We spoke about writing down our purpose in life, last Friday. Keeping the Purpose Statement in front of you ask yourself, “What are the three things that I need to do in order of priority to go forward?” Focus on the first thing in your list. When you finish it, go to the next. Not before. If you get interrupted, return, and complete that first task. Never skip a task on your priority list, no matter what the reason is. Eliminate the reasons that take you away from your priorities. Focus is the art of ignoring fluff. Multi-tasking is another word for distraction. When you focus on one thing, you must consciously IGNORE everything else. Go to YouTube and look up videos of leopards or lions hunting. See what concentration means. Leopards and lions learn the value of concentration early because without it, they starve. Humans discover the problem with not having concentration when at the end of their lives, they look back and see all that they could have achieved, if only. The saddest phrase in any language is, ‘If only’. Believe me, you don’t want to go there. It is in your hands, right now. So, learn to concentrate. That is the secret of success in everything in life. Winners concentrate on one task until it is completed. Losers are butterflies flitting from flower to flower until they die, leaving nothing behind. The difference between winners and losers is concentration. If you have the concentration of a monkey, then life will only give you peanuts.
Thanks to the internet and our gadgets we forget that only the means to access information have multiplied and changed. The Law of Learning has not changed. Like the Law of Gravity, it’s a fundamental law. It never changes. The Law of Learning is that learning is a factor of sincerity, concentration, and perseverance. No matter what the means you use to access information, it turns into knowledge only after deep reflection, thoughtful practice, and conceptualizing the lessons. Then when it is applied over time, a long time, and the lessons are constantly learned, it flowers into wisdom. We confuse information with knowledge and don’t even think about wisdom. That’s why we make the same mistakes over and over and suffer needlessly. Forget gadgets and develop concentration.
The world’s No. 1, YouTuber, MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) makes stunt videos. I tried to watch one which was for 10 minutes. At the 5th minute, I couldn’t take it anymore. It consisted of shots of a train running through a brick wall and then in another shot through 6 tractor trailers. Then a shot of a junk car being dropped from a height into a tank full of foam pellets. And a remote-controlled car trying to leap over 6 school buses. All the while with MrBeast screaming into the mic and telling those who are perhaps blind, what is happening. I am sure all this will amuse a 2- or 3-year-old but since I am a long way from there, I left. However, he has 112 million followers who help him to make $30 million/year. Granted that he gives a lot of money to charities, but I am speaking about the value for time for the viewers who watch those videos. He can do this because he is not like his followers. He makes the videos, which needs intense concentration, focus on quality, ruthless discipline, and the ability to stay in the game to the end. He makes the videos for people whose attention span is equal to that of goldfish and monkeys. Without their willingness to donate their lives (time) to his videos, MrBeast would be a poor man. Thank God for slaves and slavish minds. Ditto, TikTok. Remember that you are on the wrong side of the screen. On this side you help others to succeed. If you want to succeed, I mean really succeed, not just talk about it, you need to get behind the screen and do something that is worth recording. Something worthwhile.
After you watch a MrBeast video ask yourself what you gained. Then watch a lecture by Prof. Roy Casagranda, President and Founder of Austin School, a genius, a walking encyclopedia of human history, a brilliant speaker, whose lectures average 90 minutes. At the end of his lecture ask yourself what you gained. Then ask how many followers he has and how much money he makes. That will define our world for you. Allah mentioned concentration in Salah:
ٱلَّذِينَ هُمْ فِى صَلَاتِهِمْ خَـٰشِعُونَ
Mu’minoon 23: 2 Those who offer their Salat (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness.
Khushoo in Salah is a factor of concentration. Of ignoring all distractions, internal and external and focusing exclusively on Allah.
Today we live in times where a lack of concentration has been made into a virtue. Teachers, mentors, even parents are told that children listen in 10 second sound bites. You need to ask, ‘Whose children? Human children or monkey children?’ The reality is that concentration, like muscles, builds over time. If you raised your children to listen in 10 second sound bites, that is what you are going to get. Stop for a moment and ask how those same children who you claim, can’t listen to anything beneficial, and potentially life-changing for longer than 10 seconds at a time, are able to sit glued to the TV screen watching FIFA, Superbowl, 20/20 IPL cricket or whatever is their favorite drug for hours at any time of the day or night? So, is it about the ability to concentrate or the willingness. Willingness depends on the reason. If we see value in it, we can concentrate. What do we see value in, for which we are willing to pay with the only non-renewable resource we have, time. Also known as life because, when our time runs out, we die.
Ask yourself what you are really seeing here? You are watching the creation of slaves who will believe anything, are manipulable by those who can concentrate, to fulfill their own goals at the expense of the slaves. Slavishness is a mentality. Ask if you want that for yourselves and your children. If not, do something about it. Remember that the chains are in the mind. The cure is to decide what is good for you and to learn to do it, remembering that everything new, without exception, is painful at first. Develop a Gain Mindset. Always ask yourself after every transaction, everything that you spent time on, “What did I gain from this? What did I learn?” It will change your life. Totally. Forget sacrifice. The only sacrifice is what the tandoori chicken did for you. Think investment. Everything we do is a potential investment. Investment in our own life. Then you’ll naturally think of ROI, Return on Investment. Sacrifice has no return. Investment has a return. If that’s negative, move away from that and invest elsewhere.
The second most important thing to do is to develop a problem-solving mindset. Decide if you want to be a Master or Victim. When faced with any challenge, see what’s in your control and do it. Don’t get stuck with what you can’t control. People sometimes look at the misery that surrounds us and ask, ‘Why doesn’t God do something about all the sick and dying and starving people?’ The answer is, ‘God did something already. He created you and gave you the means to feed at least one hungry person, pay for the education of one child, pay the hospital bill of one sick person and so on. If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one. If you can’t build a school, pay the fee for one child to go to school. It is a common copout strategy to blame the external world, in this case Allah, for all the suffering we see around us. We globalize the problem and then justify our inaction by saying, “After all I am only one person. What difference can I make?” On the other hand, Masters localize the global problem and ask, “What can I do to make a difference?” Those who are serious about wanting to help, don’t blame others, don’t complain, but ask themselves, ‘What can I do?’ That is what Islam teaches us. To do something. Not to simply complain. Problems need solutions, not complaints. In the life of every man and woman comes a time when a window opens, and they have a unique opportunity to make an impact and influence others. To succeed we need to anticipate, prepare, and act with courage when our window opens. If you are reading or listening to this, it means that your window is open now. What do you want to do? On that will depend your success in this world and the next.
Living life is about making choices – the choice to be a ‘Victim’ of circumstances or the choice to do something about circumstances and be their ‘Master’. We are free to make this choice – to be a ‘Victim’ or to be a ‘Master’ – but the choices; each has a different payoff in terms of its consequences. Both stances are subject to the same givens of society, environment, organization, people, laws and so on. But have very different implications in terms of our development and happiness. It is one of the fallacies that people assume that freedom of choice means that the choice is free of consequences. This is a myth and like all myths, it is a fantasy and a lie. We have freedom to choose but every choice has a price tag. Foolish people make choices without first finding out the price and are then surprised, shocked, disappointed, when the time comes to pay for the choice.
‘Victims’ are people who complain about adversity, hardship, suffering, or oppression, think of excuses, blame others, lose hope, and perish. ‘Victims’ can be individuals, groups, communities, or nations. The ‘Victim stance’ is the same – complain and blame. When ‘Victims’ find themselves in difficulties, they look around for scapegoats; for someone to blame. They invent conspiracy theories. They like to live with a ‘siege’ mentality. They try to tell everyone that the only reason they are in the mess, is because everyone in the world is out to get them. They don’t stop to think that no matter who they blame, their problems still exist and that it is they and not whoever they blame, that is suffering. If this applies to you, wake up now.
‘Masters’ on the other hand are people who when faced with difficulty and adversity, first look at themselves to see how and why they came to be in that situation, own their responsibility and then look for solutions to resolve that situation. They have the courage to try new ways and so they win even if they fail. “Masters’ recognize that whatever happens to us is at least in part, if not wholly, a result of the choices that we made, consciously or unconsciously. The result of what we chose to do or chose not to do. This is powerful because if we recognize that we created the situation, then it follows logically that we can also create its solution.
The characteristic of ‘Masters’ is that even when they may temporarily be in a ‘Victim’ situation, they quickly ask themselves the key question: ‘Okay so what can I do about this situation?’ This question is the key to taking a ‘Masterful’ stance in life. This, in itself, is a tremendously empowering mindset which frees a person from the shackles of self-limiting barriers to his or her development. A ‘Master’ never says, ‘I can’t’. She/he says, “I don’t know if I can!” That is the truth and in that, is a world of difference. The difference between the shepherd and his sheep. Between winners and losers.
So, ask yourself, “In terms of the challenges that I face today, what do I need to do if I want to be a ‘Master’ and not a ‘Victim’? What is the investment that I need to make to succeed?” Free fall and flight feel the same in the beginning. But it is the end which spells the difference between life and death. Ignoring the law of gravity does not change the result.
Similarly, in life, in our race to succeed, we may well be tempted to ignore the laws of gain – that gain is directly proportional to contribution. We may be tempted to buy the line that what you can grab is yours to take, no matter the consequences to others. Just as the one in free fall may thumb his nose at the one who is flying, even claiming that he is traveling faster than the flyer – the reality is that his speed is aided by gravity which is rapidly pulling him towards his own destruction. It is not speed therefore which matters. It is the direction of flight and the way it ends. Compassion, concern for others, a service focus, measuring contribution in the same way that we measure profit, willingness to do what it takes to deliver the best possible quality not because someone is watching but because we consider the quality of our output to be our signature and a reflection of our identity – all these are the real pathways to wealth, influence, and Allah’s Ridha (Pleasure). The critical difference is that prosperity that comes in these ways is sustainable, long lasting and spreads goodness all around. Prosperity that is sought without regard to those who share the world with us, people, animals, environment; without regard to values, ethics and morals with the sole criterion being the amount of money that can be made is short-lived, has a high cost and spreads misery and suffering, including for the one who was chasing it. We live in an intensely connected world and the sooner we realize that and start taking care of the connections, the better off we are likely to be. We have seen graphically the results of the alternative – blind pursuit of profit.
In the words of my good friend Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI, Jamshedpur, ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell.’