10 Lessons From Monks for Happier Moms
Who knew monks could teach me, a mom for 30+ years, so much?
“Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me About Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus,” by Jesse Itzler is a fast read about his two-week stay at the New Skete Monasteries in Cambridge, New York.
Jesse took his ‘adult time-out’ to unplug and learn from monks, the masters of spirituality and inner work.
“I just wanted to learn how to have better routines and better habits and a better mindset. I feel like I’d invested so much in the physical side of my life… But I’ve invested very little on the inner work, and in a world of distractions, I felt like to have the whole picture, I really had to spend a little time alone and work on being present,” Itzler said on “CBS This Morning.”
Surprisingly, mothers can learn a LOT about life from monks. Here are 10 Real-World Monk Lessons that I will apply to my life.
Lesson 1: #ItsNotJustaHose
“There is nothing so fatal to character as half-finished tasks. ~ David Lloyd George
One of Jesse’s biggest learnings from the monks is how much effort they put into everything they do: making their beds, doing the dishes and sweeping the floors for example.
After returning home, one afternoon he was playing with and spraying his son Lazer with a hose in the backyard. When they had to go inside, Jesse was tempted to drop the hose and leave it until later to hang up. “I’ll just do it later,” he told himself.
It’s not just a hose. It’s a reflection of who we are. How we do one thing is a reflection of how we do all things. When we consistently do things we don’t want to do, we create the thoughts that say we’re okay doing hard things. We say, hang up the hose. Finish what we started. We are finishers.
Lesson 2: #29638Days
“Time is what we want the most, but what we use worst.” —William Penn
The average adult female lives 81.2 years times 365 days equals #29,638 days. How are we spending each day?
We think about our relationships with other people, but how often do we contemplate our relationship with time?
Sitting in silence with no distractions at the monastery gave Jesse time to think about time.
I have about 20 years or 7,300 days left if I’m lucky. I want to squeeze as much as I can out of each one. In the past, competing desires made it hard to choose how to spend my time.
Creating, revising, and living for more than 10 years with my GPS for Life has cleared up so much confusion.
Lesson 3: #TheBestHaveaProcess
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Among the world’s best at dog training, the monks of New Skete not only have a process, they follow it religiously. They execute with a laser sharp focus. They get up early, have a plan, maximize their time, and are deliberate in all their problem solving.
I’ve struggled with sticking to my plan. My thoughts often distract me and convince me to go off schedule.
I eat off my plan, too, and watch the scale go up every time.
I’m learning to write down when I get distracted and when I eat off plan. Taking the time to examine what happened helps me learn from my mistakes and start over again.
Practicing the right behaviors requires managing my mind a tiny bit better each day. It’s worth it.
Lesson 4: # HappinessTest
“Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.” ~ Oscar Levant
Are you happy?
Brother Christopher asked Jesse this question within his first thirty minutes at the monastery. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was no lid on happiness?” he asked.
Jesse concluded that a calm and modest life is key to our happiness, but it’s a lot easier said than done. What he learned from the monks is that, “you can find calmness during your day and small doses of calmness can open a door to happiness.”
Yet, “we spend endless hours doing things that make us happy but invest much less time working on changing the things that make us unhappy,” Jesse concludes.
After his sabbatical, Jesse asked a thousand highly successful CEOs and business leaders, and they scored themselves a 7 out of 10 or less. You can ask yourself these questions here.
Ten years ago, I looked at all the areas of my life, described what I wanted them to look like, and determined what I needed to do to get closer to my ideal. It has been the ONE THING that makes the most difference in my happiness.
I know that I need to change. Continuously identify and improve, start over and do it again.
When I am challenging myself in this way, I become a better mom, partner and world citizen.
Lesson 5: #DodgetheArrows
“Do it over and over again until it becomes part of who you are.” ~ Unknown
Unplugging his phone, “forced me to be where my feet are.”
While at his sons’ soccer games or in a meeting, Jesse is usually thinking about his to do list. His future becomes his focus.
Jesse hopes to focus more on the present, like the German Shepherd dogs the monks train, so he can become a better husband, father and entrepreneur.
He calls his distractions, “arrows,” and says he is under attack daily from his own negative thoughts, other’s demands on his time and life’s circumstances. He believes that shutting off all the noise will help him become more successful.
This lesson rings the most true to me. My biggest challenge is becoming aware of and managing my thinking.
The tools I’ve learned are helping. I will practice using them the rest of my life, and hope to inspire my children to learn about them, too.
Lesson 6: #GoWhereYouThinkBest
Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself. ~ Plato
Thinking is a lost art form. Most of us don’t invest time into becoming aware of, examining and finding thinking that serves us.
Yet finding time to train our inner pilot, the voice that speaks to us more than any other, is the best investment we can make. There is no downside.
Jesse thinks while running, something he has done nearly everyday for 25 years. Sarah, his wife, thinks while driving.
Jesse writes his thoughts down after running. Sarah has cameras in her vehicle so she says all of her thoughts out loud while driving.
I find I solve problems in my sleep so I write the solutions down in the morning. I also figure things out while exercising.
My morning SAVERS routine, inspired by Hal Elrod, includes self-coaching. Some of my best thoughts come from taking 5-minutes to write down what’s bothered me during the past 24 hours, and writing down my thinking in the self-coaching process.
Thinking is a skill, a craft and an art. It can be improved with practice.
Lesson 7: #Monotask
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” ~ Bruce Lee
Jesse was amazed at the monks’ energy, effort and efficiency in everything they do. They monotask, and do it with perfection.
Without distractions, they don’t increase their effort, they increase their concentration. Each task the monks do is done one at a time to the best of their ability.
I’m experimenting with doing two activities each morning with complete focus: making the bed and emptying the dishwasher.
I haven’t been successful yet. My thoughts go to what I’m doing that day, and whatever I’m worrying about may happen in the future.
If I keep practicing staying focused on those two activities, I will get better.
I imagine the kind of mother I will be when I am truly present with our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. The image of really hearing what they say, really seeing them as the perfect being they are, inspires me to keep practicing being present.
Lesson 8: #MakeaContractWithYourself
“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” ~ African Proverb
Each monk takes four vows when they join the monastery (poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure).
Jesse realized the value of creating and honoring his own non-negotiables and decided to write a contract with himself. It’s a list of how he wants to live his life:
I’m going to thank God first thing in the morning. I’m going to show appreciation for having this day. Today I’m going to be the best version of me that I can be. I’m going to try hard at whatever it is I do. I’m going to be present and patient. I’m going to be a teacher to my kids. I’m going to be a good son, brother, and friend. I’m going to be giving to my wife.
When I decide ahead of time I make better decisions. When I honor those decisions, really keep the commitments I’ve made to myself, I become stronger.
Lesson 9: #ExperienceIsOverrated
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
Jesse also met a cloister of nuns during his stay with the monks. Without any experience, they built their own home and many of the desks and tables in it during 1971. When asked how they did it, Sister Cecilia said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
The monks also had no practical experience breeding and training German Shepherds. Yet they are now world famous dog trainers and authors of many New York Times bestselling books on the subject — without any experience.
Jesse’s wife Sara Blakely, founder of Spanks, had no experience manufacturing and selling shapewear. Oprah, Rachael Ray, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Colonel Sanders, Susan B Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill all became remarkably successful in fields in which they had no experience.
How? Maybe it’s because they didn’t think about not succeeding. Perhaps it was just quicker to learn as they went.
When we immerse ourselves in an idea we are passionate about, we become highly alert to anything that we can learn. Our instinct to survive makes us virtual sponges to anything in our environment that will help.
I’ve moaned that none of our kids are alike. If they were, I could get good at parenting one and apply it to the next.
But perhaps it is best that I look at each of our children, bonus children and grandchildren as unique individuals. Each perfect just as they are and worthy of our love.
Building an online business is a whole new world for me, too. Even though I’ve already built one that was successful, building this next one has its own set of challenges.
I encourage myself regularly to be willing to suck at what I’m doing at first (including blogging), so that eventually I can get good at it.
Being scared to ‘hit publish’ is good, as being challenged changes me.
Recording podcasts and videos, then advertising my course on Facebook are all new actions and scare me.
I am more interested in growth than comfort, and will take them all on in time.
Lesson 10: #BuildYourEdge
“The past is where you learned the lessons. The future is where you apply the lessons.” ~ Unknown
Driving Jesse to the airport at the end of his stay with the monks, his friend asked how he felt.
“Proud,” he said. He’d put in the effort to learn and was pleased with the shift in his thinking.
The monks’ effort is, “unrivaled, contagious, and super-successful.” Jesse asserts that, “Effort is the source of pride, not results.”
The monks’ edge is their effort. They do hard things consistently.
By facing into the hard things, we moms become proud of ourselves.
We know that our kids do, too.
Training Our Inner Pilot
The key takeaways to Jesse’s stay with the monks include the routines, habits and mindset he learned.
He vows to focus on what is important and to discard worry as irrelevant.
His book is evidence of how his mind expanded from his experience.
Because I won’t be living with monks or nuns any time soon, my challenge is to learn from Jesse.
A Note About the Author
Jesse and his wife, Spanks founder Sara Blakely, have four kids. He co-founded Marquis Jet, the world’s largest prepaid private jet card company in 2001, which he and his partner sold to Berkshire Hathaway/NetJets. He then helped pioneer the coconut water craze with Zico coconut water, which he and his partners sold to The Coca-Cola Company in 2013. He is a former rapper on MTV and he produced both the NBA’s Emmy Award-winning “I Love This Game” music campaign and the popular New York Knicks anthem “Go NY Go.” Jesse can be found at the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks games, where he is an owner.