How do you define mastery? Conventional wisdom points to mastery as a display of some great skill that gives you a superior edge over others.
The ultimate form of mastery that hardly receives fanfare, however, is being able to personally master your own mind. So says former monk turned purpose coach and digital media producer Jay Shetty, who is connecting business leaders to the power of learning to think like a monk.
Most of us let external circumstances dictate our moods and actions. From this reactive state, we are always behind the game. Thanks to rigorous mental training, monks are less shaken by the ups and downs of life.
“When you’re already performing at a high level, as so many executives and entrepreneurs are, what’s holding you back are usually things that defy metrics, such as deeply rooted fears and anxieties,” says Shetty. As a result, when markets tumble, our stress skyrockets. Yet if you tend to your internal state, you will be better equipped to weather–and lead through–the inevitable storms of tumultuous times.
4 Steps to Mental Mastery
In his new book Think Like a Monk, Shetty shares his “T.I.M.E.” model–a morning routine based on monk-like practices for mental mastery. It’s designed to cultivate peak performance, purpose, and peace.
Every morning, express gratitude towards a person, place, or thing, and be specific. “I like to offer gratitude for three people or things before I even open my eyes in the morning,” says Shetty. Some people write in a gratitude journal or even pen a note to a loved one.
“Gratitude is the mother of all positive qualities,” says Shetty. When we practice gratitude, we cultivate self-awareness, objectivity, self-esteem, kindness, and humility–all qualities of a great leader. Research shows that gratitude improves our psychological and physical health, as well.
According to Shetty, “Expressing gratitude in the morning is like putting on a coat that insulates and protects us from the negativity and fear–our own and others’–that we are likely to face throughout the day.”
Gain insight on the world around you by spending some time every morning reading the news, reading a book, or listening to a podcast.
As psychologist Dacher Keltner has found, within organizations, the most powerful people are those who take the time to listen to and learn from others, because these actions engender trust. Shetty says that starting the day with learning not only expands our knowledge but also primes this listening-learning mindset.
Spend 15 minutes alone doing deep breathing and some form of meditation. Shetty says if 15 feels too hard, start with five, but be consistent.
Leading-edge brain research now shows what monks have long known–that meditation calms the mind and cultivates focus. It can also increase the brain’s gamma waves, which are associated with attention, learning, memory, happiness, and the “a-ha!” moments when we make a complex connection.
One of Shetty’s morning meditation routines includes seven minutes each of cycles of breathing in, then out, each to a count of four; gratitude meditation; then visualization, including setting an intention for his day. He says, “Setting an intention to serve others during the day engenders a deep sense of self-worth and satisfaction.”
The mind and body make a powerful team. As a monk, Shetty started every day with yoga. Now he usually hits the gym. “Stress has been gotten a bad reputation, but the physical stress of exercise keeps us healthy and improves our mood,” says Shetty.
The same is true of emotional stress. Research now shows that when we embrace stressful situations–another way of training our internal state–stress can actually help us thrive.
Movement helps us use positive stress to our advantage, to get stronger and to deal more effectively with negative stress. “We can then approach the rest of our day from a space of calm and focus,” says Shetty, “and this increases our effectiveness.”
Mastering the mind doesn’t happen overnight, but when we take T.I.M.E. every morning, we start our day with intentionality, programming ourselves for success. This, says Shetty, is one of the smartest investments we can make towards creating a life where we grow both our external and internal wealth.
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