Think Like A Monk — Book Summary and Application

Updated: Sep 9

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 happiest 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. At the end, I summarize the meditation practices that he recommends throughout the book and talk about my own experiences.


Here is a click-able table of contents.


Key Ideas:

  1. Clarify your identity

  2. Reverse negativity with Spot-Stop-Swap

  3. Get intimate with fear, then detach

  4. Hone good intentions

  5. Live your purpose and dharma

  6. Improve your routines and habits

  7. Master the mind

  8. Build self-esteem, not ego

  9. Practice frequent, specific and broad gratitude

  10. Understand and nurture relationships through trust and connection

  11. Service is the direct path to a happy and fulfilling life

Meditation Practices:

My Experience:

  1. Clarify Your Identity and Live Your Dharma

  2. Build Self-Esteem, Not Ego

  3. Hone Good Intentions

  4. Detachment

  5. Relationships

  6. Morning and Evening Routines

Conclusion


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:

  1. List your values.

  2. Identify the origin of that value.

  3. 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.


Spot-Stop-Swap

In order to overcome use bad habits, he recommends using Spot, Stop, Swap:

  1. Spot the negative feeling.

  2. Stop to understand what it is.

  3. 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.


Anger

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.

  1. Visualize yourself in the other person’s shoes. Acknowledge their pain and understand that’s why they are giving you pain.

  2. 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.

  3. Acknowledge your own shortcomings. List the ways you feel you did wrong, starting each with “Please forgive me for…”

  4. 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.