Whilst the following story could benefit anyone, it’s especially for young entrepreneurs and managers that are less conditioned by society and who will be the new generation of leaders that can take the most from this wise message. I read this story long ago and it’s stuck with me ever since…
THE WEARY TRAVELLER
There’s a story about a weary traveller with a heavy rucksack on his back that staggers into major towns and cities and who then after a while, staggers out of them again without anyone really noticing him.
People see him but they don’t really take notice of him. Despite the fact that he looks weary, no-one stops and asks if they can help him or what he’s carrying in his rucksack, they’re too busy heading somewhere important and need to keep moving, rushing, hustling, arriving at their next destination and then the one after that, and so on.
The traveller finally gives up visiting the big cities because they don’t seem like great places to be so instead, he begins visiting smaller towns and villages.
As he was walking through one of the very first villages, a person stopped him to ask where he was going and what he was carrying on his back ‘I’m not sure where I’m going but I just keep moving’ he said. As for what I’m carrying ‘it’s a rucksack and I’ve had it on my back for years’ said the traveller.
‘What’s in the rucksack’ enquired the person. ‘I’m not sure replied the traveller, no one has ever asked that me before, why don’t you take a look for me if you have the time’ so the person did and found lots of heavy rocks.
‘Why do you weigh yourself down with such things that are of no use to you’ asked the person. ‘That’s strange’ said the traveller ‘I didn’t realise what I was carrying around all that time’ and so he took some out, cast them aside and went on his way, feeling much lighter.
He then met another person further down the road ‘I saw you throw some rocks from your rucksack up the road, do you have any more in there they asked. ‘I’ll take a closer look’ said the traveller and there for sure, were yet more rocks of all different weights and sizes.
‘I’m so glad you pointed them out because I didn’t notice that many’ said the traveller. He removed even more of the rocks and went on his way, lighter and faster than before, feeling quite pleased with himself and thankful for the help he’d received.
One after another, each person he met in the village made him more and more aware of the needless burden he was carrying on his back so one by one, he cast the rocks aside until he had a rucksack with only a few tiny rocks but plenty of room for other things, like food and drink offered by the villagers.
Finally, he left the village free of the weight that had been slowing him down and tiring him out for years but with new items of benefit to him in his forward journey, he felt like a new man and walked away like one.
So what was core the problem?
1. The rocks he was carrying around all that time.
2. The fact that no one in the cities stopped to ask him how he was or what he was carrying.
3. Or perhaps that he didn’t ask anyone to look inside the rucksack for him or to give him advice.
The answer is really none of these but rather, the fact that he was unaware of what he was carrying around in the first place. Once he became conscious of these needless burdens however, he threw the rocks aside and walked more easily.
Some might say ‘why didn’t he just dump the rucksack with all the rocks in it’ but if he did that, he’d have nothing to carry the good stuff that replaced the rocks and made life easier and better for him. The rucksack is effectively the mind and the rocks are obviously the problem thoughts, you can neither throw away the mind or all of the rocks in one fell swoop.
This is the daily problem that many people face in life and work, they carry unconscious ‘rocks’ in terms of thoughts, emotions and feelings that weigh them down and tire them out, they try to find the one magic solution to all mental worries but to no avail because this ineffective approach becomes an even bigger burden and an energy stealer.
Like it or not, accept it or not — if you manage people then you need to manage how they think, feel and act, which implies how to truly understand and create an emotional connection with those you lead or need to influence.
Learning this simple lesson can be your springboard to mastering your own thoughts and emotions, and to the degree that you master yours, you can then positively influence those of others and write your own ticket to success.
FACT — The world is driven by emotions, all thinking leads to emotions, i.e. how we feel! And if you eliminate negative, harmful, destructive emotions, you free up space for the good stuff. You begin to inspire people, lift their spirits and lift their performance to new heights.
No human being with any sense knowingly harms himself or herself but some do this unintentionally by unconsciously allowing harmful ‘rocks’ to take a hold of them, e.g.
Unrealistic ideas or expectations,
Feeling lost, having no purpose,
Regrets or resentments,
The ego-need to prove we’re right and others are wrong,
An insistence that we already know the answers, to justify our behaviours.
To deal with these or any others, the first step is to take the blinkers off, slow down or stop and consciously think about what you’re thinking about (meta-thinking) and the emotions these thoughts are producing in you, i.e. those that do not serve you or anyone else.
As simple as this sounds, it’s not always easy but once we have this awareness, we begin to gain self-insight and importantly self-understanding, not until we gain a level of self-understanding can we begin to truly understand and influence others.
In effect then, successfully managing our mind is an elimination process, eliminating at first the biggest, heaviest rocks that weight us down and then one by one, all the smaller ones, as opposed to the conventional approach some people take, which is to add weight to the rocks instead of removing them and stopping the weight of our mind getting heavier and heavier.
The key is to focus on each rock one at a time and not to ignore it by looking away because it will just linger in the back of your mind to re-present itself again at another time. Few lessons in life are of more practical value than becoming conscious of and logically dealing with negative emotions that can hold us back from being our very best.
THE PLEASANT SURPRISE FROM A BUDDHIST SESSION
I did some field research on Buddhism recently and attended a session as part of a course called ‘How to solve our human problems’, led by a Senior Buddhist Nun from the Kadampa Buddhist Foundation.
This may sound a bit deep but actually it wasn’t at all, it was quite a surprise to be honest. Far from my (inaccurate) assumption that they would meditate to clear and quieten the mind, they actually focused on recognising and accepting a particular problem (note they call it what it is, a problem and not a challenge) in mind-set and dealing with it.
The problem chosen to focus on was anger and how to deal with it mentally in terms of a person holding anger in their own mind or anger coming from another person. Part of the process was meditation, part instruction, and part discussion about how to dissolve and eliminate the power this emotion had on you.
I was curious to learn their ways and came away with a new viewpoint on Buddhism (no, I’m not converted, just better informed now) because the method was not the kind of ‘spiritual’ meditation many might think of, e.g. sitting with legs crossed, pinching your fingers and humming to yourself but dealing with real life issues relevant to todays chaotic world.
In effect, the Kadampa Buddhist approach is to become conscious of the unconscious, to wake up, become alert to and aware of our thoughts and feelings more often instead of running on autopilot.
It completely turns the table on some people’s views about trying to ignore the problems and just using will power to try and move on, this often means that the problem thought and feeling continues to linger whilst you’re trying to move forward and consequently, you keep being pulled back or down.
But you can’t solve a problem you don’t see so becoming aware is the first step, i.e. bringing conscious awareness to a particular problem thought or feeling and being able to take a logical and emotionally detached approach to dealing with it.
So how can you do this?
THE 3 A’s APPROACH
Contrary to the many quick-fixes and miracle methods promoted on the internet today, the reality is that there’s only one real thing you can do and that is to notice, accept and deal with each ‘rock’ as it arises, using the 3 A’s — become Awake, Alert, Aware much more often.
It takes mental energy to stay awake and alert to the thoughts that harm you or hold you back from being your best but stay awake you must, even if it’s just enough at first to get a glimpse of how your mind is working for or against your best interests and if the latter, to stop it, interrupt the power it has on you and take back control.
At first it may be difficult but as you catch glimpses of how to turn things around using the 3 A’s, they will become more and more frequent. You can try the following examples as ways to apply the 3 A’s: and catch negative emotions or moods the moment they try to sneak in and steal your energy:
1. One of the simplest ways to notice and interrupt emotional hijacks from negative thoughts is just to think about the rucksack and rocks as though they’re on your back. It will interrupt the pattern of thinking and ground you in a more emotionally detached and logical frame of mind.
2. To avoid having your thoughts or feelings taking over, you can also set an alarm on your smartphone at intervals during the day so you become more and more alert to what’s going on inside your head.
3. Another way is to use a simple app, like the Free Habit Tracker App from coach.me https://www.coach.me/habit-tracker Check off every day you do your habit and track your progress. Set targets and reminders to hold yourself accountable and then, celebrate reaching milestones.
4. Catch yourself when you’re feeling emotionally hijacked and remember there’s a calm self within you (consciousness / logical thinking) that can effectively step aside and look in on your frantic state more objectively. This is meta-thinking in play so if you were looking in from the outside, what would you think of yourself? What advice would you give yourself? What state would you want to replace the negative one with and focus on this instead.
Whichever method you use or come up with your own based on what suits your way of working, you will begin to notice that emotional detachment is in fact, a higher form of mind / self control.
With the average person having between 12,000–60,000 thoughts per day, of which 80% are apparently negative and 95% are the same kind of repetitive thoughts as the day before (source: National Science Foundation) it’s no wonder so many people are lost in thought and unconscious emotions take hold without us even realising it.
Just to emphasise one more time before I end this post, there is only one thing you can do to become master of your mind instead of your mind (thoughts & emotions) being your master… eliminate the control your thoughts have on you by becoming conscious of what’s going on inside your head more often, notice more about what’s happening in and around you.
The alternative is that you give over consent and control to your mind running your life and confirm the daily life of routine and habitual thinking that takes you wherever it desires.
To learn more about how to manage, re-direct or completely eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings (emotions) my previous article on ‘How to Shift Negative Emotions To Positive Ones, Instantly’ might help.
The Elimination Pro / Changing Mindsets — Changing Results
Originally published at medium.com