Self-Help Challenge Complete—What I Learned from Think Like a Monk

For this challenge, Laura and I each selected a book to read that would help us improve our lives as well as the world around us. It’s a lofty goal, but during this period of global, national and local crisis, we want to help out. Here’s what I learned from my book.

Overview

As a young man, author Jay Shetty lived as a monk in India for three years. He shares the spiritual lessons he mastered—like selflessness, discipline and serving others—on his hit podcast, On Purpose, and in his new book How to Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Everyday. I found the book to be a good overview of mindful living, but if you’ve done a deep dive into spiritual concepts like taming the ego, living in the moment and meditating, you may not find much new here.  I’m a self-help junkie so I admit to some skimming, but I discovered several valuable ideas. I intend to use them to navigate this chaotic time with the hope of improving my life and that of those around me.

Three Personal Takeaways

How I spend my day reflects my values (or lack of them). I’d say that my values include creativity, humor, intellectual curiosity, health, honesty and supporting my loved ones, but when I look at how I actually behave I’m not so sure. In an early chapter titled “Identity”, Shetty recommends you look at how you spend your time, attention and money. Are you immersed in screens and time-sucking apps? Who do you hang out with? What are you buying? Our actions are the real measures of our values, and they affect our mental state. “Higher values propel and elevate us toward happiness, fulfillment and meaning. Lower values demote us toward anxiety, depression and suffering,” writes Shetty. I realized I’ve been spending way too much time on social media, for example, which reflects my need to be easily entertained and procrastinate; not exactly lofty virtues. So I set a limit on my phone for 75 minutes for Instagram and Facebook. I’ve hit that ample limit often, but at least I’m cutting back. It’s made me realize other areas where I’m out of alignment. I schedule time for tennis but not for writing, assuming I’ll just get to it when I’m free. I’m taking a hard look at all my activities and cleaning up the way I spend my day.

Fear has value, so I need to face mine. I’m afraid of a lot of stuff. Just reading the headlines of the Chicago Tribune is a daily horror, not to mention worries about my health, family, financial security and if people think I’m an idiot. With all those fears, I should be a quivering mess, but I have a great technique for handling things. I simply swallow my fear. Upcoming Election? Gulp. Worried about my parents during COVID? Glug. Unsure of the next step work wise? Choke it down. Shetty calls this coping method “burying”, and the problem with it is the fears and their destructive effects don’t go away. In my case they squirm around in my stomach making me literally sick (Prilosec, anyone?). Monks work to understand their fears and even see them as opportunities. “Often, we notice fear’s warning but ignore its guidance,” says Shetty. “ If we learn how to recognize what fear can teach us about ourselves and what we value, then we can use it as a tool to obtain greater meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives.” The cure for fear, he says, is detachment. So from now on, when I feel frightened, I’m going to accept my fear and step back to determine the real cause of it. Then can I notice what it offers me and move on.

Purpose includes service. Shetty says the monk’s journey to find his purpose (called dharma) is inward. “Your dharma is already with you,” he says. “Everyone has a psychophysical nature which determines where they flourish and thrive. Dharma is using this natural inclination, the things you’re good at, your thrive mode, to serve others.” This is the big “ah-ha” moment of the book for me—my purpose isn’t just about pursuing my passion; it’s to combine my passion and talents to be of service to others. I’ve read countless books to help me identify my strengths, determine my leadership style and unlock my passion. These days, women are often encouraged be less nurturing. We may have to find the right balance, but living out my personal dream is a hollow thing if it only benefits me.

How to Save the World

If I can implement the three lessons above, I’ll be able to focus on what really matters to me, confront my fears, and use my talents and enthusiasm to give value to others. With all my newfound time away from Instagram, I’ll be working on how I can contribute to the greater good personally—and also how Style Challengers can make a difference as well! Laura and I already decided that one of our goals is to promote other women’s work, which is a good start. Saving the world is a big deal, but it big benefits. “Monks believe that the pillar of service makes our lives better in many ways,” says Shetty. “Service connects us, amplifies gratitude, increases compassion and builds self-esteem.”

Check out what Laura learned from her book, The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, here.

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