“When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”
My friend Tom was struggling to make an important, life-changing decision last week. He was paralyzed with choices—distracted by factors that had nothing to do with his decision. I advised him to dig deep in order to find the source of his confusion. He needed to identify the single most important factor to make the decision. That factor would lead him back onto the path to fulfill his goal or purpose.
It was the second time in the week that I used the Lion’s Gaze parable to make my point. Nothing gets to the heart of decision making quite like this ancient Buddhist parable taught by the Tibetan yogi, Milarepa.
I shared Tom’s story with my friend Christine. She told me about two of her clients; they are diametrically opposed. One client is in constant chaos. Their employees are combative, secretive, avoid collaboration and are difficult to work with. The other client is remarkably focused. They are cooperative with each other and a pleasure to work with. I didn’t ask which way those businesses were headed because I already knew the answer.
I did ask about the leadership of each company. The leadership of the "easy to work with" company has a clearly defined and specific goal or purpose for the organization. Each employee understands his or her role to achieve the company’s goal. They are all on the same path and, as a result, morale is high. The "chaotic" company does not have a defined or articulated destination; therefore, every employee is on a different path. Morale at this company is low and I'll bet turnover is high.
Understanding our goal or purpose helps to clarify our decisions. Once a destination has been chosen, the path becomes clear. Unfortunately, life constantly throws us distractions… thoughts that lead us off our chosen path. These thoughts are both enticing and confusing. Like a stick thrown to a dog, we spend our time chasing distractions instead of following our path.
In order to get back onto our path, we must be like the lion and chase the source of our distractive thoughts. That source is often fear.
What if this doesn’t work out (fear of failure)? What if they discover I’m a fraud and don’t belong here (fear of being discovered incompetent: imposter syndrome)? What if I get fired or lose my business (fear of separation and humiliation; loss aversion)?
Fear is one of the most powerful triggers of autopilot thinking—psychologists call it System 1 cognitive processing. This system is full of biases, fallacies and mistakes. If you are interested to learn more about the science of fear, read my blog: Agents of Influence: Fear.
On the surface, the Lion’s Gaze teaches us to seek the real source of the problem, which is sage advice on its own. Dig a little deeper and the parable instructs us to direct our focus inward, because we are, quite often, both the problem and the solution.
The antidote to chasing a stick of distraction is to identify our goal or purpose, like I instructed my friend Tom or Christine’s “good” client. Once our purpose is clear, it is easier to face our fears and get back on our path. Decisions become obvious: Does this keep me on my path or take me off the path?
Considering the source as the root of a problem (like fear), is a wonderful way to find a solution; however, I take a different approach. I prefer to view the source as my purpose. It’s my destination... complete with guideposts. It's the big picture. It keeps me on track when life throws a stick my way.
The question is: Have you identified your purpose? Are you on the right path?
Dogs are wonderful companions, but the lion is the king of the jungle.
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