Yip (Thy-Diep Ta) is an executive coach and mindfulness trainer, working with corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors to calming their minds and bringing peace into their organizations. She has founded the Mindful Entrepreneurship Conference and is co-founder at Unit Ventures, creating the cooperative stakeholder economy on the blockchain. 

Yip authored the leadership book Beautiful Brains Change Tomorrow… Today, writes poetry, and enjoys cloud watching. She has an MBA from INSEAD business school and was a project lead in McKinsey & Company. 

Yip and I got to know each other through an interview process three years ago, and it clicked in the very first second. Ever since we have been inspiring each other. Her consistent way of looking at life through the lens of mindfulness while challenging and stretching others in their way of thinking and living is highly inspiring. 

My conversation with Yip is about transformation as a continuous process. She shares many transformative insights from her life and why transformation doesn’t always have to be a big thing. Enjoy the read!

Yip, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I have been really looking forward to this conversation. So, let’s just dive in.  

What does transformation mean to you?

Transformation happens around us every single second, and we adjust to it all the time in order to remain in our center, to not be torn and pushed and pulled by it, and get out of balance. It’s a process of constant adjustment to ever changing conditions around us. In biology, it’s called homeostasis, the state in which we maintain steadiness. In our nature, we are balanced. But balance is not a state but a dynamic equilibrium that we maintain with our micro-adjustments in every moment. We are transformed in every second, naturally. 

I put so much emphasis on this as I want to take away the fear of transformation. I’m really tired of hearing these claims that people “must” do something. “You must transform.” “You must grow.” “You must change.” Actually, we already do that all the time. What we surely need to do is put more awareness on what we are already doing all by ourselves without our awareness of it. Motion is actually nothing that we have to acquire anew. What we need to acquire new is awareness; and I think the real transformation is actually gaining insight into our ever-changing natural regulation systems. By deepening and sharpening our awareness to the subtleties of ever-changing conditions in and around us and improving our sense of self-regulation, we can become the captains of our own transformations. We don’t have to wait for the ship to hit the iceberg.  You see, you are going toward the iceberg and, with a sense of clarity, you can see that you have all the time in the world. So, the iceberg doesn’t even become a risk anymore. You become very skillful at navigating because you navigate constantly. And with this skill, we can learn how to navigate big trigger situations like our current Covid-19 pandemic more skillfully. In February, not many people would have expected that from March on we would have to stay at home. All of a sudden, there were drastic changes in our daily lives. It was easy to experience transformation. But if we consciously look at a deeper level, we are adjusting all the time. 

Can you share a story of your own in which you have experienced a fundamental transformational shift that contributes to who you are today?

I think for me, transformation is very natural because in my history or my ancestry, people have changed all the time. My father’s family were Chinese immigrants to Vietnam. My father is by ethnicity, Chinese, but he was born and raised in Vietnam. When he was eighteen years old, he left Vietnam as a refugee. He embarked on a boat without a clear destination and ended up in Germany — not exactly where he would have chosen to be in the first place. So he was already a minority in Vietnam, and then again back to being a minority in Germany. My mother’s story is similar. So I’ve been raised into a family of people who have had to learn to adapt to different environments since childhood. The first time I had a big adaptation was when I needed to learn German as I went to kindergarten. Fifteen years later, I was the first family member to go to university. I was thrown into a world of academics with nothing I could relate to. It’s been a little bit of a consistent pattern throughout my life, and I’d even say I might have something like a natural advantage in this field. 

So, transformation doesn’t need to be this huge, fearful, and stressful thing?

It becomes a big challenge when we deny witnessing the little transformations. They add up. You know that things are out of balance. Sometimes we see them, but we don’t want to accept them, or we hope that they go away again. We don’t make the little changes we could make, and suddenly it becomes something that is completely overcomplicated. And then we pretend that we didn’t see it coming. Of course, we saw it coming. We decided to not accept the reality. And sometimes we are right in not accepting it because some changes just pass over like clouds in the sky and there is no need to respond. But sometimes we need to respond because if we see that this seems to be the new world then we cannot escape from it. 

What interconnection do you see between transformation, fear, and vulnerability?

Conscious transformation is actually a very vulnerable place to be in. Let’s take an example of witnessing something, in a relationship, may it be private or professional, that went subtly in a weird direction. What if, with the passage of time, things just get better by themselves? In these situations, often I don’t say anything because I want to not intervene and  let things unfold naturally. And then I have to realize that nothing happened for the better because I didn’t speak up. Sometimes things can’t unfold because there was no trigger for things to move differently. There was no communication channel through which we could have co-created a different mode of relationship. 

So, what does it take to speak up? I think it’s about listening to your heart. Your heart typically knows when something is not going okay. But what typically is in the way, is the fear of rejection. The fear of destroying some form of bond of comfort, that kind of harmony between two people. Speaking up can feel like jumping into a minefield because what you say can lead to a situation where you will be expelled from a stable situation. 

In my view, if your heart tells you there is something you really need to find out, it’s necessary that you go there and find out. Fear of rejection is not a good motive to shy away from communicating our true feelings. And I’ve had situations where what I share would lead to a breakdown of my relationships with friends or colleagues. Broken relationships take time to heal; it’s quite a painful process. What I’ve come to learn is that the best way to cope with these situations over time is to pick up the phone and send a message saying something like “I know it’s not a good time right now, but I thought of you and I wish you well. That’s all I wanted to say. I care about you as a person and I’m there for you, whenever you want to connect.” It requires a lot of inner strength to send this message because it exposes you to being rejected by the other person whom you care about, once more.

What would be your most important recommendations on how to deal with fear in transformation processes?

One of the things that helps in difficult situations is to face my fears, even when I really don’t want to. I ask myself the question, “What do I want to tell my grandchildren?” I visualize myself telling them, “Once I was thirty years old and I had this situation and I had these two options to react. And then I reacted like this. And this is what happened. And now I wish I would have reacted differently. And how would I have reacted differently?” It’s quite a nice self-coaching method because it helps putting things into perspective, it integrates space, time, thoughts, and feelings. 

The second recommendation is to take good care of yourself because facing your demons can be quite resource draining. And when you don’t have enough resources to do that, then you can hurt yourself very badly. It’s like when I learned snowboarding. I fell down so many times. And when you’ve done that for a few hours, always falling and standing up again after a while, you just don’t have enough energy left anymore to do that. And when you are in that position and then try to do it over and over, your risk of injuries increases exponentially. So you need to be very aware of having enough resources to face situations and what you can do to build yourself up first before you go into battle — the mental sense of the battle to find peace within yourself. 

Finally, there is one more thing. Find a way to have a dashboard like in your car, you need to know how much fuel you have. And you don’t want to be in the red zone all the time. It’s not good for the engine. That’s the same with our mental resources. We shouldn’t be on empty all the time. But to know where we are in terms of energy level, we need to have some mechanisms. 

According to your own experience, what role do resilience and self-care play in a transformation process? How do you take care of yourself?

There are a couple of things I do. When I feel tired, I just sit and take three breaths. In the first breath, I concentrate on the breathing. In the second breath, I focus on my body and try to feel if I have any tension. And in the third breath, I ask myself the question, “What do I need right now?” That’s it. And this breathing exercise takes probably a bit more than one minute if you breathe slowly. And if you do it repeatedly, it becomes a habit. Sometimes I drink a glass of water or stand up or open the window to enjoy fresh air. This is something quick and easy you can do in the moment. 

When I have a little bit more time, I replenish my energy resources by going on an exploration journey. I like to observe things and learn why they are as they are. I love to look at plants, flowers, birds, animals or rivers. Anything that has patterns and unfolds in some certain way. I put myself into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes, discovering the world. It’s totally refreshing because it helps me connect to the playful child inside me for a moment and forget about all the other worries I have. These little moments of exploration are a sacred laboratory of exploration to me. 

With all of these little interventions, it takes a bit of training to easily put yourself into this mode when necessary. Taking three breaths, for example, is one of the techniques that can balance your body. The better you know your body, the better you get at calming down your system. The first time you do the exercise, when you just do one breath, it might not be enough time to scan your entire body. But if you practice, your scans get faster and more thorough. 

There are also more formal practices like body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, and many more. These kinds of practices build your skills over time so that when you activate them, they are there. It’s about getting more effective. And it’s the same with the mind. You can train meditation so that, for example, when you get worried, your mind is more stable. But it doesn’t happen just like that. You have to have practices to stabilize the mind so that when you want it to be stable, when you want to stop thinking about something that triggers you and get in a different mindset, that you are able to do that. To shift from one state into another takes practice.

How would you describe the essence of your work today?

I primarily design workshops and trainings, hold keynote speeches, and give one-on-one or group coaching dedicated to explore the inner world. My key topic is mental wealth and how mindfulness can help us gain mental clarity, focus, and peace of mind. I help explore the world of inner resources and tap into the wealth within these. Mental sanity and physical health are interlinked. Thus, the exploration of the body is also an important factor because if your body is hurting, then your mind is always a pain center. If my body hurts, it’s quite difficult to think about how I want to utilise my resources, what brings me joy in life, because the pain is always pulling my attention. So I work with connecting body awareness and mind awareness. 

Based on your background and wisdom, what concrete recommendation(s) would you give to people/systems who have the yearning to transform?

I definitely would recommend moments of introspection through journaling. There are also psychology studies on the effectiveness of that. You write free flow without stopping the pen. You either start with a question or just write what comes up in that moment. You do that for approximately two minutes or for two pages, set the goal beforehand. And then you read it again and observe your feelings, your reactions, your body postures while you read what you wrote. When you practice this regularly, you will be surprised what you find coming out of your hands once you stop thinking about it. It’s a creativity technique to attain freedom from censorship of the mind. 

We also know that transformation, learning, and  growth is a lifelong journey. What next growth step do you want to take for yourself?

I have three new three new things I want to grow into. And one is singing. I’m trying to use my mindfulness awareness to sing in a way that comes from the core and the deeper parts of my body. 

Then I’m exploring painting and drawing. I have to admit, last week, last Saturday was the first time in my life I painted something. I have never painted before. I was this kid that avoided painting and drawing and instead went to reading. The upside was that I’m very good at writing and reading, but now it’s time for me to step up a little bit because my drawing looks like a kindergarten child’s drawing. 

And the third one is to become a dancer. Why? Because I believe in the power of psychosomatic activation in training and in the introspection process. But if I want to be a more effective trainer, a coach, I’d better also be better in understanding my own relationship toward that. 

So, to put it in one sentence, I’m exploring the more “artsy” side of myself.

If we meet again for another conversation in a year from now – in the meanwhile you have been super happy and satisfied with your contribution to the world – what would you tell me that you did?

I’m so happy I live every day in a joyful way, and I appreciate all the ups and downs of my life. I did the work that I felt needed to be done both on myself but also outside of myself.

And whatever the form of the work, I really don’t care. If it’s YouTube videos or another book or I’ve trademarked some kind of crazy dancing meditation transformation process. I actually don’t know because form isn’t important, it just helps me to go through the process. And then something comes of it. But it’s just a vehicle and the work will manifest itself along the process.

But what I would say for sure when we meet next year in June is that we ran a very deep and enriching retreat together after the summer. And we have put whatever the two of us stand for into form that others can enjoy. And then other butterflies grew out of this.

Any other question(s) you would like to be asked?

Well, what’s important to me is the bigger picture. When I look at our community, our society, already by the way we pre-design our society we create imbalances by not creating the conditions for people to unfold their potential. In an ideal world, each person would live up to their potential. Can they do what they really care about and become very good at it? But that’s only the first step. To me, for example, just becoming good at the “artsy” things is not sufficient, I also need to be able to convey to others what I have learned when I become good in a certain field. 

Let’s assume that we somehow get it done, that we find the magic way for everybody to unfold their potential. But then none of us is able to communicate what drives us and to transmit what we learned. If we don’t manage to co-create something together, what’s the point in attaining these skills then?

I need to take more care in finding ways to communicate my knowledge in a certain field and others in their own field. Each of us is unique, and we can be unique. There is no need for competition because we are enriching each other, but we need to find this “lingua franca” to communicate with each other.

What do you believe in?

That resources are finite and we should be mindful of how we use them. 

What are you grateful for?

For being born into my family exactly the way it was or still is.

What do just few know about you?

I used to be a journalist for underground hip hop music. I wanted to give voice to the artists who I felt were not appropriately represented by the big music labels.

Your “private” you (characteristics, likes, dislikes, your uniqueness, etc.)

I love humans. I dislike unfairness. I am pretty impatient. I’m pretty obsessed when I start to learn new things; in these new periods I could spend twenty-four hours doing the same thing. I will not stop until I have figured out what I want to know, and this can be quite annoying to other people around me. In this way, I am kind of a weirdo, but I have found out that people typically don’t care too much. When I come out of my dark cave and apologize for not having been in touch with anybody because I found out something groundbreaking for me, most people would just say, “Oh yeah… that’s you.” 

Another thing is that I am quite radical. Right now I sleep on the floor because I want to explore what it feels like to not have a bed, how ok I am with not having that or how much it would affect me. I’ve done it for six weeks. And it has gone well. I think now I don’t need a bed anymore. But maybe I need to explore a bit further because it might have some physical consequences that I need to be aware of. I remember when I was in Thailand in a ten-day silent retreat in a monastery that I slept on the floor. And I had so much back pain that I couldn’t really focus on my meditation. This is just one of the reasons why I’m currently doing my exploration and seeing if I can train myself so that in times where I need this skill… it’s readily available.

Yip, thank you so much for your openness and insightful stories. It was a pleasure having this conversation with you.