4 Things That Will Make You More Intelligent, Focused, Inspired, and Caring

The less you talk, the smarter you become.

I love Zen stories of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, but this is one of my favorites:

Four monks engaged in silent meditation for two weeks. As a symbol of their practice, they lit a candle and began. On the first night, the candle went out.

The first monk exclaimed: “Oh no, the candle went out!”

The second monk interrupted him: “Hey, we’re not supposed to talk!”

The third monk was annoyed: “Why must you two break our precious silence?”

The fourth monk started laughing: “Haha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

The reason I love that story is that it highlights that most of our talking — in this case, 100% — does nothing to serve our current purpose. We talk about ourselves, about others, and about things we can’t control, and none of it changes anything for the better.

All of the monks got carried away by some minor detail to the point where they couldn’t keep their mouths shut. They allowed life to hijack their minds at the very first chance.

One because he wanted to be a news bearer, one because he was a stickler for rules, one because he was angry, and one because of his ego. Instead of curating their thoughts, they spat them out like bad milk, when, for each of them, there was a clear option to actually improve the situation: Re-light the candle, keep meditating, stay calm, enjoy success in silence.

I wonder what a fifth, wiser monk would have done. I think it’s this: Stay silent and continue to meditate. It would have been enough to show all the others where they went wrong — without saying a single word.

The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something stupid. The less you talk, the more you can listen. Listening leads to learning.

When you stay quiet, you can observe what’s going on and look for the right time to speak up. Make sure what you say is going to matter. If you can’t, listen and learn.

The less you speak, the smarter you become. And, maybe not quite coincidentally, the smarter you become, the less you speak.

If you can’t see it, it’s as if it’s not there.

The University of California conducted a study about the modern workplace, concluding employees are distracted from their work every three minutes and five seconds on average. The lead researcher of the study also told Fast Company that, on the other hand, people need over 23 minutes to get into a state of deep work when re-engaging with a task.

These are not hard rules, of course. It’s not like a timer goes off every 185 seconds and, “Ding!” you’re distracted. But if you combine these two facts, it’s easy to see why most people probably never find deep focus at work. What a shame.

For about five years now, I’ve been using a simple “hack” to combat this. It’s so dead-simple, I guess you’ll doubt it even works. But it does.

Whenever you want to achieve deep focus, put your phone somewhere you can’t see it. That’s it. Out of sight, out of mind. It literally is that simple.

We think humans are complicated because of our complex social interactions as a species, but, when it comes to basic perception, we’re simple creatures. We want to see things before we believe them — and if we can’t see something, it’s as if it’s not there.

Hiding your phone behind your laptop’s screen, putting it in a desk drawer, or slipping it under a couch pillow while watching a movie is the best thing you’ll ever do not just for your focus, but for your peace of mind.

If you can see your phone, you’ll grab it. That’s how stupid simple your brain is. You’ll grab it. 100%. Just because it’s there. But if it’s not? You won’t. You’ll focus on the task, the words out of your friend’s mouth, or be fully emerged in that wonderful movie.

Focus is natural. Humans are built for flow. We just have to design our environment accordingly. Start by moving your phone a few inches. I guarantee you, you won’t regret it.

Doing your job well is a matter of perspective.

A few years ago, news about a man in Dhaka, Bangladesh were making the rounds. He was considered to have “the worst job in the world.”

Photos showed the man immersed in sewage water, naked from the waist up. No goggles, no gloves, no protective gear whatsoever. Held only by a stick his coworkers use to pull him out with once he’s done, the man’s job is to dig around in 14 million people’s shit. Not figuratively. Literally. He can’t even complain because if he opens his mouth…well.

At the same time, you’re sitting in your comfy office chair with your height-adjustable desk, holding a cup of $3 coffee, thinking, “Ugh, my job is so hard! I don’t like it. Why do I have to have a boss and deadlines and why does Word keep crashing on me?”

Listen. I know you have bigger dreams. We all do. But right now, your job is your job. Not complaining, not daydreaming, not worrying about what might go wrong tomorrow. Be happy you’re — at worst — in a metaphorical pile of poop and not an actual one. Look at all the small joys you have in your life!

Two years ago, I spent some 12–15-hour workdays looking at freakin’ accounting formulas for an exam. It. Was. Hell. I hate accounting. I hate pointless tasks. But at the time, that was my job.

Miraculously, I was still left with good food, a lot of excellent coffee, access to all the music in the world, and a warm and comfy bed each night. That guy in the sewer? I bet he barely gets one of these on even his best day of the year.

Your gratification minimum is higher than the gratification maximum most others will ever achieve.

Reduce your indulgences to that minimum, and you’ll realize: This isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s quite inspiring. If your work is mostly about using your mind and continuing to learn new things, your life is pretty damn fantastic. You just have to remember it, and you’ll always try to do your job well.

Hand out more trust advances.

We all know what it’s like for some of our most precious relationships to fade as we get older. You have your routine, they have theirs, and, suddenly, a year has passed without contact.

Often, it gets to the point where it feels like you’re taking a huge risk simply by reaching back out and saying, “Hey, how have you been?” I have a friend like that. And yet, every time I message her after a long time, she’ll inevitably say, “Wow, I’m so happy you messaged me! Thank you! Let’s catch up!”

That same friend taught me a phrase I’ll never forget. She told me the story of how she too once met an old friend after a long time. At first, they had the obligatory chitchat, how you been, fine fine, yadayada. But then, my friend said, “I’m not sure I’m happy at my job.” Suddenly, her friend opened up too, expressing all kinds of concerns about work, and the conversation shifted to a totally different level.

When she told me this, my friend said: “I think all she needed was a trust advance.”

Well, when I reached back out to her — so did she! We all do sometimes. We don’t wanna go first. We’re scared. We’re not sure if we’ll find comfort, understanding, and reassurance. But that’s also all we’re risking to not get.

In our outdated brains, saying “It was my fault,” “I’m sorry,” “I don’t know,” “I need help,” or “I miss you” is the same as deciding, “I’m gonna say hi to this big cat with large teeth, maybe I can pet it!” It’s not, of course.

Our lives revolve around our careers, our social interactions, and our personal happiness. The risks we take to improve these things are small, and they’re almost never dangerous. Trusting others is a small risk with a potentially huge reward. So take more small risks!

No one spends their day stressed about an empty fridge. We all have these big topics on our minds all day long. Take the first step. Reach out. Give others a chance to share.

Show a small piece of yourself, be vulnerable for a second, tear down the walls between you and others. Give trust first, and you’ll be amazed to see how much trust you’ll receive in return.

Previously published on Medium.com.

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