The guru that I write about in this article is not one person. It is a conceptual entity. It is The Book. I’m not talking about a particular book, I’m referring to books in general. A book can be life transforming, something that I have experienced first-hand. I had written about my entry into the world of non-fiction books here. I had challenged myself to read 100 books in 1 year. This started me on a journey which has created a different me, in stark contrast to the person I was before I read all these books. My intention was for the books to re-condition my thoughts and beliefs. If you ask me what the world’s best invention, I would say The Book. In the spirit of the 24 gurus of the avadhuta Dattatreya, I decided to write about 24 lessons I learned form non-fiction books.
Lesson 1 – Rejection is a Myth
This is one of the principles Jack Canfield outlines in his Success Principles. This is one of the earliest books that got me into the journey of self-transformation. As I had written about it here, Canfield states that there is no such thing as rejection. I ask for something. If I get it, excellent. If I don’t get it, I am no worse off than where I was before. Of course, if I go on and say “I am unhappy I got rejected”, or “I never get anything done”, then I have made matters worse.
Lesson 2 – Change Happens in a Moment
Most people believe that changing themselves will take a lot of time. Tony Robbins disagrees. In his Awaken the Giant Within, he says that most people believe that certain things have to happen before they decide to make the shift, after which change will take place in a given instant. Robbins believes that there is no reason why that instant should not be fast-tracked. More importantly, after the change is fast-tracked, Robbins says that it is important to reinforce it immediately, as well as condition our nervous system to succeed not just once, but continuously.
Lesson 3 – Don’t Go There
This is a lesson outlined by Richard Carlson in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work. A friend tells Carlson that he is considering having an affair. Carlson gives his friend a pithy advice: Don’t go there. This phrase is applicable in a variety of situations in everyone’s life. Am I considering judging someone? Don’t go there. Am I going into the past for no good reason? Don’t go there. Do I know that something is wrong and I am still tempted to do it? Don’t go there. The applications are endless.
Don’t go there.
Lesson 4 – Laughter is the Best Medicine (Literally)
Norman Cousins was given a few months to live by his doctor. He chose not to accept his diagnosis. He rented a hotel room (for a fraction of the cost of a hospital room), rented comedy movies, and laughed hard for three months. And just like that, he got cured. He writes about his story in Anatomy of an Illness.
I attended Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within event. Robbins’ co-presenter was Joseph McClendon III. Joseph told the story of his mother. She was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The doctor said that his mother had three months to live. Joseph had heard author Deepak Chopra say that when a patient receives a diagnosis of this sort, they take this to heart, they start believing this, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You can give her the diagnosis, but you cannot tell her how long she will have to live. You are not God”, Joseph argued with the doctor. After a contentious interaction, Joseph won the argument managed to pull a Norman Cousins – he brought a TV and VCR and played comedy movies to his mothers, and kept feeding her positivity. His mother lived for another 11 years.
Lesson 5 – Dis-eases are Created by Thought Patterns (and can be cured by releasing them)
This continues from the previous point. Louise Hay had a turbulent childhood (she was sexually abused). She thought she had finally found happiness when she married the perfect man, and lived happily married for 14 years. Until her husband left her for a younger woman. In her forties, she was diagnosed with cancer. “With my background of being raped at five and having been a bettered child, it was no wonder I manifested cancer in the vaginal area”, she writes. “The word incurable, which is so frightening to so many people, means to me that this particular condition cannot be cured by any outer means and that we must go within to find the cure”. She decided to go at it unconventionally. She explored foot reflexology. She hunted for a good nutritionist and cleansed and detoxified her body off toxins. With the help of a good therapist, she expressed all the old, bottled up anger by beating pillows and howling with rage. Finally, all the blame began to dissolve. The cancer too went away, and she lived till her nineties, helping several others cure their dis-eases, via in-person sessions, and through her book You Can Heal Your Life.
The close mind-body interaction fascinates me, particularly so since Swamiji has written about it in The Wellness Sense.
Lesson 6 – “Why Should I Listen to You?”
Have you every given somebody a good piece of advice, and watched in frustration as they proceed to ignore your advice, or worse, take offence at your advice? Jonah Berger would tell you that this occurrence should be expected. This is called reactance, the reluctance of people to do what is told.
Berger gives the following example in his book The Catalyst. The detergent company Tide came up with squares of detergent, which you place in the washing machine, making it more elegant and convenient than liquid detergent. Someone ate this square of detergent and posted the video on YouTube, and this became viral. Tide decided to spend money and issue advertisements, asking people to not eat detergent. As a result of the advertisements, the number of people eating Tide detergent squares increased!
Think about it. If someone is told not to eat detergent (yes, detergent!) and they choose to flout this advice, what are the chances that they would respond favourably when you tell them what to do?
Lesson 7 – Deliberate Practice over Long Periods of Time is the Formula for Success
This point is made by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool in Peak, as well as by Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated. In general, we believe that high achievers in any field are naturally talented, and such success belongs to a certain chosen few. The authors of both books cite various studies that examine high achievers across several fields – music, sports to name a couple. The conclusion is clear: Deliberate practice, i.e. practicing carefully selected areas in one’s chosen field diligently over long periods in time is the recipe for success. And this is available to every single person who is willing to put in the efforts.
Swamiji frequently mentions this point in His articles and discourses, as well.
Lesson 8 – Don’t Take It Personally
This is the second agreement in Don Miguel Ruez’s The Four Agreements. This agreement that you make with yourself, with God, or with Life itself, is a way to help lesson the pain when others hurt you. When you decide that it is not directed personally at you, it is easier to not get angry at the perpetrator, it is easier to look at the situation more objectively and less emotionally.
Lesson 9 – No One Has the Right to Harm Another Person, Even When Wrong is Done to Them
This lesson made an impact on me, because it was said by Viktor Frankl, a nazi concentration camp survivor, who had been subjected to some of the worst of tortures subjected on humans. If anybody had a right to be angry with humankind, it was Frankl. Yet, he took the opposite view. I wrote an article about this point here. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is a must-read.
Lesson 10 – Be Happy for No Reason
People are usually happy when “good” things happen to them and unhappy when “bad” things happen to them. There are people who are happy regardless of the circumstances in their life. They are happy for no reason, says Marci Schimoff in her book with the same title.
Lesson 11 – The 50th Law: We Control Our Mindset
Circumstances are generally not under our control. There is one thing we control: our mindset, say Robert Greene and 50 Cent, calling this the 50th law in their book with the same title.
Lesson 12 – Grit
Lesson 7 talks about how deliberate practice is the key to success, not innate talent. Angela Duckworth agrees. In her book titled Grit, she explores the factor that makes people stay on course, and continue to put in efforts: Grit. Successful people possess this factor, and this is available to all. Duckworth provides copious real life case studies, quotes a plethora of research (including Anders Ericsson of lesson 7). While the book is a remarkable read, the takeaway is very straightforward – persist in the activity till the end, this really is all there is to it.
This too is a lesson that Swamiji frequently gives.
Lesson 13 – The Justice Trap
Wayne dyer coined this phrase in his book Your Erroneous Zones, referring to the indignance that we display whenever we feel injustice is done to us by others, or when we feel we have been treated unfairly by others. “Justice does not exist”, Dyer states bluntly, disabusing me of any notion I might have had to the contrary. People immobilise themselves when they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Dyer exhorts the reader to make a list of everything in the world they think is unfair. He then asks them to ask the question “Will the inequities go away if I am upset?”
Lesson 14 – Ikigai – Practices for a Long Life
Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia decided to spend a few months in the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the inhabitants’ average age was 89, to find out the secrets of their longevity. They wrote about the principles in their book titled Ikigai. I have summarised the principles here.
Lesson 15 – The Power of a Story
Peter Guber, a prominent figure in the entertainment industry, authored a remarkable book titled Tell to Win, outlining the power of stories. Guber starts the book with a proposal he made to the governor of Nevada. Guber went well prepared for the proposal, with an impeccable powerpoint presentation full of numbers. He did not get the deal. It then struck him: If he had told a story instead, appealing to the heart of the governor, it would have been a different presentation. Guber explores the power of the story with a variety of real-life examples throughout the book.
This point is made by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick, where they explore why some ideas survive, and others die, and offer principles to help make ideas stick. Their Principle #6 is Stories. “A story is powerful because it provides the context missing from abstract prose.”, they say, “It’s easier to care about a person than a list of bulleted instructions” (making Peter Guber’s point regarding his presentation with the governor of Nevada).
Swamiji emphasised the power of telling a story throughout the Walk the Dragon series, as well.
Lesson 16 – Avoid Questionable Values
Mark Manson, in his The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, outlines four values which people often embrace, which are really not beneficial.
1. Pleasure – Pleasure is marketed to us all the time, and we are conditioned to pursue it, but it is a false god, according to Manson. “Ask any drug addict how his pursuit of pleasure turned out”, says Manson.
2. Material Success – Manson states a shocking insight that research provides: After one’s basic physical needs are taken care of, the correlation between happiness and material success quickly approaches zero.
3. Always Being Right – “As humans, we’re wrong pretty much constantly”, says Manson is his characteristic blunt style. Therefore, if we believe that we are always right, we stymie our growth possibilities.
4. Staying Positive – Denying negative emotions can be unhealthy, opines Manson, a view which has been extensively covered by Russ Harris in The Happiness Trap. Embracing negative emotions and reality with them in a healthy manner is a part of normal human existence, is the argument made.
If you don’t mind strong language, I highly recommend Manson’s book.
Lesson 17 – The Compound Effect
Good habits compound. So do bad habits. If I take three spoons of sugar with my coffee each day, this compounds to a huge intake of sugar over 30 years. If I do 10 push-ups each day, this compound effect of will be evident after 30 years, as well. The compound effect is one of the explanations of scientists winning the nobel prize later in their life – the compound effect of the knowledge acquired over their lifetime takes effect and gives rise to discoveries. Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect is a life-changing read. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is a related read (and is a must-read in its own accord).
Lesson 18 – Rapt: My Life is What I Choose to Pay Attention To
Winnifred Gallagher had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Instead of being crushed by this diagnosis as people generally do, she decided to focus on the positive in her life. This led her to research the science of attention, and this book, Rapt. Here are a beautiful gem from this book, that captures what the book is about, and is a remarkable life lesson: “If you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create: not a series of accidents, but a work of art.”
Lesson 19 – Callous The Mind
This is a lesson that resonated very well with me. David Goggins gives this lesson in Can’t Hurt Me. He had been abused emotionally by his father in his childhood, until his mother had decided to leave with her two children. After continuing to struggle with the traumas, he eventually decided to become a navy seal, pushed his body to the limits, eventually ran marathons and ultra-marathons, and outlines his story in his inspirational memoir. He advises “Callous your mind”, which means exposing yourself intentionally to discomfort and pain, which will lead to our doing things we never believed we could do.
Lesson 20 – So Good They Can’t Ignore You
This is a phrase attributed to actor Steve Martin, and is the title of a book authored by Cal Newport. One of the more popular advices is “Follow your passion”. Newport says that this may be potentially dangerous advice, where a person may go on a wild goose chase. Much more relevant is to become insanely good at what you do, regardless of what it may be, says Newport. Most of the people who are successful did not have a passion for their field, but put in phenomenal effort to become good, he says. If you have an area of passion, very good. If not, no problem. In either case, work extremely hard to get so good at that field, so that “they” can’t ignore you. This is very closely related to lesson 7 – “Deliberate Practice over Long Periods of Time is the Formula for Success”.
Lesson 21 – Think Win-Win
For a long time, people believed that for them to win, the other person had to lose. Stephen Covey opined otherwise in his timeless classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, coming up with the moniker win-win to signify that it is possible (and desirable) for both parties to emerge victors in a deal or transaction.
Lesson 22 – Attention is the Today’s Most Important Currency
Today, people are not after our money. They are after our attention. The big tech companies come up with clever (and insidious) algorithms to take control of our attention. Therefore, it is of supreme importance that we reclaim our attention. I read several books that deal with this topic extensively, inspiring me to be much more restrained with my use of my smartphone (still a long way to go there).
Attention Merchants by Tim Wu
Irresistible by Adam Alter
Indistractable by Nir Eyal
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Lesson 23 – The Law of Attraction
When “good” things happen to us, we feel good. When “bad” things happen to us, we feel bad. The law of attraction says that the opposite is the case. When we feel good, we attract the “good” in our lives. And vice versa. Therefore, we should think good thoughts, feel good, practice gratitude, feel immense love, and the Universe will reciprocate in kind. Here is an article where I experimented with the secret.
Here are the books I read about the Law of Attraction:
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (as well as other books by her)
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
Life Lessons for Mastering The Law Of Attraction: Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Lesson 24 – Avoid the Unhappy
This is Lesson 9 in Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. This is a controversial book, the ethics of a lot of the principles are questionable, but this law appealed immensely to me. We are the 5 people we spend most time with, say Jack Canfield and Tim Ferriss (this is one of Canfield’s success principles). If we spend time trying to console the perennially unhappy, there is a very good chance that we will become more like them, rather than vice versa. Only if we are very sure about ourselves, very convinced that we can make a positive difference to the recipient, supremely sure that we will come out with our cheerful disposition intact, should we try to help those who seem to be perennially unhappy. Otherwise, we should protect our state of mind and stay away from them.
The lessons (and much much more) have been provided by my conceptual guru – The Book. I offer my heartfelt gratitude to all the authors who give mankind one of the most important gifts – the gift of wisdom. My next step is to internalize the lessons and craft a life in accordance with the lessons.
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