Think Like A Monk — Book Summary and Application
Attaining peace and purpose every day
I recently finished reading Thinking Like a Monk by Jay Shetty, and it is one of the best books I’ve read. The quality density is extremely high: my notes had over 17,000 words! I’m very excited to share my key learnings from the book and how I’ve applied them in my life. I hope this article will help you attain more peace and purpose in your life.
In our modern society, people are so preoccupied with chasing “happiness”, and their image of happiness is based on what the media shows: fame, money, glamour, pleasure. The problem is, people will just seek more and more of these things, leading to frustration, disillusion, unhappiness, and exhaustion.
If we want to learn anything, we should find the experts. If you want to learn basketball, you learn from Michael Jordan. If you want to learn innovation, you learn from Elon Musk. If you want to learn happiness, peace, and purpose, you learn from monks. In fact, the world’s happiness man is a monk named Matthieu Ricard. He was given that title after researchers scanned his brain and found the highest levels of gamma waves (associated with happiness) ever recorded by science.
Jay wrote this book to help people in modern urban settings live more purposeful and more productive lives. He spent three years living as a monk, and after he returned to modern society, he found that his monk training helped him not just cope, but thrive in the pressures of modern society. Hence, he is on a mission to spread monk wisdom across the world.
Jay explains that most of us have a Monkey Mind, and he wants to help us cultivate a Monk Mind.
The book has three parts: Let Go, Grow, and Serve. We have to first let go of all the unwanted baggage that we inherited from society, which we probably aren’t even aware that we are carrying. After letting go, we have the space to grow ourselves by purifying our minds. Finally, with out growth, we can serve others and the world.
These three parts are divided into 11 chapters, which I will summarize into 11 key ideas:
- Clarify your identity
- Reverse negativity with Spot-Stop-Swap
- Get intimate with fear, then detach
- Hone good intentions
- Live your purpose and dharma
- Improve your routines and habits
- Master the mind
- Build self-esteem, not ego
- Practice frequent, specific and broad gratitude
- Understand and nurture relationships through trust and connection
- Service is the direct path to a happy and fulfilling life
At the end, I summarize the meditation practices that he recommends throughout the book and talk about my own experiences.
Key Idea 1: Clarify Your Identity
“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.”— Charles Horton Cooley, 1902
The problem most of us face is that we do not consciously and intentionally decide on our values. In other words, we don’t pick what we deem as important. We just accept and inherit what other people around us think are important.
When we live our lives trying to impress others based on values that we didn’t consciously choose, then we will be tired and stressed all the time. Therefore, the first step to thinking like a monk is to get clear on your values. Once you are clear on your values, you have a compass to guide you towards people, actions, and habits that are best for you.
Jay tells us to play the Media Mind Game:
- List your values.
- Identify the origin of that value.
- Reflect on whether or not that value aligns with your true self.
Here is an example:
Jay encourages us to avoid lower values, which demote us to anxiety, depression, and suffering. Instead, we should adopt higher values, which propel us towards happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. He also notes that happiness and success are not values; they are rewards.
After listing your values and identifying which ones are truly your values, audit your life to see if you are living in accordance with those values. Specifically, audit your time, money spending, and media:
- How much time did you spend on family, friends, health, and self? Does it match your priorities?
- How much money did you spend, and on what items? Do they correspond with your values?
- What media did you watch? For how long? Does it match your values?
He then encourages us for one week to be really conscious about making value-driven decisions. For that week, whenever you spend time or money, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What is the value behind this decision?” He also encourages us to surround ourselves with people that match our values.
Clarifying our identity and then living in accordance with it will guide us towards a happy and meaningful life.
Key Idea 2: Reverse negativity with Spot-Stop-Swap
“Petty, negative thoughts and words are like mosquitos: Even the smallest ones can rob us of our peace.” — Jay Shetty
Jay lists three cancers of the mind: comparing, complaining, and criticizing.
In order to overcome use bad habits, he recommends using Spot, Stop, Swap:
- Spot the negative feeling.
- Stop to understand what it is.
- Swap in a way of processing the feeling.
The goal of spot is to increase our awareness because we often don’t even realize we’re being negative. Notice what makes you negative and how often you are negative. We can list our negative thoughts and reflect on where they came from. When we envy or judge others, that’s often a reflection of our own insecurities.
In the stop step, we need to stop our negative behavior. We can breathe slowly and consciously to assert self-control. Then remind ourselves to speak only what is true, beneficial, non-hurtful, and timely. We need to remember that comparing, complaining, and criticizing will not help the situation.
In the swap step, swap out your usual mindless venting and instead bring in a mindful request. Researchers have found that happy people still complain, but they do so mindfully, whereas those who thoughtlessly vent end up feeling worse. We can be mindful of our negativity by being specific.
For example, let’s say your partner came home late from work and you feel annoyed. First, you spot that feeling of annoyance. Second, you stop before speaking out in annoyance. You remind yourself to speak only what is true, beneficial, non-hurtful, and timely. Then, you swap out the complaint you were going to make and instead make it a specific request that comes from a place of care instead of hurt.
You can say to your partner, “ I appreciate that you work hard and have a lot to balance. When you come home later than promised, it upsets me and makes you feel like you don’t care about me. You could support me by texting me as soon as you know you’re running late.”
Another negative emotion is anger, which arises from hurt. People often seek revenge because they think they will feel better when they see the way that person responds. But it rarely turns out as planned, and then you end up in even more pain. We need to use forgiveness to transform anger.
“When you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. When you squeeze someone full of pain, pain comes out. Instead of absorbing it or giving it back, if you forgive, you help diffuse the pain.” — Jay Shetty
If you are angry, Jay recommends writing a forgiveness letter on paper. You don’t actually send this letter to them. It’s a method of working through your anger.
- Visualize yourself in the other person’s shoes. Acknowledge their pain and understand that’s why they are giving you pain.
- On paper, list all the ways you think the other person did you wrong. Start each item with “I forgive you for…” Keep going until you get everything out.
- Acknowledge your own shortcomings. List the ways you feel you did wrong, starting each with “Please forgive me for…”
- When you’re done writing the letter, record yourself reading it. play it back and listen to it.
You can even write a forgiveness letter to yourself. Replace steps 3 & 4 with “I forgive myself for…” When we forgive ourselves for our imperfections and mistakes, we open ourselves up to the emotional healing we need.
Ultimately, these negative emotions come from fear and the ego, which the book goes into more detail about later.
In conclusion, we should challenge ourselves to dig to the roots of our negativity, understand it, and be thoughtful of how we manage it. Rather than vent mindlessly, we should spot, stop, and swap. We should observe, reflect, and develop new behaviors.
Key Idea 3: Get intimate with fear, then detach.
“Our fears are more numerous than our dangers, and we suffer more in our imagination than reality.” — Seneca
We’ve been taught that fear is bad. But fear isn’t bad. It’s a warning signal. We can use fear to develop solutions or we can allow it to overwhelm us and do nothing as a result. It’s all about how we respond to the signal.
People have four emotional reactions to fear: panic, freezing, running away, burying it. These four reactions distract us and prevent us from using fear productively.
In order to use fear productively, we need to
- Acknowledge the fear
- Rate the fear
- Find your fear patterns
- Detach from the fear
When we acknowledge the fear, we say “I see you and I’m here for you”. Fear and pain are both asking for attention. Saying “I see you” gives them the attention they need. Second, rate your fear on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being your absolute worst fear. This helps us put the situation into perspective. Third, ask your fear, “When do I feel you?” Get intimate with your fears. All fears come from an attachment to something impermanent, so the solution is to detach from that thing.
For example, a person came to Jay because she was tired of being a lawyer and wanted to do something new, but she was afraid. Jay asked her what she’s afraid of, and she said “What if I don’t succeed?”. Jay wanted to get deeper at the roots of her fear, so he kept asking, “What are you really scared of?” Eventually, she said, “I’ve spent so much effort and energy building this career. What if I’m just throwing it all away?” Jay asked again, and then she said she’s afraid of being seen as anything less than an intelligent, capable person by others and herself. That was the root of her fear.
Once she intimately understood her fear, she was able to work with it. She could detach from prestige and recognize that it comes and goes with time. That freed up energy for her to then go find role models who were former lawyers and successfully transitioned to something new.
Jay recommends us to audit our attachments. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of losing?” Start with the external things like possessions and looks. Then move onto internal things like status and acceptance. Then for each thing, accept that it is temporary and that you can’t truly own it or control it. When we no longer try to control it, we will feel our fear dissolve, and we will feel gratitude and freedom.
To conclude, after we identify the attachment behind a fear and then foster detachment, we can live with freedom and enjoyment.
Key Idea 4: Hone Good Intentions
“When there is harmony between the mind, heart, and resolution then nothing is impossible.” — Rig Veda
The Four Levels of Motivation
Whether or not our actions lead to happiness depends on or intentions behind them. The book mentions four motivations: fear, desire, duty, and love.
Fear is being driven by negative things like sickness, poverty, and death. Fear is like a flare that alerts us to a problem, but it is not a sustainable motivator. IF we operate on fear for too long, we will lose our ability to function, or we WILL become frantic or paralyzed.
Desire is being driven by personal gratification through wealth, success, and pleasure. These things are all illusions that don’t truly make us happy. Jay explains that we don’t desire a “thing” in life, we desire the feeling we think that thing will give us. But material things can’t give us happiness. Happiness and fulfillment come from mastering the mind and connecting with the soul.
“Success is earning money, being respected in your work, executing projects smoothly, receiving accolades. Happiness is feeling good about yourself, having close relationships, making the world a better place.” — Jay Shetty
Duty is being motivated by gratitude, responsibility, and doing the right thing. Love is motivated by helping and caring for others. Duty and love give us purpose and meaning, and they lead to true happiness.
When we are motivated by duty and love, we can better handle stress. For example, a mother can endure late nights planning a birthday party for her child because she gets satisfaction from being a loving mother. But if she has to stay up late for a job she hates, she would be miserable.
The Why Ladder
Jay recommends using the Why Ladder to find out the true intention behind our desires. Doing this requires us to not only think about why we want something, but also who we are and whether being that person appeals to us.
For example, let’s say you want to get rich. Keep asking yourself “Why?”
Why do you want to become rich?
“I don’t ever want to have to worry about money again.”
Why do you worry about money?
“I can’t afford to take the vacations I dream about.”
Why do you want those vacations?
“I see everyone on exotic trips on social media. Why should they get to do that when I can’t?”
Why do you want what they want?
“They’re having much more fun than I have on my weekends.”
Now we’re getting to the root of the want. Your weekends are unfulfilling. What’s missing?
“I want my life to be more exciting, more adventurous, more exhilarating.”
Okay, so your intention is to make life more exciting. Notice how different that is from “I want money.” Although your intention is still driven by desire, at least you now know you can add adventure into your life without being rich.
Jay urges us to plant seeds not weeds. Intentions like love, compassion, and service are like seeds. They can grow into expansive trees that provide fruit and shelter for everyone. Intentions like ego, greed, envy, anger, pride, competition, and stress are like weeds. They might look like normal plants to begin with, but they won’t grow into nice plants after.
Act on Your Intentions
After we plant good intentions, we have to act on them. If you want a nice car, what will it take to get it? Are you willing to put in the effort? Will the work itself bring you a sense of fulfillment, even if you don’t succeed? When we fixate on the outcome, we won’t be happy. When we enjoy the process, we will be happy.
Note that our intentions usually aren’t completely pure. For example, if you donate to charity, your intention might be 88 percent to help people, 8 percent to feel good about yourself, and 4 percent to have fun with other charitable friends. We need to remember that the less pure they are, the less likely we will be happy, even if we are successful.
In conclusion, plant higher intentions like duty and love, then act on them. The purer your good intentions, the happier you will be.
Key Idea 5: Live Your Purpose and Dharma
“Your passion is for you. Your purpose is for others.” — Jay Shetty
Jay explains that Dharma = Passion + Expertise + Usefulness. In other words, when we use our passions and expertise to provide something that others need, we will have true happiness and fulfillment. Someone people aren’t passionate about their work. Others follow their passions and interest, but no one needs their work. If either piece is missing, then we are not living in our dharma.
“When your natural talents and passions (your varna) connect with what the universe needs (seva) and become your purpose, you are living in your dharma. When you spend your time and energy living in your dharma, you have the satisfaction of using your best abilities and doing something that matters to the world. Living in your dharma is a certain route to fulfillment.” — Jay Shetty
Four Quadrants of Potential
Jay explains the four quadrants of potential that people live in.
Quadrant 2: Good at and love
The goal is to move our time and energy towards quadrant 2: doing things we are good at AND love.
To find out how close you are to living your dharma right now, answer these questions:
- Do you like your job?
- Do you love your job?
- Are you good at your job?
- Do other people need and appreciate your work?
- Is your greatest skill or passion outside your work? What is it?
- Do you dream of making it your work?
- Do you think this is an attainable dream?
- Do you think there might be ways you could bring your passion to your work?
- Write down any ideas you have for bringing your passion to the universe
Quadrant 1: Good at it, but no passion
If you are doing something you are good at but don’t love, you don’t have to make a drastic career change. You can look for opportunities to do what you love in the life you already have. For example, see if you can bring your passion into the workplace, or bring it to other aspects of your life like your hobbies and friendships.
Another option is to find a reason to love your strengths. Think about how it might serve you in the future. We can do job crafting, which is when employees redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving.
For example, some cleaning staff at a hospital viewed their job as mundane. Others viewed it as deeply meaningful. Why? They talked about providing company for lonely patients, escorting elderly visitors, switching pictures on the walls to different rooms, etc. These were tasks that they took initiative to do, not what was stated in the job description. They thought of themselves as healers and ambassadors rather than custodians. By reframing how they saw their job duties, they found purpose and meaning.
Quadrant 3: Not good at, also don’t love
Avoid this type of work. Outsource it if you can. Maybe you can trade tasks with a colleague. After all, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean nobody likes it. For example, maybe you don’t like Excel work and you are also not good at it, but you are great at designing presentations. Someone else might have the opposite situation, in which case you can help each other out.
If you really can’t offload the chore, then remember that every task is important, and no one is too important to do any chore. For example, at the ashram, Jay had to do all sorts of menial and unpleasant chores, such as cleaning the toilets. It cultivated his humility, and he also used the time to recite texts.
Quadrant 4: Not good at, but love
In this case, you should spend time to improve that skill. You can use your commutes or cooking time to listen to educational podcasts on that subject. You can read and watch videos on that topic every day. Even 10 minutes a day would be 70 minutes a week. You can learn a lot with consistency!
For example, when Jay first started making videos, he lacked video editing skills. So he spend 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, after work learning to edit videos.
Jay explains that there are four Vedic personality types: Guide, Leader, Creator, and Maker. Knowing our Vedic personality type will help us know our strengths and live according to our dharma. Note that no one type is better than other. They are like different organs in a body; they’re meant to work together in a community.
Guides are compelled to learn and share knowledge. They make great teachers are writers. They value wisdom more than fame or money. Their purpose can be to use knowledge to help people.
Leaders like to influence and provide. They make good managers and often work in military, justice, or politics. They are led by morals and seek to inspire cooperation and support society long-term.
Creators like to make things happen, and they are good at innovating and networking. They make good marketers, salespeople, entertainers, and entrepreneurs. A good purpose for them is creating products that serve society and the greater good.
Makers like to see things tangibly being built. They make good artists, musicians, writers, nurses, engineers, and cooks. They are good at inventing, supporting, and implementing. They are motivated by stability and security, as well as supporting those in need.
Makers and creators complement each other, while guides and leaders complement each other. When you know your Vedic personality type, you can invest in your strength and surround yourself with people who can fill your gaps. That helps us live in our dharma.
“When you safeguard your dharma, you constantly strive to be in a place where you thrive. When you thrive, people notice, and you reap rewards that help you stay in your dharma.” — Jay Shetty
Aside from building our dharma, we also need to build our character.
“To build your competence without regard for character is narcissistic, and to build character without working on skills is devoid of impact.” — Jay Shetty.
Key Idea 6: Improve your routines and habits
Jay urges us to intentionally create good habits by using location and time. Specifically, he urges us to take control of the beginning and end of our days with a good morning routine and evening routine. A good morning routine sets us up for success for the rest of the day. The best way to have a successful morning is to have a successful evening prior. The best way to wake up earlier is to sleep earlier.
For the morning routine, he recommends:
- Thankfulness — express gratitude to someone, some place, or something every day. That includes thinking it, writing it, and sharing it.
- Insight — read a book or listen to a podcast
- Meditation — spend 15 mins alone, breathing, visualizing or with sound
- Exercise — can be simple stretching or a gym work out
For the evening routine, he gives these tips:
- The clothes you sleep in need to be different from the clothes you wear in the day because day clothes carry day energy.
- Remove small decisions from your next morning by dealing with them now. Every little decision takes away energy. Examples: what to eat, what to wear, what to do.
- Go to sleep with good thoughts because the emotion you fall asleep with will likely be the emotion you’ll wake up with.
To help us wake up earlier and make time for the morning routine, Jay gives a two-week plan. In the first week, wake up just 15 mins earlier. Don’t look at your phone right away. Instead, do as much of the morning routine as you can. In the second week, get up another 15 minutes earlier. Now, you have 30 minutes of morning time for your morning routine.
Location has energy; Time has memory
Aside from the morning and evenings, Jay urges us to be more conscious in choosing the locations and timings of tasks during the day because location has energy and time has memory.
In terms of location, we should only use one space for one purpose. For example, the bed is only for sleep, not for electronic devices. The kitchen table is only for eating, not for working. Even if we only have a small apartment, we can designate certain spaces in a room to specific activities.
In terms of timing, we should do something at the same time every day. That will help us remember to do it. We can also attach new habits onto existing habits to make it easier. For example, Jay had a friend who wanted to start yoga, so put a yoga mat next to her bed, and she would literally roll out of bed onto her yoga mat every morning and do yoga.
Ultimately, using location and timing can help us focus. Studies show that people cannot multitask. When people think they multitask, they are actually just switching between tasks really fast. This feels good in the moment, which is why it can be addictive, but it leads to burnout and low productivity. When we have periods of deep focus, we’re not only more productive, but we feel better afterwards.
Key Idea 7: Master the Mind
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” — The Bhagavad Gita
We all have bad habits and thinking patterns like anger, envy, greed, fear, and ego. By mastering the mind, we can overcome these. The key to mastering the mind is again, detachment. For example, instead of telling yourself “I am angry”, you can say, “I feel angry” or “There is anger.” Don’t identify with the emotion; observe it.
“At the ashram, I learned something that has been crucial in curbing these dangerous, self-destructive thoughts. Our thoughts are like clouds passing by. The self, like the sun, is always there. We are not our minds.” — Jay Shetty
The first step to understanding our minds is to simply become aware of the different voices inside of us. The Monkey Mind is like a child that needs attention. The Monk Mind is like the mature adult. Don’t view your monkey mind as an enemy. View it as a collaborator, and then you can move from battle to bond, enemy to friend. The parent mind must give attention to the monkey mind, which is also the subconscious mind.
Our unconscious mind already has instinctive patterns that we didn’t conscious choose, and our conscious mind isn’t awake to make edits. For example, someone tells you, “You look amazing today,” and our subconscious mind instinctively thinks, “No I don’t.”
In order to overwrite the voices in your head, you have to start talking to them. Literally. If your mind says, ‘You can’t do this,’ respond by saying to yourself, ‘You can do it. You have the ability. You have the time.’ Jay gives many more examples of reframing our thoughts more positively:
Instead of saying, “I’m bored. I’m slow. I can’t do this.”
Say, “You are working on it. You are improving.”
Instead of saying “I can’t do this”,
Instead of saying, “I’m bad at this”,
Say, “I’m investing the time I need to get better.”
Instead of saying, “I’m ugly”,
Say, “I’m taking steps to be my healthiest.’
Instead of saying, “I can’t handle everything,”
Say, “I’m prioritizing and checking items off my list.”
Jay then goes back to talking about how detachment is the only way we can gain control of the mind. He gives the example of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which showcases of the joy of detachment. People literally cry with relief after purging possessions because they’ve reduced the number of things they’re attached to.
“Detachment is not that you own nothing, but that nothing should own you.” — Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammed
To practice detachment, we can take on temporary challenges and austerities, such as
- Giving up TV or your phone
- Giving up sweets or alcohol
- Taking on a physical challenge
- Abstaining from gossip, complaining, and comparing
- Meditating in cold or heat
Another way is to use Spot-Stop-Swap:
- Spot the attachment. For example, spot when you check your phone mindlessly. Is it out of boredom, laziness, fear of missing out, loneliness?
- Stop and rethink it. How much time is your limit for screen time?
- Swap in a new behavior. You can either go all-in by committing to a week or month to no social media. Or you can make a small change and build on it. Experiment to see which method works better for you. Then decide how you want to spend your newfound time. For example, it could be meditation, or interacting with friends in real life.
Finally, our minds need daily maintenance, just like how we brush our teeth every day. We should cleanse our thoughts and reframe the ones that don’t serve us. This daily maintenance will make our minds pure and calm and able to grow.
“If you are satisfied with who you are, you don’t need to prove your worth to anyone else.” — Jay Shetty
Key Idea 8: Build self-esteem, not ego
The ego is problematic in many ways:
- It makes us liars, which breaks trust
- It creates false hierarchies, which creates discrimination and ruins kindness
- It creates judgment, which ruins our character
- It creates arrogance and prevents learning and growth
When it comes to ego, Jay urges us to start by reflecting on the difference between our outside persona with our true self. To do that, think about the choices you make when you’re alone versus when there’s nobody to judge you and nobody you’re trying to impress. If there’s a big difference, then you need to build self-esteem (true confidence) and reduce ego.
It takes the same amount of energy to feign confidence as it takes to work, practice, and achieve true confidence.
Use this table to build your self-esteem. To reduce ego, we can do two things: cultivate humility and detach from the ego.
Most people remember the good they have done for others and remember the bad that others have done for them. That is the ego at work. To build humility, monks remember the bad they have done to others and the good others have done for them. That keeps them humble and grateful.
Monks also forget the good that they’ve done for others and the bad others have done to them. Anything they’ve given to others was given to them by life. They were never owners; they detached, so they are happy to give it away. They also forgive us because of their kindness and humility.
Detach from the Ego
Remember that you are not your achievements, job, possessions, youth, or beauty. These are all temporary things that will pass. They were given to you, and they will leave. When we truly understand the impermanence of everything, then we will feel liberated and grateful for what we have.
Look for these opportunities to detach from ego:
- Receiving an insult — look at the broader view of the person’s negativity
- Receiving a compliment — be grateful to your teachers
- Arguing with a partner — see the other person’s side. “lose” the battle. Wait a day and see how it feels.
- Topping people — When hearing other’s accomplishments, be happy for them and don’t say anything about your accomplishments.
For example, Kalilash Satyarthi is a children’s rights activist who has saved tens of thousands of children. When asked what his first reaction to winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, he responded, “The first reaction? Well, I wondered if I had done enough to be getting this award.” That is humility.
Rather than trying to satisfy our egos, we should be humble and aim for real greatness:
“Real greatness is when you use your own achievements to teach others, and they learn how to teach others, and the greatness that you’ve accomplished expands exponentially.” — Jay Shetty
Key Idea 9: Practice frequent, specific and broad gratitude
“When you start your day with gratitude, you’ll be open to opportunities, not obstacles. You’ll be drawn to creativity, not complaint.” — Jay Shetty
Studies show that gratitude is linked to better mental health, self-awareness, better relationships, and a sense of fulfillment. When we feel grateful, our brain releases dopamine (the reward chemical), which makes us want to feel that way again, and we begin to make a habit of gratitude. It’s a virtuous cycle.
He explains that gratitude is about appreciating everything for its value other than monetary value. For example, we can appreciate our food before a meal. We can appreciate a hardship from the past for the learning and growth that it gave us.
Most of us have been trained to look for the negative in life. For example, one time Jay’s monk teacher told the class to think of a past event in their life that they felt they didn’t deserve. Everyone described events like being untreated unfairly or having bad luck. Afterwards, the teacher said, “While all of your events are valid, not one of you talked about the fortunate that you didn’t earn but were simply handed in life.”
After hearing this, Jay flashed back to a childhood memory, when he saw a girl in the slums of India searching for food in a garbage bin. When she took her arms out of the bin, he saw that she didn’t even have hands. Later, at the hotel restaurant, he heard people complain about the food despite there being dozens of choices available. He realized how fortunate he was to have all that he has, and that he didn’t work to earn any of it. His father actually worked his way out of the slums in Pune, not far from Mumbai. Jay was the receiver of immense hard work and sacrifice.
To re-train our minds into gratitude instead of complaining, Jay recommends us to keep a gratitude journal for a week. Every night, spend five minutes writing down the things you are grateful for. With practice, you get better at it. As a bonus, compare how much better your sleep was the week where you kept a gratitude journal compared to a week where you didn’t do the gratitude journal.
He also recommends us to express gratitude to others. When doing so, we need to be specific. For example, instead of just saying, “Thanks for that great party!”, we can say, “Thanks for your hard work in organizing and hosting that great party! I really enjoyed the ice breaker activities, and those mashed potatoes were so delicious!”
Lastly, he encourages us to volunteer and help those in need as a way to broaden and strengthen our gratitude. It gives us a bigger perspective on life, bring us out of low emotions like anger, stress, and envy. Studies show that volunteering helps decrease depression and increase feelings of overall wellbeing.
Key Idea 10: Understand and nurture relationships through trust and connection
“The golden way is to be friends with the world and to regard the whole human family as one.” — Gandhi
Jay starts by talking about how at the ashram, everyone loves each other like a big family. During his first year at the ashram, he felt like he was going out of his way to help his fellow monks, but they weren’t returning the love. He then told his teacher, “I feel like I’m giving out a lot of love, but I don’t feel like it’s being returned in kind. I’m loving, caring, and looking out for others, but they don’t do the same for me. I don’t get it.”
His teacher first asked him, “Why are you giving out love?” The point was that we shouldn’t give out love with the expectation of getting something in return; otherwise, that’s just selfishness. But the teacher also added,
“Whenever you give out any energy-love, hate, anger, kindness-you will always get it back. One way or another, love is like a circle. Whatever love you give out, it always comes back to you. The problem lies with your expectations.
You assume the love you receive will come from the person you gave it to. But it doesn’t always come from that person. Similarly, there are people who love you who don’t give the same love in return.”
After hearing this, Jay realized that too often, we love people who don’t love us, but we fail to return the love of others who do. For example, Jay gets frustrated when someone isn’t returning his call. Yet his mother is sitting there all the time thinking, I wish my son would call me!
When it comes to having good relationships, we must first establish clear expectations. If we cannot articulate what we want to ourselves or others, we will end up attracting the wrong people, which will lead to bad relationships. To establish expectations, Jay talks about trust and reason.
Establish Clear Expectations
He then explains that different relationships have different purposes based on the four types of trust:
- Competence — they have the knowledge and skills needed for your issue
- Care — they want what’s best for you (not them)
- Character — they have a strong moral compass
- Consistency — they are there when you need them
Knowing which type of trust someone has informs you on what to expect from them.
The four types of trust may seem basic, but who do you know in your life that has all four? We shouldn’t expect people to give us everything we need. For example, Jay’s mom has care and consistency. She can be his cheerleader, but she can’t give him career advice. Jay’s monk teacher has character and care. He can be a spiritual advisor, but he also cannot give him career advice. We shouldn’t expect one person to be our everything or to complete us. Only you can be your everything.
We also need to think about how long someone is meant to be in our lives. Jean Dominique Martin once said, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”
Most people are in your life for a specific and temporary reason. Once that reason is gone, they’re gone. An example might be a past romantic relationship. Some other people are in your life for a season, such as people from school or a past workplace. Few people are here for a lifetime, such as family and spouse.
Once we are clear on our expectations for others based on their trust type and how long we expect them in our life, then we can build trust. Trust also has four levels:
- Neutral trust — positive qualities (e.g., charm, good looks) e.g., charm, good looks) exist that don’t merit trust
- Contractual — I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine
- Mutual — you know you’ll be there for each other in the future
- Pure — You will have each other’s back no matter what happens
In order to build trust, we can
- Fulfill promises (contractual trust)
- Going out of your way to offer support (mutual trust)
- Standing by someone even when they are in a bad place or made a big mistake (pure trust)
Next, Jay goes specifically into romantic relationships and talks about seeking connection over attraction.
Establish a Deep Connection
Jay lists five reasons people get attracted to someone else:
- Physical — you like their looks
- Material — you like their possessions, power, or accomplishments
- Intellectual — you like how they think
- Emotional — you connect well. They understand your feelings.
- Spiritual — they share your deepest goals and values
Nowadays, if you ask people what attracts them to another person, they usually say looks, success, and intellect. But those three qualities alone aren’t enough for long-lasting relationships. Emotional and spiritual connection lead to long lasting connection, and they show your compatibility.
He also talks about how many couples complain that they don’t have enough time to spend with each other. But actually, their problem isn’t the amount of time, but the quality of time. He tells us, “Don’t confuse time with energy. You can spend an hour with someone but only give them ten minutes of your energy.” He urges us to give our loved ones quality time, where we are not distracted by our electronic devices. Have deep conversations with people and really give them your presence and attention.
Jay asserts that until you understand yourself, you won’t be ready for romance. He quotes Thich Nhat Hanh, who said,
“Often, we get crushes on others not because we truly love and understand them, but to distract ourselves from our suffering. When we learn to love and understand ourselves and have true compassion for ourselves, then we can truly love and understand another person.”
If you find yourself attracting the same sort of incompatible partners over and over again, then you are carrying pain. You try to find people to ease that pain, but only you can do that. Don’t look for someone to solve your problems or fill a hole. Nobody completes you. You don’t have to be perfect, but you should be coming from a place of giving instead of draining.
Jay asserts that if we are in a bad relationship, we need to leave.
“If we are still listening to our child minds, we’re attracted to people who aren’t good for us but make us feel better in the moment. Don’t wrap your self-esteem around someone else. Nobody deserves verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. It is better to be alone.”
We also shouldn’t let such toxic relationships transition into friendship. The dynamic won’t change.
When it comes to breakups, Jay goes back to detachment:
“We imagine that the grasping and clinging that we have in our relationships shows that we love. Whereas actually, it is just attachment, which causes pain. Because the more we grasp, the more we are afraid to lose, then if we do lose, then of course we are going to suffer.” — Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
In order to overcome heartbreak, Jay recommends people to
- Feel every emotion. Write them down. Ask questions about them.
- Learn from the situation.
- Believe in your worth. Make yourself whole.
- Wait before dating again. Don’t rebound or revenge-date.
Keeping Love Alive
Many people are always chasing the honeymoon period feeling. But being addicted to the past doesn’t make room for new experiences. At the beginning, people made NEW memories with energy and openness. Love is kept alive by learning and growing together. Fresh experiences bring excitement into your life and build a stronger bond.
Jay has many recommendations for couple activities drawn from monk principles:
- Find new in the old (e.g., take a walk in the neighborhood and challenge each other to find a something new)
- Find new ways to spend time together
- Serve together
- Meditate and chant together
- Envision together what you both want from the relationship
After talking about relationships with our close ones, Jay moves on to our relationship with the broader world.
Key Idea 11: Service is the direct path to a happy and fulfilling life
“The ignorant work for their own profit…the wise work for the welfare of the word…” — Bhagavad Gita, 3:25.
Jay asserts that the highest purpose in life is to live a life of service, and that is the most direct path to a happy and fulfilling life. He talks about how at the ashram, monks don’t ask, “How was work today?” They ask, “Have you served today?” Monks seek to leave a place cleaner than they found it, people happier than they found them, and the world better than they found it. We are born to care for others, as evidenced when little children instinctively do things to help others.
He also explains how service is aligned with nature: The sun provides light, trees provide oxygen and shade, water provides nourishment. Human beings are meant to serve.
Serving others has many benefits:
- Service connects us to others and the world
- Service amplifies gratitude by giving you a broad view of all that you have
- Service increases compassion
- Service builds self-esteem, that you have a meaning and purpose in the world
Many people say they will serve later, when they have financial security or emotional stability. Jay says, “Take care of yourself-yes. But don’t wait until you have enough time and money to serve. You will never have enough.” He also asks, “Who is wealthier, the one with money or the one who serves?”
To build a service mindset, Jay recommends us to extend our circle of care. Think of 4–6 people you would drop everything to hep. How often to you show care to them? Can you start now? Then think of a group of at least 20 people you could help. It could be a community group. Then tape that list to the mirror where you brush your teeth. Now you’ll think about them at least twice a day. Observe how this changes your motivation to serve them.
He also urges us to serve with a kind intention without wanting anything in return. When we serve with a pure intention, their happiness is our happiness. We should also remember that whatever we are giving to others, be it objects or energy, was given to us. Therefore, real detachment is service towards a higher purpose.
If you are not sure where to devote your energy, Jay recommends following the pain in your heart. Write down three moments in your life when you felt lost or in need. Then see if those options have any opportunities to serve that suit your dharma.
“When you’re living in service, you don’t have time to complain and criticize. When you’re living in service, your fears go away. When you’re living in service, you feel grateful. Your material attachments diminish. Service is the direct path to a meaningful life.” — Jay Shetty
Meditation is analogous to cleaning a large temple. You clean your mind and your heart while meditating. But by the time you’ve finished cleaning the temple, the temple is already getting dirty and dusty again. It’s like brushing your teeth; you need to do it every day.
Many people dislike meditation because they think they have to stop thinking. But actually, the point of meditation is to train our awareness to notice thoughts and then return to the meditation, As Jay says, “Meditation is not broken when you’re distracted. It is broken when you let yourself pursue the distracting thought.”
Jay also mentions that when it comes to starting a new habit like meditation, we should find some time to go deep. If you had to learn a new sport like golf, and you only played golf for 10 minutes a day, do you think you would get good at it or even like it? The same is true for meditation. Find a week or weekend long meditation retreat. Go deep. Only then will you get the true benefits. Then you can do your 10 minutes a day, and it’ll be totally different.
The book talks about three types of meditations: breathing exercises, visualization, mantra. I won’t list all the meditations since there are so many, but I’ll briefly explain some of them.
Breathing to calm yourself:
- Breath in for a count of 4 through the nose.
- Hold for a count of 4.
- Exhale for a count of 4 through your mouth.
- Do this 10 times.
Breathing for energy and focus:
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
- Exhale powerfully through your nose for less than a second (You will feel a sort of engine pumping in your lungs).
- Breathe in again through your nose for a count of 4.
- Do this 10 times.
Breathing for sleep:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds.
- Exhale for longer than 4 seconds.
- Do this until you are asleep or close to it.
Visualization creates changes in the body. For example, scientists at Cleveland Clinic showed that people who imagined contracting a muscle in their little finger over 12 weeks increased its strength by almost as much as people who did actual finger exercises.
Visualization meditation can heal the past. For example, if you said someone horrible to your parents right before they died, you can visualize yourself going back and saying to them how much you loved them. It doesn’t change the past, but it starts the healing.
Visualization can also prepare us for the future. For example, Jay visualizes himself delivering a big speech with confidence and grace before the actual speech.
To do visualization, we can either listen to a guided meditation or just come up with our own visualization. For example, Jay gives a 5–4–3–2–1 gratitude visualization, where you visualize a time that you were extremely grateful for, and then pay attention to
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
You can also use the 5–4–3–2–1 meditation to notice your surroundings and bring your focus back to the present moment.
Mantra Chanting Meditations
A mantra is a spiritual sound expressing thought and meaning that summons a power greater than ourselves. Mantra literally means “to transcend the mind.” The most important thing is to have an intention of devotion and love.
Sound transports us to a different time and space. For example, when we hear a favorite childhood song, we are transported back to that time and space. Chanting a mantra uses the power of sound. Jay explains,
“The repetition of sound purifies us. The sound is immersive, like giving our souls a regular bath. You can’t put one drop of water on your body and be clean-you have to go underneath the water.”
The oldest, most common mantra is Om. It can mean infinite knowledge, or “the sound by which the Lord is praised.” Om has three syllables — A-U-M. Each sound embodies a different state (wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep) or time (past, present, and future). You could say the word om represents everything. The vibrations from om have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, which decreases inflammation. Chanting om has already been shown to calm one of the brain’s emotional centers.
Jay gives three mantras (you can search up how to pronounce them on YouTube):
- Om namo bhagavata vasudevaya
- Om tat sat
- Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
The first one is used for connecting with the universe, seeking insight and guidance. The second one is used for refining intentions at the beginning of important work. The third one is used to express love and kindness to all living beings.
If you don’t want to chant a spiritual sound, then you can use affirmations, which can be anything that inspires you, such as
- “At your own pace, in your own time.”
- “This too shall pass.”
- “Live everything”
- “This moment is yours.”
- “I am happy about who I am becoming. I am open to all opportunities and possibilities. I am worthy of real love. I am ready to serve with all I have.” (This one is Jay’s recommended one)
Daily Meditation Practice
Jay recommends us to have a daily meditation practice. We can start with 21 minutes in the morning routine, and later expand it to morning and night. The meditation practice should have 7 minutes for breath work, 7 minutes for visualization, and 7 minutes for mantra.
Don’t look for a measure of success. Just keep doing it. practice consistently for 4–12 weeks and you’ll start to notice the effects. Things you might notice
- You miss doing the meditation if you stop
- Increased awareness of what’s going on in your mind
- You gradually acquire a long-term mastery of self
My Own Experience
I’ve followed Jay’s work since 2017, back when he only had 1 billion views, so many (though not all) of the things he talked about in the book, I actually heard about before. He gives really useful and easy-to-implement advice, and I’ll share my experience here:
- Clarify Your Identity and Live Your Dharma
- Build Self-Esteem, Not Ego
- Hone Good Intentions
- Morning and Evening Routines
1: Clarify Your Identity and Live Your Dharma
I’ve heard this advice from so many other people as well, which speaks to how universal and basic it is. When need to know what we truly value in life. Only then can we live according to those values. Only after, can we feel true to ourselves and be happy.
In my own reflection, I found that I chased money and prestige during my university years. I realized those values were put into me by business school. After I left that environment and started learning about purpose, fulfillment, and service, I realized that what I really care about is helping others.
Before, I had a bright career path in the corporate world, but it just didn’t feel right with me. I was chasing money and prestige, and it was indeed stressful because there’s always more money and more prestige to chase.
If I had known about the four Vedic personality tests while I was still a student, I probably would’ve made a better career choice. It wasn’t until after I worked for a couple years that I gained clarity on how my strength and passion lied in teaching and spreading wisdom. After switching my career to be a teacher, which aligned with my true values, I have so much more energy and meaning in my life.
2: Build Self-Esteem, Not Ego
Once I started living according to my values rather than society’s values, I stopped comparing myself to others based on things like appearance, wealth, and prestige. In fact, I stopped comparing. Comparison is another value that was imposed on me by the media. I now value kindness and equality. I try to treat everyone with kindness. When I’m focused on kindness, the thought of comparison doesn’t even arise. Hence, I have high self-esteem.
When others praise me, I naturally credit it to all my teachers and parents because without their guidance and nurturing, I’d be nothing.
When others criticize me, I still need to improve on my humility, but I’m much better at it than before. Humility has been a multi-year journey for me, and the book Liao Fan’s Four Lessons really helped me here.
3: Hone Good Intentions
Another key idea is that intentions are more important than actions. We should practice kindness because it is the kind thing to do, not because we’re trying to gain something from them. If we practice kindness with a pure intention, then we will naturally be happy. If we practice kindness with the expectation of a reward, then our intention is not pure, and we will be unhappy.
For example, I remember when I had arguments with people in the past, I would listen to them patiently. But I expected them to listen to me patiently in return because I had done it for them, and when they didn’t, I got angry, and the conflicts only got worse. Now I know, I should listen to others patiently to make THEM feel assured and good. It’s not so that they can help ME feel assured and good later. They don’t have that ability if they themselves don’t even feel assured and good.
I work as a teacher now, and I truly just pass on what I wish I had known when I was younger, and giving with no expectations for anything in return is the greatest feeling.
The first book that got me deep into detachment is Awareness by Anthony De Mello. He explains it similarly to Jay Shetty. He talks about how we are not our things, body, reputation, labels, feelings, or thoughts. All these things come and go. We are the awareness that is capable of observing these things from a distance.
For example, if someone criticizes “me”, they are actually criticizing their idea of “me”, not the real me. That idea is false and impermanent. There’s no use in attaching ourselves to it. If I feel good about myself because of my current 18-year-old body, then I’m setting myself up for sadness when my body changes in the future. If I detach from these impermanent things, then I will be carefree and happy because the real me is eternal and unchanging.
Later, I got into Buddhism, and a line that really stuck with me is, “Have no requests of people. Have no conflict with the world.” Again, the idea is detachment, specifically detachment from our ego and thoughts. The more a person is able to do this, the freer and happier that person will be.
Something that really stuck with me from the book is that we shouldn’t expect people to return love in the same way that we give it to them. We can make the request in a clear and non-critical way, but we still shouldn’t expect them to do it. For example, in a past relationship, I felt like I did so much of the chores and cooking, and I wanted the other person to give me a break and do everything for once. My intention behind those kind acts became selfish, which brought suffering.
Later, I learned about the 5 Love Languages from Jay on a podcast episode:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
I realized that my love language is acts of service, while her love language is words of affirmation and quality time. She was great at setting up dates, which I was not. The first mistake I made was looking for her to return love in the same way I gave her. The second mistake is I should be giving love in the way she wants to receive it. The third mistake is I didn’t notice or appreciate her contribution and strengths because I was caught up in my unrealistic expectations.
Another thing that resonated with me is that we shouldn’t expect the other person to complete us. We should go into a romantic relationship being whole ourselves. That way, we can come from a place of giving rather than draining. I reflected on how I relied on my partner to give me emotional reassurance, and that was draining for them, especially when they themselves needed emotional reassurance. We should not rely on others to comfort us. It’s great if they can, but if we expect it from them, then we set up ourselves up for suffering. Only we can complete ourselves.
6: Morning and Evening Routines
I totally agree with the importance of taking control of our mornings and evenings. Once the day starts, time flies by, and before you know it, the day is over and you feel like there were so many things you didn’t get to do.
By blocking off time in the morning and evening, I created sacred time to help myself snap out of auto-pilot mode and return to the bigger picture of my life. I’ve been doing morning meditations for around half a year now, and it has really helped me be calmer throughout the day.
I totally understand what Jay meant by going deep. When I first started meditating, it was 15 minutes a day, and I barely felt any benefits. Later, I had the opportunity to meditate for a whole day multiple times for hours non-stop. During those times, I felt calm and peace in my mind. That helped me stick with the daily meditation practice.
In the evenings, I journal before sleep. It’s a good way to help me reflect on whether or not the day was used properly. Doing this short practice keeps me conscious of what’s important in my life so that I spend my time wisely.
In conclusion, this book offers excellent advice that is highly practical and relevant to our modern society. Jay Shetty is able to validate ancient monk wisdom with modern scientific research to help us live a life with more peace and purpose every day. I give my sincere thanks to Jay for his tireless work to spread wisdom!
Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on April 18, 2021.