When it comes to finding your purpose, Jay Shetty has been on a unique personal journey. But now, the former monk-turned-global keynote speaker, life coach, and podcast host is sharing the insight and wisdom he’s learned
I’m excited to read this article, because I’ve shared so many things I haven’t said before,” declares Jay Shetty as we bid farewell. It’s been an enlightening hour in the company of a man who, only a decade ago, after graduating from London’s Cass Business School, swapped slick suits for saffron robes, and abandoned his pursuit of corporate life to become a Vedic monk.
For three years, Jay’s existence was devoted to service and purpose. He spent hours each day studying Buddhist teachings and volunteering until, encouraged by his elders, he left to share what he had learned with the world.
Since then, the global appetite for Jay’s teachings has been insatiable. His motivational videos on life, love, business, and health have been viewed by more than 7.5 billion people. A-listers – from Russell Brand, to Deepak Chopra – line up to appear on his podcast, and as a go-to for purpose, positivity, and wellbeing guidance, Jay, 32, is one of the most respected motivational speakers on the planet.
To learn that Happiful has elicited some fresh thinking from such a spiritual mastermind is, naturally, thrilling. Speaking from the LA home he shares with wife Radhi, Jay is in the midst of a promotional drive for his debut book, Think Like A Monk: Train your mind for peace and purpose every day, and our conversation explores how detaching from our so-called “monkey mind” is the key to living a less anxious, more meaningful life, improving focus and relationships, and clearing roadblocks to achieve our true potential and power.
“The monkey jumps from branch to branch, gets distracted, and is easily entertained – and the monkey mind is the same,” says Jay. “It goes along in default, autopilot, numb mode. The monk mind stops to observe, be present, gain awareness, and is proactive, not reactive. It is constantly trying to find ways to improve, as opposed to finding ways to instantly gratify. We all need a little bit of guidance in our lives.”
Here, as he shares his top tips for thinking like a monk, Jay reveals how teachings from 3,000 years ago are still as relevant today as then…
Audit your time and energy
The first way of thinking like a monk is to get into alignment. For a lot of us, we think one thing, say another, and do something else, and consequently feel out of alignment. Ask yourself what you value, and does your time, schedule, and energy reflect that? If I asked you, “What do you value more: being happy or watching TV?”, you’d probably say, “Being happy.” But when I say, “What do you spend more time on?”, you might say, “Watching TV.”
Wisdom traditions teach us that the majority of stress and pain we experience is because we live in the past or future, so you need to think, “Where in my life can I start implementing habits that make me more present?”
One of my favourite tips is the acronym T.I.M.E. – thankfulness, insight, meditation, and exercise. Just as we must feed our body every day to stay alive, we need to feed our mind and soul, too.
Connect to your breath
A younger monk once told me that the only thing that stays with us from the moment we’re born to when we die is our breath. What changes when you experience different emotions? Your breath. If you’re late for work, nervous, or feeling stressed, your breath changes. Most of us become fiction writers when feeling pressure. You create a story in your head about what’s happening in your life that’s not based on fact. Breathing helps bring clarity, and returns you to the present moment. By learning to navigate breath, we can navigate our emotions. Breathing is a very tangible experience of meditation. As you breathe deeper, you can feel your heart beat slower, and your body calm down. So get meditating!
Get honest about using social media
Whatever’s on your newsfeed feeds your mind, so be selective about what you’re exposed to, and set boundaries. You might say, “I’m really passionate about starting this social entrepreneurship business,” but realise that for the last few weekends you’ve spent your time scrolling on social media. When you stare at it in the face, almost like a mirror, you’ll feel the enthusiasm and energy to redress the balance.
My biggest test has been living my passion and purpose in a world that forces us into safety and security
Reframe negative internal dialogue
Become aware of what triggers feelings of unkindness or judgement towards ourselves. Is it a feeling from the past? Is it a statement from a friend or family member? Every time you spot yourself talking negatively to yourself, reflect on it and say, “Why am I having this thought? Do I really deserve this?”, then swap it with a different statement. Instead of saying, “I am so exhausted,” say “I am energised when I exercise.” The mind then trains itself to think, “I can feel energised or productive when I do this activity.”
Don’t write-off other people
When dealing with a challenging person who has negative habits, remember they’re a human being, and their negative experiences have conditioned them. Ask yourself, “Do I have the strength to uplift this person, or do I end up being dragged downwards?” If it’s [the latter], chances are you need space to strengthen before you can uplift that person. Sometimes you might not be the person who can inspire them, but you can introduce them to someone who can.
Own your failures
I’m not proud of what I did in my teens. I experimented with drugs, fought, and drank too much. I hurt people and caused pain. In the monk mind, it’s important to use those mistakes as anchors to keep us humble and grounded, so we never take for granted how hard growth and evolution is.
When we grow and evolve, it’s easy to think of everyone else as ‘less than’. When you remember where you came from, you realise we’re all on our own journeys, and all have our own process of growth. Most of us believe that forgiveness is about the other person. We wait for others to say sorry, or for them to change. You may be waiting forever and while you’re waiting, you’re worrying about someone you have no power over. Try implementing unconditional forgiveness. It frees us from that worry.
Serve others… but first serve yourself
Service makes us happy, because it creates the deepest connection with another human. Scientific studies show that you’re always happier when you spend money or time on others rather than yourself. In the monk tradition, when you take care of your health, add self-love, and then serve, that service is fully realised – but if you don’t manage your health and apply self-love, the service feels like a burden. That’s why so many people feel overwhelmed by giving because they think, “Is someone helping me back?” You’ll be a better partner, parent, and person if you feel you’re giving yourself what you need. Of course, we need people in our lives who go out of their way for us, but doing things for ourselves fills us with so much more strength and confidence.
Be what you need
There’s a beautiful statement by Timber Hawkeye, which I love: “Don’t wait for the storm to calm, calm your mind and the storm will pass.” Instead of waiting for a perfect situation and the sunny day to feel happy – things we can’t control – become the sunny day. The monk mind [thinks], “Let me be what I need, let me not need it.” So if you need calm, become calm. So many of us, when we’re feeling pain or stress, search for a distraction. Instead, just sit with it and think, “OK stress, I see you, I know you’re there.” Understand the stress and talk to it. Stress is an emotion that’s trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore it.
Get comfortable with conflict
A 75-year Harvard study shows that the number one indicator for human happiness is the quality of our relationships. That quality isn’t based on the amount of people in our life, or attending our birthday or funeral, it’s about the depth that we feel understood. The majority of relationships fail because people don’t know how to deal with tough situations. Learn how to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. When you’re having a fight, remember it’s not you against each other, it’s both of you against the problem. Become a team against the challenge as opposed to thinking you’re on opposite sides. If in a relationship you want to win, and for the other person to lose, guess what? You both lose. The only way to win in a relationship is to realise you either win together, or lose together.
Find your passion
My biggest test has been living my passion and purpose in a world that forces us into safety and security. When I came back from India in 2013, people were saying, “Jay, you don’t have any money, you’d better just get a job to pay the bills.” I did that for a few years, but I realised I wasn’t satisfied. I had a passion and purpose to share what I’d learned, and through the monk teachings I learned to protect my purpose. A lot of people are scared of trying things, but how would it feel if we didn’t try? How scary would that be? I feel humbled and grateful for the life I live today, and that people take the time to listen to my podcasts, read my book, and learn from it. I hope I can continue to do that for many decades.
‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jay Shetty (Harper Thorsons, £16.99) is out now.