The Empty Cup Strategy

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A fictional situation (that is all too real)…

Imagine this: you have an amazing day at work. A big project got completed, you were called out in terms of your excellence and other moments of pride and distinction from your peers ensue. You can’t wait to get home and share the news with your family. You walk through the door, smiling from ear and ear and you’re suddenly ambushed by kids fighting, and a spouse who has spent the day cleaning snot and separating the rug rats. Those two dramatically disparate emotional sides usually leads into some kind of argument or moments of frustration. It’s a story that unfolds – in one way, shape or form – multiple times a day all over the world.

The problem.

We approach each new scenario with the emotions and experiences that are spilling over from our last scenario (and the ones before that). Prior to Twist Image, I held a job where I was editing a local community publication, writing freelance on the side and coaching close quarter combatives. As I would go through my day – inching ever closer to my time in the gym – I would have some great training sessions and some brutal ones. At one point, I was trying my best to figure out where the lack of consistency was coming from, so I spoke with my coach (Tony Blauer). After some back and forth, it became clear that I was brining my daily luggage into the gym. If my mind was wandering to the stuff that had happened prior to walking through the doors, it was very hard to advance, stay focused and (to be frank), not get punched in the face repeatedly. Not fun. As we all know, when it comes to any form of physical activity, focus (along with proper training) is core. Back then, I was equally fascinated with literature about martial arts. That literature, which was also laced freely with Eastern philosophy, would often talk about "emptying the cup."

A powerful lesson in learning, growing and focus.

Spend a week emptying your cup before each and every new scenario you encounter at work. If you had a rough conference call with a client, don’t drag that emotion into a creative brainstorm. If your boss was tough on you, don’t take it out on a fellow team member on a status report. Seems obvious enough, doesn’t it? Still, nobody’s perfect and we don’t do this often enough. This year – like every year – I will be attending the TED conference in Long Beach. It happens at the end of February and this is always a hectic time at Twist Image. Once the cab driver drops me off at the airport prior to my flight out West, I always stop in the airport lounge, find a quiet corner and sip on some tea. I use that moment to cleanse myself, to reframe my life and to empty my cup (in this case it’s literal and metaphorical). I do everything within my power to enter the week of TED, empty, available and ready for anything. Not carrying any preconceived emotions, not bringing any business or personal issues along for the ride. It’s not easy, but it’s something to focus on. Two years ago, after a particularly motivating TED conference, I dedicated myself to adding more and more moments of emptying the cup into my life. It started with the transitions between work, community work and home life, and it’s edging closer (with a lot of hard work) to daily transitions between meetings and interactions with people.

I am learning a lot. You can too.

The process of the empty cup strategy has been enlightening. It’s not just about being better at relationships, it has been an integral part of my personal development and education. I not only learn so much more about myself and others, but I’m better able to always put myself in the mindframe of being "the constant student." If my cup is empty, it’s an opportunity to grown, learn and think without bringing in my own personal history and experience – which can often cloud my ability to be truly open and, in the moment. Just imagine – for a moment – that this type of thinking was pervasive throughout your organization (from the c-suite down to the admin staff). What could customer service look like? What could your meetings look like?

What about you? What’s your empty cup strategy?


  1. Great post Mitch. I hadn’t thought of emotional transfer this way. I have been training myself to be more in the moment and present with what I am doing, but that was more mind than emotion. What a great idea and metaphor.

  2. Sometimes if I can’t “empty my cup,” I’ll take a minute and schedule in my calendar 15 of feeling really bad about something, whether it’s being angry, worried or sad. The funny thing is, when that time comes around, I never feel the need to indulge, but the act of saying to myself “Now is not the time for this, I’ll deal with this at a set later point,” seems to help me let it go faster.
    Another thing I do is I’m a big fan of writing and NOT SENDING notes telling people what I really think. I always end the letter with an “I forgive you” and then I rip it up and it’s the physical destruction of something that’s bugging me.
    Working at home, I’ve made it a physical routine to get up at “closing hours” and shut the home-office door behind me, so that I can focus at being at home.

  3. So many good points Mitch! Another part of “emptying your cup” is the necessity to leave our so greatly cherished Experience behind. It is this feeling that “we know it all and experienced it in the past” prevents us from learning new things and embracing new perspectives. Every once in a while it is absolutely a must have action – “stop in the airport lounge, find a quiet corner and sip on some tea to empty a cup” 🙂

  4. Awesome!
    I’m a perfectionist…..
    That literally means that i feel the need to catch up on everything before doing anything.
    Which is not always possible or helpful.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness lately because I’m feeling the need to clear my head. I think it’s the toll that our fast-paced world takes. I get to the point where my mind is jumping jumping jumping, and I don’t even realize it.
    Your cup of tea sounds like a mindful moment. I find it’s a good idea to incorporate something like this between daily activities. For instance, when I’m working on work for one client, and I need to switch to another, a moment to stop thinking altogether helps me get refocused and start fresh.
    Wonderfully thoughtful post!

  6. Hi Mitch, I am absolutely grateful to God that I have found your post because it so much resonate with me as well as relates to my current phase of my personal growth.
    As for my empty cup strategy, I have actually super excitedly discovered it after having studied the relationships field or more precisely the seduction or pickup arts community’s material that’s supposed to help guys get rid of all their approach and sexual anxiety when wanting to approach their desired women.
    Funnily enough, after trying to implement some of the pickup arts’ stuff in the real life, I have realized over a period of time that everytime I have tried to consciously implement any of their tips I was becoming more and more tense, frightened and insecure when wanting to approach my desired women.
    Furthermore my thoughts of my aggravating situation of being dead broke were also hugely distracting me when wanting to approach women.
    To make things look even worse, everytime I tried to make efforts to make some money online, I couldn’t focus on anything because on one side I was distracted by thinking of all my struggles and failures to start to make any money online since 2005 up until very recently and on the other side I was distracted with my failures in my social life when it comes to success with attracting and dating women.
    Since the latter has actually been my top passion in life, that night I was feeling so down or bad as if I hit my rock bottom wondering: “If I am so truly passionate about sexually attracting and dating the hottest women, how on earth am I going to pursue and possibly cash in on that top passion of mine?”
    So, that night I have decided to find the right source of information that would help me learn how the most successful persons in the world and especially the ones that I so much envy (for example, the guys who lead and fully enjoy the ultimate luxury playboy lifestyle surrounded by the sexiest women on earth and who also make money from leading such lifestyle in one way or another) effortlessly live, fully enjoy and cash in on their top passions in life thus leading a life of their wildest dreams if you like.
    So, after having spent the whole and most of the next morning searching for the solution, I found the bestselling book called “The Passion Test: The Effortless Path To Discovering Your Destiny” by Janet and Chris Attwood.
    Now, there are two main life-changing light bulb moments that I have learned from this book ahead of me soon discovering my own empty cup solution that I am about to share with you in a second. So, these two points are:
    1. Always try to enjoy whatever you do because otherwise you are going to lose the sense of the purpose of what your true happiness in life is all about.
    2. Whatever you put your attention on grows stronger and stronger in your life.
    So, learning and happily understanding these two points was actually my huge step towards finding the solution. Why? Because first of all I have clearly and happily realized that I wasn’t really enjoying approaching women the way I was based on following some tips from the seduction or pickup arts community.
    And, secondly, after I have fully and happily understood the first point, the other point has actually helped me understand that I should immediately stop doing anything in my life that I wasn’t enjoying at all. In other words, I was so RELIEVED and BLESSED when I realized that my approaching women looked more like mechanical or robotic chasing women around that I really don’t enjoy at all.
    Now, in addition to these two life-changing moments in my life that I like to call my BINGO! moments, next comes my own empty cup discovery.
    The way I have actually discovered my own empty cup strategy is unbelievably through finding and watching a YouTube video full of the legendary Bruce Lee’s quotes of wisdom. By the way, I’ve said ‘unbelievably’ because both Bruce Lee’s fascinating martial arts skills and his whole personality and character have always so much resonated with me.
    So, I’d say that Bruce Lee nails down the whole concept of the empty cup strategy through at least five of his thoughts of wisdom:
    1) “Be like water my friend. When you put water into the cup, it becomes the cup, when you put water into the glass, it becomes the glass…..Be formless. Be shapeless. Empty your mind. Be like water my friend.”
    2) “If you try to remember, you will lose.”
    3) “If you are planning to win, you are planning to lose.”
    4) “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
    5) “The art of fighting without fighting.”
    So, in terms of my previous social and approach anxiety and fears around approaching my desired women, Bruce Lee’s words of wisdom have clearly helped me realize that I should forget about trying to memorize any kind of pickup lines or do some serious planning in the context of having to approach x amount of women a day.
    Instead, I have actually learned that if I truly want to become extremely successful at approaching and dating my desired women that I should first of all empty my mind in the context of not putting any pressure on myself as to having to approach any woman everytime I go out.
    Guess what. Soon after I started implementing both the tips from the book “The Passion Test: The Effortless Path To Discovering Your Destiny” and Bruce Lee’s words of wisdom, I got to excitedly enjoy the successes of my own empty cup strategy when it came to approaching women. This is how my first ever free report “Non-Chasing Way Of Instantly Approching Women” was born. 🙂
    Right now I am trying to implement the same empty cup strategy in pursuing my online business goals. The way I normally do it is quite simply through a half an hour prayer asking God to liberate me from anything that’s on my heart and soul so that I could instantly be freed of especially any negative feelings like fears, panic, tensity, and worries to name a few.
    Hope you’ve enjoyed my input despite the fact that my comment went a bit wide and long. Anyway, I am always pleased to be able to share something of a high value with likeminded people who might hugely benefit from it.
    Thank you.
    Bruno Babic

  7. I’m guilty of carrying emotions with me from one situation to another. It happens with both positive and negative experiences. I’m going to practice “emptying my cup” more often. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Thanks Mitch, you have made valuable points that I could learn from. Actually I never would have thought that this was happening to me every once in a while, letting my emotions control my future actions may it be good or bad. After I have read your post, it got me thinking that I should “empty my cup” so that we would not be disappointed if something bad happens.

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