A mastermind group is a great excuse to meet the smartest people you know & support each other up in the things you want to achieve in your personal and professional life, on a regular basis. There are many forms of masterminds — here you will read about some of them that I have experienced and the amazing benefits you can reap from initiating or joining one.

Round one — a stable team of five

I was walking back home from a mountain hike on a warm summer evening, full of great energy, when I got an unexpected call from a friend. He told me the Start It Smart NGO we were both part of was starting a new initiative, called mastermind groups. The idea was to make small teams of 5 people, who would meet on a regular basis, discuss current issues each of them was facing and support each other with all they’ve got. They had picked a couple of people to lead the creation of those teams. Their task was to think of a person they liked, someone whom they had an easy communication with and would love to have on their team, and lend out an invitation to them. Once the person accepted, together they would decide on the next one to invite and so on, until there were 5 people in the team who trusted and felt good with each other. He was inviting me to his team. I felt humbled and super curious about it, so of course I accepted.

This was 3 years ago — my first encounter with the concept of mastermind groups. And although I live in another country now and meet them less often,

I feel a strong sense of connection and responsibility towards the 4 folks with whom we soon started sharing and helping each other deal with our issues and deepest thoughts and fears.

Over time, we have supported each other not only with ideas and connections, but also have been there for each other, unconditionally, without questions asked, any time one of us needed help.

Round two — sitting on the same table with one’s greatest inspirers

My second encounter with mastermind groups came in the form of a book one of my mastermind mates handed me on our first meetings — ’Think and grow rich’ by Napoleon Hill. It was one of the most awesome books I’ve ever read and in it the concept of a mastermind group was first described as: “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony”. An example was the practice of the rich and successful of forming such small mutual support groups, and using them as a key driver of their success. What I found particularly interesting was also the fact that:

those groups could also be formed within one’s mind, by picking out living or dead people who inspired you and summoning them anytime you felt you needed advice.

At that time of my life, I was constantly on the go, changing locations every couple of months working on my startup, which made it hard for me to attend the regular live meetings of my group. So I decided to give the imaginary mastermind a shot. I picked out people I admired for various reasons — musicians John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, business leaders Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski, an Israeli friend and mentor that had a great impact on my life, authors Carlos Castaneda and Napoleon Hill. The mix might sound a bit funny, but every time I asked a question to those guys, they would not only give me great insight and perspectives on what I was trying to do, but also reinforce in me a certain confidence that often saved my sanity in the rough times I was going through. Anytime I felt confused or losing direction, they were there for me — a vivid reminder of my purpose and aspirations, the voices of my values of love, freedom, togetherness and learning.

Round three — a drink open to the smartest people you know

Finally, I began to settle for a little longer in a new place. I was thinking of starting something that would encourage people to get together and share knowledge and experience, when I remembered that an ex-co-founder living in the same city had attempted a startup in this direction. The startup was about creating an online platform for people to exchange skills and knowledge. When I talked to him, he explained that their team had put the project on hold due to lack of time to focus and lots of boring market research into the huge space of online learning platforms that killed their momentum. It felt a bit strange that the facts he was listing were in direct conflict with what I was seeing — a person who cared with a passion about bringing people together to learn from each other. I had always had great fun working with him and I realized we shared more than trust and respect for each other — we had a common purpose and set of values that made us click instantly on reviving his project.

We started off by holding some live meetings, in which each of the participants would list a set of skills they possessed and a set of skills they were interested in acquiring. Based on those, they would be matched to each other, in pairs, to discuss whatever it was that someone was interested to learn and the other knew about. Those were pretty fun and nice and soon we realized that the biggest value they were holding for us was

not so much an experience where a person would just dump a lot of info about a topic on you (this kind of basics are widely available in online & offline courses), but about getting advice from a peer for a specific issue you were facing right now in your personal or professional life.

We decided to test this out and before we knew it, we were back to a mastermind kind of model. It’s been almost an year now, in which we have been meeting every other week, bringing various great people we know together over a drink to share about their issues and help each other. And I can’t overstate the value this has brought to my life.

What’s the thing about masterminds?

I’ve come to realize that the idea of giving and getting advice on personal and professional issues is just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits you get from mastermind groups. Here is a list of 8 reasons why I believe everyone should consider joining a mastermind or creating one at their own initiative, based on my experience.

  1. See more of the coolest people you know

When you are busy with work and other stuff, it’s easy to lose track and fail to sync with the smartest & most energizing people you meet. We often tend to stick to friends we have the habit of meeting regularly and as time goes by and each goes their way, we find less and less topics that help keep us together and engaged in our discussions. A mastermind gives you an occasion to hand-pick and invite the coolest people you know, not based on proximity or habit, but based on great communication & common drive to learn, grow and support each other.

2. Build trust

Besides the great energy you get from the coolest people you know, a direct consequence of meeting with them on a regular basis is that you build a relationship of trust with them. By exposing your deepest fears and problems to each other regularly and minimizing the small talk, you get to know each other on a deep intimate level that surpasses any other relationship you can have with them. Any time you get in trouble or want to start a new crazy project, you don’t need to look any further.

3. Have some of the best talks you’ve ever had

Most talks in our daily lives, just like our minds, oscillate between boredom and anxiety, by either sharing little and trying to be nice and unburdening to one another or by exploding into the worst version of ourselves due to piled up pressures and stress. Mastermind talks open your mind up with a deep listening, learning and sharing and a feeling of amazement that comes when you talk about the things that matter most to you and your friends. You get reminded how everyone is going through some struggles, that no one is perfect and that in going through those things, figuring them out and sharing about them lies the beauty of life and learning.

4. Examine your challenges on a regular basis

This is a huge one for me. On one of our meetings, a psychologist friend recommended me Young’s Schemas test that helps you establish your self-defeating patterns, which stop you from being the best version of yourself. It was one of the best spent hours of my life, at the end of which I was looking at my patterns and feeling quite weird, realizing I was a copy of my mother when it comes to those. My number one pattern was self-sacrifice — the tendency to go in and do lots of stuff for others, despite and at the expense of my own needs. All of this coming not so much from putting others first per se, but from not being aware of what I need and thus, assuming that my needs are not that strong or don’t exist.

All this made me realize how much of what was going on inside me I was completely unaware of, mostly because I never stopped to ask myself about it!

The question of ‘What’s my biggest challenge right now’ that I think about on my evening walk towards our mastermind meeting has been a huge step for me in terms of building this awareness. And once you step out of the mind noise of the 100 things going on and focus your attention on your biggest challenge, even if you never talk to anyone about it, you are half-way through resolving a big part of that noise.

5. Learn to expose yourself & your weaknesses

Although being aware of our issues is huge in itself, sharing about it with others is where the magic lies. Social stigma dictates that we show the best version of ourselves to people and keep any imperfections and weaknesses out of sight, until we can no longer hold them in and they burst in the face of our closest ones. Attending mastermind meetings creates a confidence that you can share about your problems and weaknesses and people will listen and pay attention. They will not hate or dislike you for it — they will appreciate your trust in them and like you more for being open, honest and human. They will help you resolve them and feel useful and important for doing that.

Once you build that habit of putting yourself in a circumstance where you have to expose yourself regularly, you will notice it slowly moving in to other areas of your life.

To that important talk at work, to that family or relationship issue. You will find yourself stepping into conflicts with an open heart, trust and vulnerability, as a person who knows how they are contributing to the existence of a problem instead of blaming and judging others.

6. Learn to ask good questions

A mastermind creates in you a habit not only of allowing yourself to share deeper issues, but also of allowing yourself to ask deeper questions to others. I can’t say I’ve gotten rid of trivial questions, but the amount of good and deep questions in my life has significantly increased. Questions like ‘what do you think is your biggest challenge now?’ or ‘what do you want to learn?’ or ‘why are you doing this?’. Outside of mastermind hours, I find myself building stronger connections with others as well through addressing those and being ready to listen to a person share about things they don’t normally get asked about and thus appreciate their uniqueness and understand them and myself better.

7. Zoom out and gain perspective on your issues

When we are stressed about an issue, we tend to close in, zoom in, lose perspective. A mastermind group asks some really smart people to brainstorm on the problem you’re stuck on. If you pick them right, they will always amaze you with great fresh insights. Sometimes, a single sentence can change your life. For example, on the topic of my self-sacrifice pattern, I got the question:

“When you are doing something for others, are you doing it for them or are you doing it for yourself?”

Simple enough, but thinking about it led me to as close as I’ve ever been to resolving my issue, by realizing that I never actually do stuff for others, but for the way helping others makes me feel good and important.

8. Expand your life via good connections

Besides ideas, masterminders share connections. It’s easy to get closer and become friends with someone when you discuss interesting stuff and feel you are growing together.

Just like money goes where money is, cool people go where cool people are.

You will soon find your life expanding with better and better connections with interesting folks. A girl I met at our mastermind in the city where I live is my closest friend now. And being the awesome sociable smart honest person she is, she has introduced me to many of her friends who share those same qualities. Including a friend whose friends once randomly came to share a beer with us and before I knew it, I was at a session of one of the most enchanting communities I’ve ever encountered, learning African drumming with the amazing folks at Cercul Întreg. My life would be much more grey and dull without the vibrant energy these people bring to it.

The mastermind format

So far, I’ve tried 3 versions of masterminds. In one I was meeting a stable group of 5 specific people on a regular basis. In another one, an imaginary gathering of inspiring famous folks were giving me imaginary advice. In a third one, I have been meeting with an ever-changing set of great people, with a couple of core members keeping constant. In all of those, the format has been the same — meeting every 2 weeks and taking turns into sharing the one key challenge each of you faced, so that everyone’s minds join together in a common powerful mind that asks questions and brainstorms on the issue in a constructive spirit. There are positives and negatives to each alternative, but in the end, I’ve found that the approach doesn’t matter as much as a mastermind’s essence. And its essence is in:

Connecting to others and ultimately ourselves on a deeper level

The biggest impact of the vast amount of learning and fun masterminds have given me over time, is that I feel I’ve grown a lot and ultimately gotten to know myself much better.

My issues are no longer my enemies, they are my friends and allies in keeping open-minded, curious and aware of what an amazing thing the human mind is. Instead of running away from them, I see them now as my guiding lights towards the best I can possibly be at any moment in time.

Instead of pushing me into isolation, they are now a key point in my social life, bringing me closer than ever to people I respect, admire and love in my own way. I even have an imaginary creature that helps me get to know those issues better in my daily life — a baby dolphin sitting exactly where my pressure and stress gathers, inside my chest, showing me by its states what is bothering me today. That baby dolphin reflects all my human imperfections, instabilities and daily states and helps me love myself better, as I am, by the love I feel for him. He keeps me aware not just on my walk towards the mastermind gathering, but daily, throughout the two weeks in between, so that I can pick out the best problem to share.

Maybe this is the beginning of my next step — a fourth form of mastermind that opens a daily occasion for my conscious and subconscious minds to sit together, share a drink with a dolphin and talk to each other about what really matters to me.

Point is, if you don’t have one yet, get yourself a mastermind. It’s up to you where you begin, who’s in it and how its form evolves for you. What’s important is to give yourself such regular occasions to connect to yourself and others on a deep level. It’s one of the best antidotes to the distracting noise in your mind, helping you keep on the path of being the best you can possibly be in the face of the biggest challenges life throws at you.

*** Originally published on Medium, 13 October 2016.


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