Centuries ago, virtue was thought to be the deciding factor in whether a person was moral and successful. Social problems were seen as being rooted in moral degeneracy. As a result, the best way to help people succeed was thought to be by offering opportunities to cultivate virtue.
We hear little about virtue these days. Instead, discussions on success and failure have centered almost entirely on environmental factors. As Martin Seligman writes in his book Authentic Happiness, “Theologians, philosophers, and social critics began to voice the opinion that perhaps the unwashed masses were not responsible for their bad behavior. They suggested that the mission of preachers, professors, and pundits should change from pointing out how every person is responsible for his or her actions to finding out how their ranks could become responsible for the many who were not” (Seligman p.180).
But just because we’ve ignored virtue and the cultivation of character doesn’t mean that it’s really gone away. It is just as consequential for people today as it ever has been. But the traditional Western virtues aren’t the only ones worth considering. Within Buddhism, there are seven virtues that are often termed ‘factors of awakening.’
These virtues are well worth learning and cultivating. They’ve helped a whole host of Buddhist masters, including the Dalai Lama, achieve peace and success. And they can do the same for you…
Have you ever been driving, passed by a car accident, and gotten so distracted by what happened that you nearly slammed into the car in front of you? Most of us probably have. And that’s because we tend toward distraction. Our attention spans have been trained to flit from one thing to another. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for procrastination and failure.
The first factor of awakening, mindfulness, empowers us to focus on the task at hand. It keeps distractions at bay and makes us more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sources of tension. By cultivating mindfulness, our path to success will be leveled as we concentrate more easily on the things that really matter and lose sight of the things that don’t.
It’s one thing to think about a task. It’s a completely different thing to think about how you’re thinking about the task. This thinking-about-thinking is what we mean when we talk about metacognitive intelligence. It’s “the capacity to be aware of your state of mind, or the capacity to be aware of the strategies you are using while you are solving problems.”
One of the most power things about strengthening your metacognitive intelligence is the fact that it can increase your “abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks.” As a result, it will allow you to learn from your process and mistakes and apply those lessons to future pursuits.
Several years ago, Aaron Beck, David Burns, and other researchers discovered that negative self-talk is a near constant problem for millions of people. All of this negativity can have a major impact on how people experience life, creating unnecessary anxiety, worry, and heaviness.
The virtue and practice of light-heartedness counteracts all of this negative self-talk. It empowers you to be aware of the negative things you’re saying and to correct them before they steer you away from satisfaction and success.
Balanced Sustainable Energy
Gil Fronsdal, the senior guiding co-teacher at California’s Insight Meditation Center, describes this kind of energy as “applying our self to the task at hand.” But this isn’t the kind of exertion that leads to burnout or exhaustion. It’s balanced, keeping you alert enough to do the things you need to do without leaving you weary.
The only way you’ll be able to achieve long-term success is if you put in long-term effort. But overexerting yourself will lead to the kind of fatigue that causes you to give up. By developing balanced sustainable energy for every task you have, you’ll be able to do what needs to be done better and more consistently.
According to the online Buddhist magazine, Tricycle, concentration can be understood as “the ability to fully focus on the task at hand, blocking out distractions and overcoming fatigue.” While concentration is similar to mindfulness, they differ in one important way: mindfulness makes you hyper-aware of your self and things affecting you. Concentration helps you stay focused on the task that you’re trying to complete. Without a robust concentration, you’ll procrastinate and find it difficult to bring larger tasks to completion.
When you’re attempting something, how much background noise do you hear in your mind? Are thoughts racing here and there, vying for your attention? Or is your mind clear and sensitive to the needs at hand? A lack of calmness will leave your mind chasing all sorts of ideas. And this unwanted activity can keep you from doing what you need to succeed.
The Buddha famously taught about four noble truths, including the idea that suffering results from our reactivity. We see or hear something and, depending on how we feel about it, immediately react. If it’s not something pleasant, we recoil in revulsion. If it’s something attractive, we draw near. But this constant reactivity leaves us unstable and suffering from various negative emotions.
With equanimity, we no longer live as reactive beings. Instead, we guard our minds and live more intentionally and purposefully. This offers us a sense of control, one of the keys for developing a more resilient approach to life.
How Can You Experience the 7 Factors of Awakening?
By now, it should be obvious that Buddhism’s seven factors of awakening could have a major impact on the way you live and pursue your goals. If you’ve ever struggled with distractions, low energy levels, or negative self-talk, these virtues can help. By building them, one on top of another, you’ll be able to achieve the equanimity you need to live confidently.
Unfortunately, these virtues are unfamiliar to most people. That’s why having a coach who can walk you through each one, offering practical strategies for cultivating them, can be a major help when pursuing them. Contact a coach trained in these seven factors of awakening today, and experience the peace and security that millions of Buddhists have enjoyed over the past two and a half millennia.
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