A mother, entrepreneur and author, Mallika Chopra grew up in Boston as the daughter of the best-selling author and physician Dr. Deepak Chopra. Seven years ago, Mallika founded a social media company focused on wellness, Intent.com. And now she’s just published a new book, Living With Intent: My (Somewhat) Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy. Addiction.com’s Suzanne Kane talked to Chopra about the inspirations behind the book, and how she lives with intention and finds balance and purpose.
Suzanne Kane for Addiction.com: You were obviously raised as the daughter of a very famous man. What are some childhood experiences that stand out for you?
Mallika Chopra: My parents were immigrants from India and in my younger days they definitely had a stressful life. My dad worked 24/7; my mom was a young, stay-at-home mom. When I was about 9 years old, my father discovered meditation and that really transformed our family’s life. I was gifted very early with the experience of meditation and having that kind of tool. I feel like that was one of the most valuable gifts that I got out of my life.
Our family had a lot of stress and tension because of my dad’s work and he wasn’t very happy. He smoked and drank a lot, but when he discovered meditation he really felt a sense of peace and connection and immediately exposed my mother, my brother and me to that. For me, as a young kid, it was something that actually felt quite natural but it was this incredible tool. Our parents never forced us to meditate, but we saw how that experience gave them such a sense of happiness and security and improved our family’s life, so we wanted to do it as well.
SK: What would you say is your philosophy of life?
MC: I was taught at a young age to think about who I am, what I want and how I can serve. And these are questions my father would have my brother and I ask ourselves after our meditation. That really is the fundamental of what I think of when I think of intent and what it means to live with intent — which is to think about what we want, what would help make us feel secure and happy and loved and connected. And then, how can we serve?
SK: Can you share a bit about how you overcome difficulties, maintain perspective and find goodness, joy and purpose in everyday living?
MC: For me, it’s constantly a journey. That’s why the subtitle of my book is ‘My Somewhat Messy Journey.’ Like many people, I assumed that as a Chopra we would have it all figured out and we would be meditating and eating vegan and doing yoga every day and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I, too, struggle to find a sense of balance and purpose, whether it’s with my diet or sugar or not exercising and managing my kids and work – I think so many of us are juggling different things. I spent the last two years thinking about some of the lessons and tools that I had been exposed to growing up. That’s really what the book is about, going back into some of those exercises — whether it’s returning to meditation, noticing my internal dialogue, noticing the people and places and circumstances around me, expressing what I want, focusing on nurturing relationships and then taking action to incorporate qualities that I wanted in my life, such as love, connection, joy and feeling a sense of purpose.
SK: Can you share with our readers a few tips for how to deepen an appreciation of life?
MC: I use an acronym around “INTENT”:
Incubate. Find a practice that helps you connect with stillness and silence. That may be a meditation practice or going for a yoga class or walks in nature. Finding that place of silence helps us get in touch with who we are and what we want.
Notice. So much of our language reflects a state of mind. When we notice our internal dialogue and how we’re treating ourselves with our thoughts and our words, we can get some awareness into our state of mind, but also we can start shaping it by noticing our internal dialogue and vocabulary.
Trust your intuition. I like to describe intents as coming from the soul, from that deep place of knowing who we are and asking ourselves very honestly what we want. Those are very different from goals, which I see as very task-oriented. I think intents really are about trust — trusting our intuition.
Express. Actually state what you want, whether you do it publicly or to yourself. By expressing what you want you take responsibility for it, you put it out into the universe as something you really embrace. I’m a big believer in expressing and my entire site, Intent.com, is about expressing what you want and stating your intents.
Nurture. We need to nurture ourselves, letting go of guilt and dealing with any issues around shame, but also nurturing relationships, those networks of support and friends, of people who can help us through.
Take action. When we do all this work, it’s also then about moving forward and taking action that bring the qualities that we yearn for into our life.
SK: What is something people may not know about you?
MC: I’m terrible at yoga. I love to play video games and I surf the Net constantly and work puzzles. They’re also surprised that I’m basically a sugar addict; I don’t really lead the lifestyle that what they would imagine a yogi or a Chopra to live.
SK: Can you share your thoughts on the importance of setting daily intentions as part of recovery?
MC: I am not a recovery expert [but] I recognize that addiction is a disease with many root causes. I deal with this daily in my own sugar addiction, setting the intents more to let go of guilt and all that mental baggage that we carry within ourselves. I know for myself, my intent is not to have sugar today, but at that point where I really need it, that kind of goes out the window and I’ll be dealing with guilt or shame about it. For me, the intent is to forgive myself, to know that every day is a new day, to again nurture what’s missing within me – whether it’s connecting with a friend, nurturing that relationship or spending time with my husband. I really try to set intents that feed my soul more.
SK: With your sugar addiction, for example, what would be a trigger?
MC: In my book, I talk about my sugar addiction — my emotional needs around sugar — what it’s feeding for me. In thinking about that, I realized that for me, it helped having so many memories of love and connection of time with my grandmother and mother. So my natural instinct to reach for sugary food was feeding that kind of connection and love. For me, just recognizing that has helped me to pause before I just grab stuff.
My father, in one of his books, used the acronym “STOP,” which is stop; take three breaths; observe what you’re feeling; and then proceed. That’s been very helpful in my natural tendency to snatch a cookie or a cupcake every day — to recognize what I’m feeling. It doesn’t mean that I always don’t have it, but the process of observing the emotions linked to my habits has helped me gain insight and definitely control the habits.
SK: What can people do each day to live authentically?
MC: I think it’s constantly asking ourselves, who am I? It’s being in touch with ourselves in an authentic and honest way about our feelings, emotions and needs. My dad used to ask my brother and I daily, what do you want? We’d start off saying material things: tickets to the Celtics or a trip to Hawaii, and then he’d ask us, what about asking for love and hope and inspiration? For us, that really became asking for these qualities in our life every day. And to me, that’s kind of incorporating those qualities and then, also asking the next question, which is how can I serve? It may be just serving ourselves in a loving way and being kind to ourselves, serving our family, or serving our community or world in some way.
SK: In a few words, how would you describe this book?
MC: I think it’s the subtitle, ‘My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy.’ The book is about reconnecting with the qualities I wanted in my life because I was in an unbalanced, really crazy place. [So the focus is on] making small changes, nothing dramatic, [but] small changes to embrace joy and live with more purpose every day.
SK: What surprising things did you learn about yourself in the process of writing ‘Living with Intent’?
MC: I learned that while on some level I felt that I was so overwhelmed and crazy, I wasn’t as overwhelmed and crazy as I thought. Starting to pay more attention to my internal dialogue and why I was always feeling crazy, so asking myself ‘why?’ more, I gained some insight that I didn’t need to make dramatic changes in my life. That it could be small things. Another thing that is a common theme in my book is that I felt torn between work and kids and this role of soccer mom that I play in my life these days. The biggest revelation for me was just embracing where I am in my life and really cherishing the joy that I get every day in that role.
Mallika Chopra photo courtesy of Kwaku Alston