Jay Shetty spent years as a monk in his twenties. In his bestselling book, Think Like a Monk, Jay shares the wisdom he learned from countless hours of studying ancient texts and meditation.
Here are 12 life lessons taken from Think Like a Monk:
1. Monkey Mind to Monk Mind
“I like to draw a contrast between the monk mindset and what is often referred to as the monkey mind. Our minds can either elevate us or pull us down.”
To think like a monk is to take a new approach to life. An approach that is free of ego; a life of detachment and rediscovery. It requires a switch in mindset.
The monkey mind is aimless, jumping from thought to thought, challenge to challenge, without resolving anything.
The monk mindset means that you stop spinning wheels and begin to live intentionally. It is commitment to a mission, vision, or goal, and the pursuit of meaning over pleasure.
You must make this mental switch. Embrace depth, not just breadth; quality over quantity.
2. Recognize Your Skewed Reality
“I am not what I think I am. And I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”
Like the movie Inception, about a dream within a dream, our lives are based not on how others actuallyperceive us, but on how we think others might be perceiving us—a perception of a perception.
And we’ve lost our real selves as a result. We are living someone else’s dreams.
You will never be happy living someone else’s life. Thinking like a monk requires detachment. That means putting relationships at risk. But it is a risk you must accept.
3. Begin the Cleaning Process
“Your identity is a mirror covered with dust. When you first look in the mirror, the truth of who you are and what you value is obscured. Clearing it may not be pleasant, but only when that dust is gone can you see your true reflection.”
The “dust” in life is the noise of external influences. Cleaning requires stillness and reflection.
Your mind is like a sponge, it absorbs what it is exposed to. Through stillness, you can listen to your own voice, reflect on what is true to who you, and discard the external noise and distraction.
Shetty gives three ways to create space for reflection. First, sit down to reflect at the end of each day. Think through the emotions you experienced and decisions you made. Second, once a month, go somewhere you’ve never been before. A new environment will give you a new perspective for self-reflection. Finally, get involved in an activity that is meaningful to you—a social or political cause, a charity, volunteer work. This will help confirm your passions.
4. Focus on Values
“The more we define ourselves in relation to the people around us, the more lost we are.”
At the core of real change is uncovering your values. Your values are the principles that will truly guide your life. Values tend to be single-word concepts like freedom, equality, compassion, honesty.
Your values act like a magnet for the people, actions, and habits to live a fulfilling life. The problem is that our values are so easily tainted by media. What’s on your news feed is feeding your mind. And our values become easily tainted with envy, judgement, competition, and discontent.
Jay offers this exercise for finding your values. Divide a blank page into three columns. Write in each column 1) the values that have shaped your life; 2) their origins (where these values came from—media, family, religion); 3) whether they are true to you.
5. Audit Your Life
“No matter what you think your values are, your actions tell the real story. What we do with our spare time shows what we value.”
How you spend your time reveals your values. If you say family is a major value, but you spend all your time playing golf, then you need to do some self-examination.
Spend one week tracking how much time you devote to family, friends, work, health, and self. Any major disconnect means you’re not living in alignment—you’re doing things that are not giving your life meaning and purpose. Your values are taking a backseat rather than directing your life.
Likewise, how you spend money reflects values. Along with time, track your spending for a week. Do your spending habits match your values?
Another good way to check if you’ve been living out of alignment is reflecting on past mistakes or regret. Mistakes and regret reveal to us when we’ve acted inconsistent with values.
6. Reinvent Your Environment
“If a friend within a mile of you becomes happier, then the chance that you are also happy increases by 25 percent. The effect jumps higher with next-door neighbors.”
We underestimate how significantly our values are influenced by our environment. It is crucial that you find a community that looks like the future you want. If you want to grow your business, join a chamber of commerce or online business group. If you want to improve your marathon time, train with more competitive runners.
Social media give great accessibility to likeminded people. Perform an audit of the people you spend most time with. Do these people share your values?
7. Don’t Be a Savior
“The desire to save others is ego-driven. Don’t let your own needs shape your response.”
Don’t let your ego lead you to think you’re responsible for everyone else’s problems in life. It’s easy (and unnecessary) to get frustrated when people don’t take your advice. Remember that values are unique to each person. So refrain from fixing problems and offering advice unless you truly understand the issue.
Think of someone drowning; you wouldn’t attempt to save them if you cannot swim. Instead, you’d call for a lifeguard. Likewise, lend an ear if you have the time and offer advice if you have the skill. Otherwise, you’ll drown along with the person you’re not equipped to help.
8. Accept That Life Will Never be Perfect
“It’s a mistake to think that when we read a book, attend a class, and implement changes that we’ll fix everything. The externals will never be perfect, and the goal isn’t perfection. Life is not going to go your way.”
The end goal is not a life without problems. Living a life of peace and purpose means having a clear picture of your identity and values. So, when life swerves, you are not thrown off course because you have a solid foundation. If you’ve made a commitment to be kind and someone is rude to you, you’ll know how to react and respond, and you’ll return to your values.
Trust the process, and don’t judge yourself when things aren’t “perfect.”
9. There are No Rules
“In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi says, ‘Never trust a spiritual leader who cannot dance.’ When we dance, there are no rules. We must be open to whatever song comes on.”
Although we live in a binary world, we must not be blind to the beauty of paradox. Two opposing ideas can coexist—we confront fear in order to move away from it; we look for the new in old routines; we need to be selfish to be selfless.
Life is a dance. And like a dancer, the monk mind is flexible and controlled. You might fall or hesitate over your next move, but you must keep flowing, allowing yourself to be messy and beautiful, always present in the moment.
10. Take Joy in the Success of Others
“Mudita is the principle of taking sympathetic or unselfish joy in the good fortune of others. If I only find joy in my own successes, I’m limiting my joy. But if I can take pleasure in the successes of my friends and family—ten, twenty, fifty people!—I get to experience fifty times the happiness and joy. Who doesn’t want that?”
Too often, our immediate response to hearing others celebrate is envy. But rather than living in competition with others, when we celebrate the success of others the same way we celebrate our own, we multiply the experience of joy.
Make mudita a cornerstone practice in life.
11. Reflect on Death
“Ultimately, death can be seen as the greatest reflection point—by imagining the last moment, you can reflect on everything that leads up to it.”
Imagining your own death gives you a bird’s-eye view of your life. If you find yourself questioning whether or not to do something—a significant change, learn a new skill, move to a new city, reflecting on death can give you the sobering clarity you need.
During these “death meditations,” Jay recommends asking yourself these five questions:
- What do I wish I’d done?
- What experiences do I wish I’d had?
- What do I regret not giving more attention to?
- What skills do I wish I’d worked on?
- What do I wish I’d detached from?
Finally, imagine how you’d like to be remembered at your own funeral. Think of the impact you’ve had.
Then, how you would be remembered if you died today. What’s the gap between these two images? This should galvanize you bridge that gap and build your legacy.
12. Stop Tracking Progress
“There is no measure of success, no goal, and no end to a mediation practice. Don’t look for results. Just keep doing it. . . . The first sign that you’re doing it right is that you’ll miss it if you take a break.”
You have to develop a practice before you know what you’re missing. But too often, we focus on the results, the dopamine rush of achievement. Build your new habits and meditate without trying to measure success. Let it become a natural part of life than a progress report.