Declutter Your Mind to Think Like a Monk

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Think Like a Monk" by Jay Shetty. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your mind full of clutter such as feelings of overwhelm, confusion, and anxiety? How can you declutter your mind and invite more clarity into your life?

Jay Shetty, the author of Think Like a Monk, says there are three steps to developing a monk mindset: purify, clarity, and exemplify. The first stage, purify, involves decluttering your mind so you can focus on what really matters.

Keep reading to learn about purifying your mind.

Purify: The 1st Stage of the Monk Mindset

Former Vedic monk and award-winning content creator Jay Shetty claims that the route to happiness and fulfillment is to Think Like a Monk. According to him, monks are the calmest and happiest people in the world because they live with a sense of purpose that aligns with their true, inner selves. 

Fortunately, you don’t need to cut yourself off from the modern world or shave your head to benefit from this mindset. Shetty draws from his experiences as a monk, ancient spiritual texts, and the latest psychological research to transform abstract concepts into actionable methods you can easily incorporate into your life. 

Shetty claims that there are three ongoing stages to adopting the monk mindset—the more you engage with and practice these methods, the happier you’ll feel:

  1. Purify: Become aware of and release external influences and internal obstacles that don’t align with who you really are.
  2. Clarify: Make conscious decisions and move confidently toward experiences that bring you genuine happiness and satisfaction. 
  3. Exemplify: Expand your feelings of inner peace and happiness out into your relationships and the world around you.

In this article, we will talk about the first stage of the monk mindset, purify.

Mental Shortcuts Create False Images of Happiness

Shetty claims that, throughout your life, you’ve been influenced by the various opinions and expectations of your family, friends, culture, and media. You learned early on that, to get along well with others, you needed to conform to their expectations of you. 

  • For example, you noticed that your parents were more affectionate when you got perfect grades. You unconsciously made the connection in your mind that perfect grades led to affection. More affection made you happy, therefore, you associated having perfect grades with being happy. 

Shetty argues that various similar experiences led you to unconsciously conclude that your happiness depends on what you think other people think of you. As a result, you’re now so preoccupied with what other people think about you that you’ve developed different personas and tailored your behaviors to fit different situations and expectations: your professional work persona, your loving mom persona, your sociable friend persona, and so on.

You Don’t Know What Makes You Happy

According to Shetty, these mental shortcuts encourage you to focus on what you need to do to receive a certain reaction from the outside world so that you can live up to what you think others want from you. This preoccupation with pleasing others distracts you from thinking about how you feel, what your unique needs are, and, most importantly, what makes you happy.

Satisfaction and Happiness Come From Having Clear Values

According to Shetty, who you are and what you need to feel satisfied and happy can be summed up by your values. Your values are core beliefs that you choose to live by—they determine who you want to be and how you treat yourself and others. Your values shape how you think, color your perceptions, motivate your behavior, and guide your decisions. 

Shetty claims that values allow you to understand the meaning underlying everything you do and that your ability to find meaning in what you do is directly linked to how satisfied you feel. Consequently, he argues that the degree to which you live in alignment with your values determines how meaningful your life experiences feel to you

Shetty says that the clarity of your values has a direct impact on your ability to experience satisfaction and happiness in three ways:

1) Yielding to External Pressures Creates Unclear Values

When you’re preoccupied with chasing false images of happiness—by conforming to and pleasing others—you end up accumulating other people’s values and pursuing things that you think will make you happy. However, while your different personas enable you to navigate and perform in accordance with the various values you’re influenced by, you don’t stop to consider if any of these values align with your inner values. Consequently, Shetty argues, you’re unable to understand or appreciate the meaning behind what you’re doing, or to gain any real satisfaction once you get the things you’ve been chasing.

2) Unclear Values Create an Overactive Mind

Shetty notes that when you engage in behaviors that don’t feel meaningful to you, your dissatisfaction with what you’re experiencing makes you more prone to distractions. Your thoughts wander aimlessly between various external influences and make you feel like you’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions. The more you fill your mind with random and distracting thoughts, the less space you have to reflect upon what’s personally important and meaningful to you. 

3) An Overactive Mind Encourages Negative Tendencies That Fuel Dissatisfaction

According to Shetty, overactive and unfocused thoughts tend to sway towards the negative—fears, complaints, comparisons, criticisms, envy, judgment, anger, insecurities, and so on—and magnify the negative aspects of every experience (how you think about yourself, your experiences, and those around you).

This negative mental clutter leads to feelings of overwhelm, confusion, and anxiety, and is both the cause and symptom of feeling unhappy and dissatisfied: Your thoughts are unfocused and unproductive so you feel dissatisfied. You feel dissatisfied so find it difficult to prevent your mind from focusing on and amplifying thoughts that make you feel even more uncomfortable. Shetty claims that this mental pattern blinds you to what you need to feel satisfied and leads you to waste your time with people and situations that don’t support your values. Ultimately, this pattern leaves you trapped in a cycle of dissatisfaction.

Define Your Values to Escape the Cycle of Dissatisfaction

Shetty argues that the only way to experience satisfaction and happiness is to declutter your mind and focus your thoughts on what’s important to you so that you can define the values that you want to live by. Here, we’ll help you assess whether the values you’re living by reflect who you want to be and how you want to live. First, you’ll decide on what values feel true to you. Next, you’ll evaluate whether your current choices align with these values.

What Values Do You Want to Live By?

According to Shetty, values that inspire positive thoughts, such as compassion or kindness, are true values that elevate you to a state of happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. On the other hand, values that inspire negative thoughts, such as fear, greed, or envy, are false values that demote you to a state of suffering, dissatisfaction, and anxiety.

Shetty suggests that you reflect on what values you want to live by so that you can assess whether your current behaviors align with or work against how you want to live. Consider what types of experiences feel meaningful to you and think about the qualities that you look for and admire in others, such as compassion, empathy, or resilience. Whatever these qualities are, they point to the values that inspire you. 

Shetty claims that determining the values you use to guide you through your life is an ongoing process: The more you release yourself from external influences and distractions, the easier you’ll find it to clarify and live by your values. Therefore, add to this list as you continue to work through the methods in this guide.

Are You Living by Your Values?

Now that you have an idea of the values you want to live by, let’s explore if your current choices line up with what feels meaningful to you. Shetty suggests four ways to examine whether the decisions you’ve been making move you toward or further from how you want to live—practicing these methods will help you release yourself from the values that don’t serve you and give you the time and energy to focus on what matters to you:

1) Track how you spend your time and money: Shetty argues that the way you choose to spend your free time and money reflects the values that shape your life. Consequently, the areas where you spend the most time and money should align with what you value the most. If that’s not the case, ask yourself why you choose to waste your time and money on things that don’t feel important to you.

2) Consider your past choices: Shetty suggests that investigating your past choices will help you to gain a deeper awareness of how you’ve been influenced throughout your life. Ask yourself why you made these choices, what you learned from them, and whether you would make the same choices now that you’re clearer about what values you want to live by.

3) Evaluate your current goals: Shetty advises that you also assess how external influences have shaped the goals you’re working toward. For example, perhaps you’ve set the goal to earn a million dollars because you enjoy the challenge. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve set this goal because you feel pressured to prove your worth to others.

4) Identify how other people influence you: When you’re truly satisfied with yourself, you don’t feel the need to put on different personas to please different people. However, developing this strength of mind takes practice. While you’re working through the process of cultivating a monk mindset, Shetty suggests that you remember that the people you spend your time with influence you to think and behave in specific ways. Therefore, consider how you feel when you spend time with particular individuals or groups of people—do you feel like you’re getting closer to or further away from the values you want to live by? 

Focus On What You Can Control

Now that you’re beginning to define your values, you have a clearer idea of what feels meaningful to you. However, if you’ve developed the habit of thinking negative and unproductive thoughts, you may find it difficult to focus your attention and make decisions that align with how you want to live. So, we’ll conclude this first part of the guide by exploring methods you can use to counter negative thoughts, calm your mind, and gain a deeper awareness of what you need to feel satisfied and happy. 

Shetty argues that you’ll never be able to fully control external circumstances (other people, situations, and so on). Further, attempting to control the uncontrollable only fuels thoughts that make you feel uncomfortable (for example, “they should act like this,” “that shouldn’t have happened”). Fortunately, there is something you can control that will massively impact the way you perceive, feel about, and respond to your experiences: your thoughts. 

We previously discussed how the quality of your thoughts—whether they’re positive or negative—impacts your mental state. According to Shetty, positive thoughts spring from values that benefit your wellbeing: They focus your mind and allow you to make decisions that feel meaningful. On the other hand, negative thoughts encourage overthinking: They clutter your mind and encourage you to continue thinking distracting and unproductive thoughts. 

Productive Ways to Process Your Fearful and Negative Thoughts

Shetty argues that your negative thoughts do have one benefit—they offer guidance about what’s important to you. You’re more likely to have an opinion about a subject you care about than one that’s of no interest to you. Consequently, Shetty suggests that you first try to understand the triggers beneath your negative thoughts before you attempt to eliminate them. The more you understand why you think the way you do, the easier you’ll find it to address and change your negative thoughts. 

Shetty suggests six methods to help you understand and manage how you respond to your negative thoughts: 

1) Notice, question, and change your negative thoughts: Shetty advises that you practice paying attention to your thoughts so that you can notice when you’re engaged in negative thinking. Next, consider where the negative thought is coming from and whether it reflects who you want to be. Finally, decide to think thoughts that make you feel better about the situation—beneficial thoughts tend to cast a positive light on yourself and others. 

2) Appreciate what you do have: Shetty claims that your fears point you toward what you’re afraid of losing—the things you’re most attached to. However, when you accept that you can’t control how long any of these things will stay in your life, you change your relationship to the things that bring you fear: Instead of trying to control and hold onto the things you care about, you’re able to appreciate and enjoy what you have.

3) Get to the root of your fears: Shetty argues that, while your fears may appear to relate to a specific subject, they often arise from a broader, unconscious fear that’s been influencing all of your decisions. He suggests that you dig down and keep asking why you’re afraid of something so that you can resolve the fear at its root. For example, you’re afraid of losing your job. Why? Because you worked so hard to get where you are. Why? Because your self-worth is tied to your achievements. Why? 

4) Detach from your negative impulses: It’s common to identify with our negative thoughts and feelings by saying, “I am [the thought or feeling]”—for example, “I’m scared,” or, “I’m sad.” Shetty claims that identifying with your thoughts in this way makes it difficult to disentangle yourself from the discomfort you’re feeling. He recommends that you view your thoughts and emotions as separate from you by saying, “I’m thinking about…” or, “I’m experiencing feelings of…” This allows you to detach yourself from any discomfort you feel and respond more objectively to your thoughts.

5) Practice forgiveness to release self-destructive thoughts: Thoughts of shame, guilt, and anger often arise when you look back on the things you’ve done throughout your life that you feel ashamed or disappointed about. Shetty claims that the only way to move forward from these unproductive thoughts is to acknowledge why you feel this way and then to forgive yourself for the mistakes that you’ve made. In addition, he suggests practicing forgiveness towards those who trigger feelings of resentment or anger in you. 

6) Focus on feeling grateful to block negative thoughts: Negative thoughts encourage you to focus on reasons to feel dissatisfied with yourself, your experiences, and other people. Shetty argues that practicing gratitude offers a way out of the tendency to focus on what’s not going well. According to him, when you feel gratitude, your focus on positive thoughts blocks negative thoughts from distracting you. The more you practice feeling gratitude for every experience in your life, the easier you’ll find it to remain positive and take advantage of opportunities that align with how you want to live. 

Cultivate Inner Silence and Awareness

In addition to choosing more positive thoughts, Shetty suggests that you incorporate meditative practices into your daily routine to quiet your thoughts and cultivate inner silence. This will help you to reflect on your values and develop deeper insights about who you are, why you do things the way that you do, and why your experiences are the way that they are.

One meditative practice you can try is breathwork. According to Shetty, your breathing patterns reflect your mental and emotional states: When your thoughts are positive and you feel relaxed, your breath flows easily. On the other hand, when you’re anxious or angry, your breath becomes more ragged or irregular. Shetty argues that the reverse is also true: When you calm your breathing patterns, your thoughts also calm down. With practice, meditations focused on breathwork will become an immediate way to calm your thoughts and shift your mental state from negative to positive.

Declutter Your Mind to Think Like a Monk

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Here's what you'll find in our full Think Like a Monk summary :

  • Tips from a former Vedic monk on how to find happiness and fulfillment in life
  • The three stages to adopting the monk mindset
  • How to positively influence the world around you

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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