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Categories : Member Spotlight
Jim Hjort is a licensed psychotherapist and personal coach specializing in helping people actualize true well-being, compassion, and fulfillment. He founded the Right Life Project after conquering his own inner demons despite his otherwise successful career in business as a way to reach those in a similar position. Using various techniques backed by scientific evidence, Jim emphasizes the necessity of taking care of the mind in order to truly live a life of happiness and meaning. Please enjoy this conversation about mindfulness, transformation, and achieving the intangible levels of success:
What is the Right Life Project about?
The Right Life Project came about in April 2013. It serves as a platform for me to offer guidance to people, primarily high achieving professionals, who are really unhappy in their lives. A majority of my clients are people who have already achieved all the traditional markers of success. They have the dwelling they like, the house they like, good careers, but yet they wake up every morning sometimes for years with the sense that’s like, “Is this all there is?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that.
So through the Right Life Project, I help people achieve a more intangible level of well-being. As humans we tend to fall into a trap of chasing the next extrinsic goal that we can see and touch, and what happens in that relentless pursuit is that we overlook the things that have lasting meaning and gratification to us – things that are intangible and inexhaustible.
So on the website I have a blog, podcasts, video clips, and an email list which when people sign up, they are sent about 20 emails spaced out over a period of time that link to articles to the blog designed to help people out of this mental block.
The approach is evidence-based – no new age-y, metaphysical stuff! Everything I use to help my clients are either backed up by a significant amount of scientific research evidence and/or is readily verifiable in their own experience.
Why did you get into this line of work?
I was like one of the clients I now help. I used to be a high achieving private equity guy and had all the markers of success you would typically think of, and yet I was really unhappy. I felt boxed in by the success, and a lot of my clients feel the same way. Like, I should be grateful for the position that I’m in; there must be something wrong me if I feel this unsatisfied with my life!
That was many years ago, and while I continued on that track I was looking for other answers and spent a long time doing my own research, experimentation, etc., and finally landed on a way to work myself out of it. A big part of the solution was mindfulness meditation, which I adopted more than 20 years ago. But having gone through all of that I realized that what would really gratify me vocationally would be to help other people out of the same predicament and save them decades of unhappiness. I helped myself out of what could have been a lifetime of depression, and now my role is to give back. Even with joining the Chamber that’s been my goal. I made it a point on my profile to say if you have anything you want to run by me I’m open – please give me a call. I want to be of service because being of service feels good.
What is a common misconception that people have about mental health that you want to clarify?
There’s certainly a stigma around mental health problems that discourages people from seeking help, but more importantly I think more people need to realize that seeking help from a therapist does not mean you’re crazy or “mentally ill.” I believe everyone can benefit from spending time with someone whose sole purpose is to just show up and be present for you with unconditional positive regard. It’s something we needed as kids and it’s something we still need as adults.
Another huge misconception is that you have to believe everything that you think. Your brain lies to you all the time, especially about yourself. If you keep believing everything that pops into your brain, you can get into a lot of trouble.
I find a lot of well-known people attribute their success to meditation or are very open about their practice. From your prospective, what is it about meditation that a lot of people find helpful in their careers?
What it does is something so incredibly important, which is orienting more to our cortical brain. A majority of us let our lower, primitive brain direct our actions because its main objective is to help you survive and feel good whenever possible. It’s not bad, but it so happens if you keep following the impulses of your primitive brain it can lead you on a course of action that in most cases that is diametrically opposed to the course of action that will gratify the higher order brain, which craves things like connection and long term well-being.
When we incline away from the primitive, short term focused side of the brain, we are naturally more responsive rather than reactive. It doesn’t mean that life is never going to throw curve balls, it just means that now when the curve ball comes, it’s your core self at bat. Now you can choose how to respond to the situation in a way that is consistent with your long term well-being, as opposed to reactively doing whatever my primitive brain wants you to do. That’s what mindfulness meditation gives you. It teaches you to be in the driver seat rather than being on autopilot, and I think people find both success and a sense of deep gratification and well-being easier to achieve that way because they’re able to act and make every decision with the ultimate goal in mind.
Also, I find too many people are afraid that somehow reorienting their life will cost them their achievements or success. They think they have to trade one thing for the other – that you can only either be happy or be successful – but it’s a false dichotomy. You can have both at once and in fact, when your intentions and actions are more aligned, most people tend to be more successful and happier than ever. You can have your cake and eat it too, and I think those who practice meditation find that to be true.
I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who tend to ignore their issues or put off addressing them thinking it’s no big deal or it can wait. What are some of the risks or harm that can come from doing that?
What I help my clients achieve is called “eudaimonic well-being” – having your intentions and actions in alignment with your most authentic self. It’s the kind of well-being that exists even when things aren’t going well because it’s big enough to include that. Because I think too many of us who don’t seek help for the harmful things going on in the brain – depression, self-doubt, addiction, etc. – tend to settle for a level of happiness that is “good enough,” and we really sell ourselves short in that way. The biggest cost when we continue to ignore our mental health is a life left unexamined and not fully lived, and unfortunately that happens frequently. People can live and die without ever addressing the things that have been eating away at them their whole lives, and none of that is necessary if you just reach out.
What motivates you about the work that you do?
I work with people who, to outside observers, are often doing fine, but who have the courage to recognize that there is something missing, or holding them back from feeling fine on the inside, that needs to be explored. The biggest coaching success stories I’ve had are the people who are motivated to achieve their full potential, are coachable, and are willing to make consistent effort to do things that may be difficult at first, in order to achieve the ultimate reward. If you’ve got that kind of motivation and are willing to make that kind of effort, I can take anyone anywhere with that! I feel so honored to work with these people, and it’s so much fun for me to witness. I have a front row seat to the greatest show on earth: watching people transform their life and turn into their best self right before your eyes – there’s nothing like it.
For more information about Jim Hjort and the Right Life Project, please visit www.rightlifeproject.com. Jim Hjort makes himself available to the community and to all members of the Chamber. If you would like an opportunity to have a brief, informal consultation or talk with him, do not hesitate to reach out to him. Please find his contact information here.