Think Like a Monk Book Summary

Shetty believes each person has his or her own “dharma” – a Sanskrit word that roughly translates into “purpose” or “calling” – and that it’s never too late to discover yours.

Take-Aways

  • Stop performing roles and tune out negative distractions.
  • Negativity is contagious and has harmful effects on your mind and body.
  • Stop defining yourself in relation to others and overcome toxic influences.
  • Embrace detachment and live with intention.
  • Discover your calling by serving others with skill and passion.
  • Free your creativity with morning and evening routines.
  • Harness the power of your mind and build healthy self-esteem.
  • Perform acts of service with compassion and gratitude.

Summary

Stop performing roles and tune out negative distractions.

People tend to adopt different roles and personas when navigating distinct contexts. But making others’ expectations more important than your personal values can leave you depressed, insecure and dissatisfied. Living an authentic life is a better choice, even if doing so means you risk losing relationships.

Assess the values that have steered your life so far, then identify the source of each value – for example, perhaps your school taught you the value of knowledge while the media taught you to value physical appearance. Eliminate distractions to reflect on whether you want to live a life in pursuit of these values or update them. Audit the time and money you invest each day, reflecting on whether your actions support your values.

For example, do you spend countless hours browsing social media instead of interacting with your family? Try to embody higher values from the ancient Hindu Bhagavad Gita, which include gratitude, charity, honesty and integrity. Perform a “companion audit”: Reflect on the people you spend the most time with and whether their values align with yours. Be mindful of letting those close to you influence you and filter out negative external influences.

Negativity is contagious and has harmful effects on your mind and body.

When people engage in negative thoughts and behaviors, it’s often because they feel something threatens a “core emotional need,” for love, peace, or understanding and respect. Negativity can lead you to judge, manipulate and attempt to control those around you, or to blame your problems on others. People often embrace a victim mentality, then spread their negativity to others. For example, if you complain you are having a horrible day, you may trigger others to complain as well. A natural tendency to conform and agree – a phenomenon called “group-think bias” – prompts people to adopt one another’s negativity.

“Every day we are assaulted by negativity. No wonder we can’t help but dish it out as well as receive it.”

When you engage in negative thinking, you will likely show more aggression toward random people. If you engage in negative thinking long-term, the resulting stress can shrink your hippocampus – the region your brain uses for reasoning and memory. Negativity also prompts your brain to release the stress hormone cortisol, which can impair your immune system. Mindfully reflect upon upsetting events, noticing your thoughts and feelings as they arise. By writing about your emotions, you can trigger mental and physical healing and growth.

Stop defining yourself in relation to others and overcome toxic influences.

Don’t judge negative behaviors in others or expend energy finding solutions for them. Deal with negative people and situations by removing yourself from the emotional immediacy of the situation and finding a more objective viewpoint. Let go of your desire to cling to negative emotions or possessions that trigger negative thoughts. Find three uplifting people to counterbalance the effects of every negative person in your life. Release yourself from your ego-based desire to “save” negative people by offering to listen to them. Don’t define yourself in relation to those around you. Comparison only triggers envy, greed, anger and jealousy.

“The more we define ourselves in relation to the people around us, the more lost we are.”

Take the following steps to reach a state of greater awareness and deprive negative thoughts of their power:

  • Identify the negative, or toxic, influences around you – List your negative thoughts and reflect on what triggers them. For example, did you criticize a friend’s appearance because you felt sensitive about your own?
  • Pause before engaging in negativity – Freedom doesn’t mean indulging in any desire, such as the wish to complain, just because you can. Freedom means releasing yourself from the control of desires.
  • Mindfully label your feelings – Instead of making unproductive, vague statements about how you feel – such as, “I’m angry” – mindfully reflect on your feelings and describe them with specificity. For example, you may experience anger because you felt something or someone offended or disappointed you.
  • Forgive those who’ve hurt you – When relationship partners forgive each other, emotional stress on the relationship lessens, and both partners experience greater well-being.
  • Learn to forgive yourself – Overcome feelings of shame and guilt.

Embrace detachment and live with intention.

Transform your relationship with fear by changing what you fear. Most people fear the challenges and stresses that accompany change, rather than fearing what matters: missing opportunities. Change your perception of fear. When people are fearful, they often react by freezing, panicking, fleeing from the problem or suppressing their feelings. If, however, you learn to accept and “work with” your fear, you will soon find yourself marveling at your ability to deal with these negative stressors. Overcome your fear by confronting its source: attachment. Confront your need to control your circumstances and cultivate a state of detachment. Identify the things that trigger your fears, and accept the impermanence of everything around you.

“Fear motivates us. Sometimes it motivates us toward what we want, but sometimes, if we aren’t careful, it limits us with what we think will keep us safe.”

Reflect on your goals and intentions and on the reasons you formed them; the Sanskrit word for this process is “sankalpa.” People’s core motivations – fear, desire, sense of duty and love – can determine their intentions. If, for example, fear is a core motivation in your life, that might lead to the intention to protect your family. Question your intentions, determine your core motivations, and ask whether your intentions are in alignment with what you want to manifest in the world. Free yourself from external notions of success, and create intentions that fill your life with meaning and purpose. Practice the ancient yogic breathing practice “prānāyāma” to cultivate awareness of your breath, and apply calming, meditative techniques to reflect upon your thoughts and feelings.

Discover your calling by serving others with skill and passion.

Direct your passion and skills towards something useful to others to discover your “dharma”: a Sanskrit term for your calling or life’s purpose. Identify your strengths, or areas in which you thrive, and use them to serve others. Don’t do things simply because you’re good at them. The Bhagavad Gita says that performing another person’s dharma perfectly is worse than aligning with your own dharma imperfectly. Make sure you pursue something that sparks your passion, performing tasks you love and can execute well. Don’t worry if others seem to have found their dharma earlier in life and you still struggle to find purpose. Many people discover their dharma after cultivating greater self-awareness and developing their strengths.

“Dharma isn’t just passion and skills. Dharma is passion in the service of others.”

The Bhagavad Gita divides people into four personality types, called “varnas,” which shape their dharma:

  1. Guides – They enjoy learning continuously and sharing their knowledge.
  2. Creators – They enjoy bringing new things into existence, such as a start-up.
  3. Leaders – They enjoy influencing and providing for people.
  4. Makers – They enjoy the process of building tangible things.

Free your creativity with morning and evening routines.

Begin each day with resolve, focus and purpose by creating a morning routine. Get inspiration from the rituals of monks: Wake up an hour earlier than usual and go to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep. Allocate time to make yourself a cup of coffee or perform a gratitude mediation. Creating routines makes space in your day for deep, sustained focus on tasks that engage you.

“Rules and routines ease our cognitive burden, so we have bandwidth for creativity. Structure enhances spontaneity. And discovery reinvigorates the routine.”

Create an evening routine that prepares you for the next day. Identify and mentally prepare for what you want to tackle first. Choose your version of monastic attire, such as a robe, and wear that each morning to eliminate unnecessary decision-making. Be mindful of your thoughts. Say three positive sentences to yourself as you fall asleep. Creating and keeping routines grounds you and creates structure, giving your mind the space for creativity.

Harness the power of your mind and build healthy self-esteem.

The Samyutta Nikaya, a Buddhist scripture, describes the activities of the mind using the visual metaphor of monkeys swinging from tree to tree: When you have a so-called “monkey-mind,” unfocused thoughts race through your brain, many of which relate to your anxieties and fears. People identify with their thoughts, but Buddhists teach that the self is separate from the mind. Buddhists gain mastery over the mind by practicing detachment: They observe thoughts objectively, rather than over-identifying with them – which can lead to impulsivity as you react before thinking things through. Train your mind to rein in the desires of the senses for instant gratification and short-term pleasures.

Overcome negativity and self-doubt by reframing your mind-set: When an inner voice tells you that you’re failing, focus on how hard you’re working and how much you’re improving. Practice self-compassion, extending the same love and respect you show other people toward yourself every time you engage in negative self-talk.

“Our thoughts are like clouds passing by. The self, like the sun, is always there. We are not our minds.”

Overcome your ego and practice humility. Doing so helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. The ego and self-esteem are not the same: Egotistical people think they know everything and want everyone to like them; people with healthy self-esteem understand they can learn from others and can handle some people disliking them. Solicit feedback and celebrate small wins to build healthy self-esteem.

Perform acts of service with compassion and gratitude.

Understand the principle of karma: Your actions will return to you. When you perform acts of love, acts of love will return to you from a variety or sources. When you hold on to negativity, you reduce your positive influence on the world. Be intentional about your romantic life and mindful of where you invest your energy: If you’re single, give yourself permission to prioritize your self-development, career, friends and sense of tranquility.

Cultivate meaningful relationships with people with whom you connect emotionally and spiritually – these relationships are more enduring than those with people who attract you because of their appearance, material possessions or intellectual capabilities. Build and reinforce trust each day: Fulfill the promises you make; give genuine complements and constructive feedback to those you love; and show solidarity to friends when they’re facing challenges or suffering the consequences of poor decision-making. Practice gratitude each day: Focus on what you have and what others have given you, rather than what you lack.

“Seeing the purpose of life to be sense gratification – making ourselves feel good – leads to pain and dissatisfaction. Seeing it as service leads to fulfillment.”

The Bhagavad Gita holds that the greatest purpose in life is service. Figure out the ways you’re best suited to serve others, and direct your attention toward those acts. Service doesn’t create a debt in the recipient – service is reciprocal. When you serve someone, you heal yourself from emotional and mental challenges, such as depression and anxiety. Monks believe that a compassionate life of service is a meaningful life.

About the Author

Jay Shetty is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning storyteller, podcast host of On Purpose and former monk. In 2019, he was AdWeek’s Young Influentials cover star. In 2017, Forbes named him to their 30 Under 30 List for his game-changing impact in media. His videos have been viewed more than eight billion times and he has more than 40 million followers across social media.