this amount,” or whatever the goal maybe, really start more with what am I seeking? Am I seeking security? Am I seeking love? Am I seeking connection? Empowerment? So really think about the qualities in your life that you want.
And then, I think it’s important to give yourself permission to take time and just start living those qualities in your life, in a forgiving, relaxed and loving way.
Hoff: Fantastic. I think those are three things that are simple enough that we can start doing but complex enough that they can actually make a change in our lives if we do them. Finally, what gets you charged up about finding intention in a chaotic life?
Chopra: Yes, that’s a good question. I have found that life will always be chaotic. I think we just live in chaotic times, even though we are stimulated constantly and there are different ways that we get stimulated, whether it’s from politics or finance, or family issues, etc., so I have seen that once I really made a commitment to these practices, I have felt more in control of being anchored in the midst of chaos and just feeling like I can manage it more, so that really, I think the shift that I’ve seen in my own life really drives and excites me, and is why I’m so excited when I get to do podcasts like this or speak at conferences like the Women’s Conference, because personally, I feel like I could see that other women in particular are yearning for some sort of connection and empowerment and just taking more control of their lives, so that’s really what excites me.
Hoff: Perfect. Absolutely, and I think honestly, reading your book, it resonates with women because your experience as a woman and a mother is what you document in there, but I think that men, anybody who feels like a little bit out of control of their life right now and they need to feel a sense of purpose and knowing why they’re getting up every day and what they’re doing could really benefit from reading your book and understanding these practices. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about it.
Chopra: Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here and yes, I agree, by the way. We’re living in a time where people are seeking purpose and more meaningful experiences in their life, and that’s something we all can seek and benefit from.
Hoff: Thank you so much for joining us today, Mallika.
Chopra: Thank you.