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Live like a monk - the key to success

Sandor Dargo
Happy father. Blogger. Developer. Creator of dailycppinterview.com
Originally published at sandordargo.com ・Updated on ・8 min read

Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly successful. If I look around I see prettier, richer, more popular people. People who rose more in the company ranks, people who write better code, who can contribute more, who make more money either from their main job or on the side, people who write better posts and who simply know much more than me.

And you know what? I'm fine with that.

It doesn't matter.

What matters to me is that I'm growing and that I'm happy with the progress I made during the last years. Each day if I look back to where I was 6 months ago, I see some gain. I could also see gaps, I could think about how many things I messed up, how many things I could have done better, but that would lock me up in negativity. Instead, I'm happy for my growth.

The key element for this growth, at least that's how I see it is not learning about my craft every day - tough it's definitely important -, it's not writing and working on my posts and books each day, but what helps most is that I read some uplifting, inspirational, motivational content on a daily basis. (Which pushes me towards the former activities.)

A few years ago I started to seriously limit and filter my content consumption. I read to help me reach better mental states. Instead of reading about people killing others or making their and others' lives more miserable, I read about how to grow. I read about how to help others.

One of my key sources is Benjamin Hardy's articles and books. I've been watching one of his videos recently where shared a quote from Marshall Goldsmith:

"If you do not create and control your environment, your environment creates and controls you."

It really clicked with me. This is something I've been pondering about since a while. In fact, since I went back to my hometown for three weeks.

Photo of Budapest by amir hossein bakhtiari from Pexels

I love my hometown, Budapest, and I love my friends there, I love my family. But I also noticed a couple of things:

  • Even tough I managed to carve out some time for myself, it felt unproductive
  • I saw how people limit themselves through unsolicited conflicts
  • I saw how people are controlled by their environments. Including me.

TV kills both family time and productivity

According to different studies, an average US adult spends more than 4 hours a day in front of the TV, I have no data on European countries - I didn't really check -, but I have no strong reasons to believe that it's drastically different.

Though it seems that the younger you are, the less you spend watching the telly, it's not for a good reason. Scrolling social media or watching netflix on your mobile is not better than watching the TV.

We have one in our living room, but we barely use it. We turn it on at New Years Eve a bit before midnight (since our kids were born and they are still small we spend the night at home), during some weekends to make a movie afternoon for the kids and each time our president declares war on COVID and asks for the support of his "compatriots". But even that has become boring. Sorry, Monsieur Macron, this is not your fault. It's just boring.

At my father's place, it's different. The TV is on in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening as well. He often falls asleep while the TV is still turned on.

In the mornings, it didn't bother me. As most people in the house were sleeping anyways, I hid in a small room and kept working on my articles and presentations.

In the evening it was different. I joined my father and brother in the living room where they were either watching some football or the nth replay of some stand-up comedy.

I don't like to talk for the sake of talking. You should ask my wife about that... But I like to be close to my loved ones. Even if it means just being in the same room and reading, working on stuff.

I realized that having the TV on, even if I did't pay attention was very distracting.

I was the guest, and obviously I wouldn't ask them to turn it off when they were actually watching it so that I can read or work, but I was wondering how much useful time is flushed down the toilet like that. Just by watching something not even interesting while others are working towards their dreams.

When I was left alone with my brother, we often turned it off to talk. But when we were talking with the TV on in the background, I saw that it was difficult to pay full attention. That freaking box is killing both dreams and social times. We should throw our TVs out... Or at least it should not be the center of our living rooms and our lives...

But there is something worse that that.

When you have a TV in the kitchen or in the dining room, or when they share one space with the living room and you turn on the news while eating. It's the worst. I was living like that since I was 14 until I left home.

I tell you what it does. Instead of discussing what matters in the life of a family, such as what happened during the day, what do you plan for next day, what you learnt, what you experienced, what was going on at school, at work, you watch the news.

News are depressing. There are natural disasters. Accidents. People die. Sometimes you don't even understand how can be anyone still alive. But that's not the worse. There are terrorist attacks that obviously creates even more hate. It's still not the worse. There are rich people enjoying their money. And boy, people are envious. There are politicians who get richer in mysterious ways. These are the worst because you can complain about "those thieves". You can blame them because of your lack of success. You can blame the rich, the politicians because of your miserable life.

Believe me, those who watch the news during their meals, they will blame, they will complain, they will make their life a bit more sad. They will smuggle a bit of extra frustration, a bit of extra misery and a big bunch of victim mindset into the everydays.

That's the biggest problem with television.

So if you want a better life, get rid of the TV, or at least don't watch the news, and please, please, at least not during meals.

Active social life collects taxes, even the next day

Apart from the TV, an extended social life also made it more difficult to stay productive. I have way more friends in Hungary than in France. It makes sense. I spent 28 years in Hungary, 8 in France. And those years in Hungary were my youth, they were the actively socializing years, plus I was fully involved in a few organizations where I made many friends. I already came to France married and soon we had children.

My social groups are very different in the two countries.

I barely go out in the evenings in France (regardless of the current curfew), but in Hungary there are calls almost every day, I have to turn down so many.

I know it would be different if I were constantly at home. But I see the lives of my friends, I see how they live, how frequently they go out, etc. I'd probably step out at least twice a week and the weekends would be also different then here.

It means, that I'd be do something very different during those evenings and probably it'd be very difficult to wake up so early in the next morning.

When I was thinking about all this, I realized that I almost live like a monk.

I live far away from most of my friends, I seriously limit my media intakes, I spend most morning and evenings in silence, reading or working on my articles, books, etc.

It happened a few times lately that my wife asked if everything was fine because I looked strange. I said, oh yes, I was just writing in my head.

Do I enjoy it? Yes.

Living an active social life is fun, but it requires some sacrifices. You sacrifice a lot of time. Sure, you'll have fun, that's good, but you'll have less time to achieve your goals - unless it's having fun. Often, you don't only sacrifice the time you spend with your friends and acquaintances. And I don't mean the traveling, but you might be more exhausted the next day. Oh, maybe I'm just not 21 anymore when I could directly go to university after partying all night and get some sleep between two classes. Sure, life changed, I changed.

I realized the importance of what successful people write about friendships. You need to pay attention who you spend your time with. You need to say no sometimes and you need to spend less time with people if you feel that your roads have parted in different ways. You don't stay there out of comfort and (self-)pity. You don't stay there when your only common topic is reheat the memories from 15 years ago.

Your personality is not permanent. It's perfectly fine that you want different things than before. But most people around you, including your family, friends, will not want you to change. It's easier to spend time with someone they already knew. They also don't want to be jealous, they don't want to be reminded that they can also change themselves. That there are different ways of living your life. Beware, I don't say better, but different. After all, different is not always better...

I needed lots of time and great distance to start to understand this and I'm still far from a complete understanding.

A conclusion?

Is there any? Anyone should draw his or her own, but...

The TV is bad if you turn it on (too much) and especially if you mix it with family time! Don't do that if you want a happy and/or successful life!

The question of an extended social life is more difficult. Having friends is great, but it's better to have a few great ones than several shallows. As you grow up, you have a family, you have new goals, you need time and you start valuing the real relationships.

You have to control your environment, you have to actively shape it so that it helps you to achieve your goals. This means both a physical environment (hopefully not) including a TV and both a social one.

It can sound harsh, but you also have to actively manage your circles, who you spend time with. It cannot be based on rote, but it must be the result of conscious decisions.

If you do this, if you limit and filter your media and social intakes, you might feel like you live like a monk. At the same time, you'll also feel your soul cleaner and calmer. You'll have the necessary time and peace to work towards your goals.

What's your take on this?

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Discussion (6)

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hasnaindev profile image
Muhammad Hasnain • Edited

Good article. I don't think this has anything to do with being a monk though. We evolved in simple environment rather than the complex and chronic anxiety inducing one. For those interested in this topic should read the book called, "The Awakened Ape."

The books discusses the topic of anthropology, current indigenous peoples who live like how our ancestors did. Non of them had bad teeth, suffered from mental illnesses, were fat or couldn't sleep at night. They did not had any access to the complex literature, research and philosophy that we unhappy people do.

For some strange reason, when small groups becomes tribes, communities and nations, individuals become unhappy, this is true for even ancient civilizations like Sumerians, as evidence from their lamentations in the book called, "Epic of Gilgamesh."

The answer is complex yet extremely simple. Complex because you'd have to study hundreds of books in order to realize how useless these complexities are, thought upon thought, fantasy upon fantasy, expectation upon expectations. You realize how ads and social media programs your unconscious to be dissatisfied. How Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other such giants are made to be addictive.

Fun Fact: The reason Mark Zuckerberg wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyle, does not use Facebook or lets his children use them is because your brain can only make a limited amount of decisions during a day before it runs out of decision energy. Yet these platforms provide you with 5 different types of likes and other stuff like "shorts". They study and exploit human psychology.

Simple when you realize that the best times in your life were laughing about some stupid shit and that regular exercise, quite environment, meditation, spiritual practices and family are what matters. (Along with the points you mention.) You simply breakoff from the rat-race, you stop being a sheep and you start to live.

I'd also like to add that success is a subjective topic. I've seen a very poor person who lived with extreme gratitude, even after he became rich in his 50s, I never saw such a happy, humble and content man who slept like a baby. For me, such an attitude is success, despite the how rich or poor someone is because what use is a big car and house when you roll around in bed while sleep eludes you.

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo Author

Thanks for your comment. It's funny you brought up Zuckerberg. Exactly this manifestation of decision fatigue gave the title of one of my talks. But it was on a more technical topic, coding guidelines.

It's also true that in general poorer countries are reported to be happier. Approaching this from the other way, I read an article some time ago on Medium claiming that the richer you are the more pills you take.

Maybe we can use it as a stop sign for ourselves. :)

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dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

loved this article, and i can relate so much. (and wrote something similar - reducing the noise in your daily life here
my wife and i decided to throw away our TV when our first son was born - 13 years ago - and it was the best choice ever. We bought big screen again 5 years ago when he broke his leg and had to stay 2 months at home, but we never connected the cable for the TV, we just use it 3 evenings a week to watch movies that we choose at the library - or lately on Prime. no series, no crap, no ads. just movies or docu.
also the social life fatigue, here in germany i basically have no social life ( if it means dinners and parties ), when i go back to italy of course i visit friends but as you said.. I found it a bit sad, boring ( and a waste of time) when the only common topic is reheat the memories from 15 years ago. sometimes it is good laugh, but not every time you meet.
just live in the present and look at the future!!

Basically yes, i believe i live like a monk too, but i also like climbing, hiking and other sports a lot... so i prefer to see myself maybe like those shaolin monks. :-)

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo Author

Thanks for your comment, Davide! In fact, you popped up in my mind while I was writing this article. I think these feelings appeared in several of your posts.

That's a good one, shaolin monks! Do you also want their hairstyle? I've almost got it - naturally! :D

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danitfk profile image
Daniel

Really well written!

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo Author

Thanks a lot!