A decade ago, I wrote about “Haiku Productivity” and how limits can make us more productive, more focused, and better able to prioritize and simplify.
The idea comes from haiku poetry, in which the poet is limited to three lines and (essentially) 17 syllables. Such a crazy limit, and yet the poetry that can be produced is often very powerful.
The secret: the poet is forced to choose, forced to simplify, forced to find the essence of the message. The constraints are actually a very powerful thing, because constraints force you to be disciplined, to understand that because you have limits, every element in the container must be important, and you can’t just waste words.
Over the years, I would often lose sight of this wisdom, but I keep coming back to it: when a container is unlimited, you’ll just fill it with anything. When you have constraints, you’ll be more careful, be more appreciative of the limited space you have, and explore what’s important to you in more depth.
This applies to every area of life, including:
It happens to all of us: we don’t get done what we hoped to get done, then we feel stressed or guilty about it.
It’s time to let that go, because it’s not helping us.
We can build resiliency around this, with a little mental training. And it will help us in magical ways.
Think about whether you’ve done any of these things:
There are thousands of variations on these, but the main theme is that things didn’t go as you’d hoped, and that causes disappointment, guilt, stress.
Here’s the thing: there’s no problem with the failure to meet our expectations. The real problem problem is the expectations. And the stress that it causes when we don’t meet the expectations.
In all the examples above, we have this ideal in our heads about how things should be, how we want to be. There’s nothing wrong with that — we all do it, all the time — but...
Have you ever been on vacation, perhaps floating in warm ocean water, or lounging on a deck or hammock, completely relaxed?
There’s a way in which you open your mind to everything around you, not thinking about it but just fully in tune with your surroundings, with everything in this moment.
There is no separation between you and the water, or the humid air and tropical plants.
In this moment, you are at one with everything, in relaxed, open awareness.
Now contrast that with how we normally are:
Does any of that sound familiar? I would argue that most of us are in a mode like this — some version of it — most of the time. Not every second of the day, but many of our hours are distracted, busy, stressed, overwhelmed, irritated, worried, unhappy with ourselves or someone else.
What if we could turn on that vacation mind, immersed in the warm ocean … in our everyday life?
What would that be like? How can we get into that state? How can we get into the “warm ocean” state of mind and still get things done?
Let’s find out!Warm Ocean Mind: What It Is
Imagine for a moment that you’re floating in a warm ocean, not too deep, nothing scary, just peaceful, gently swaying ocean. The ocean is...
There is a coffee shop here in Tokyo (where I’m visiting this week), Bear Pond Espresso, that has been called the best coffee shop in the world. The owner and barista, Katsu Tanaka, is a master of his craft.
Tanaka-san only serves his world-famous espresso for two hours a day. When asked why, he said it’s because he tries to get every shot perfect and consistent, and it takes about three minutes of incredible concentration to make a single shot:
“My espresso is me. Imagine if you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, the Grand Canyon. You’re at the edge, right? If you have one mistake, you’re going to drop to the bottom … my focus is really 20 shots maximum at a time.”
Can you imagine giving something your full focus, so that it is like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon? That is a devotion most of us very rarely give ourselves to.
On this Japan trip, as with all others, I’ve been in full admiration of Japanese people who have mastered their craft.
Whether the craft is making sushi, traditional swords, arranging flowers, making coffee, meditating or learning a martial art … there are Japanese people who have devoted their entire lives to perfecting their art.
When I watch one of these masters, I am amazed: they will do the same task over and over again, trying to do it perfectly each time. Full devotion and concentration on that one task, full pride in trying to do...
Creating a life of focus, purpose and mindfulness is a tough thing these days. If you’re like me, you want to bring forth your gifts to the world, but you’re pulled in a thousand directions, plagued by overwhelm, distractions, a ton of messages and emails, and so many obligations that it’s causing you to put off doing the important work you want to do in life.
You would like to:
Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. The Demons of Chaos stand in your way:
It’s not easy dealing with these difficulties, and finding the mindful focus you’re looking for.Trust me, I understand
I’ve worked with many people as a teacher and coach, and I know from personal experience (including my own life), that most of us just go about our daily lives like this. We’re doing our best...
Lately I’ve been procrastinating a bit more than normal, and of course it doesn’t feel great.
The truth is, though, that there are a number of good reasons for my procrastination:
So if it’s not such a bad thing, my procrastination, and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it … problem solved, right? Or actually there’s no problem at all?
Well, yes … there’s actually no problem. This isn’t anything to feel bad about. However, I do believe that we should find an antidote (or two) to our procrastination, because it usually means we’re not doing the meaningful work we want to do in the world. It’s worth figuring out.
So in this article, I want to offer a few antidotes...
By Leo Babauta
“Tea is a religion of the art of life.” ~Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea
Today I am finishing an unplanned around-the-world trip with my friend Tynan that featured some of the best tea experiences I’ve ever had. The generosity of the tea shop owners and tea enthusiasts I met have just blown me away, and I’m left with a beautiful feeling of lingering tea taste in my mouth, a calmness in my body, and a warmness in my heart.
The trip ended with a three-hour tea tasting at Zhao Zhou in Budapest, perhaps the best Chinese tea shop in Europe (if you’re a fan of Chinese tea, it’s the best tea shop in Europe period). In this shop, with gorgeous tea ware made in Hungary and China, the owner, Gabor, served me and Tynan some amazing oolongs and pu-erh teas and talked to us about Tibetan Buddhism, ancient tea trees, Zen masters, and the “body feel” that a tea leaves you with. I adore Gabor and found him to be one of the most generous people I’ve met.
Gabor is friends with Michael, the owner of a tea shop in Taipei called Stop By Tea House where we’d been just two days before. We walked the streets of Taipei looking for good tea, and found it in abundance:
It’s something most of us deal with every day, often without realizing it’s there: a feeling of time scarcity.
We know it well: the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it all.
This is true not only of work — where we have too many projects, meetings, emails, admin tasks, calls, requests, messages — but also of our personal lives. We want to exercise, eat well, meditate, learn something cool, travel, go out with friends, spend time in solitude, go for hikes, read a million books, take care of finances and errands, keep up with podcasts and news and interesting online content and our loved ones on social networks and fascinating people on social media, while finding space for contemplation and quiet.
How can we manage to do all of that in what is obviously limited time? How can we stuff all our hopes, dreams, tasks and errands into such a limited box?
One answer is to do fewer things — simplify by cutting things out of your life, do some things less or not at all. Another answer is to outsource, hire a team, delegate. These are all great options.
But true mastery of the time scarcity demon only really comes from a mindset shift.
We have to address the feeling rather than figure out the logistics of it all. Addressing the logistics (the hows and whats) don’t really change the feeling. The feeling will always be there, until we deal with it.Whats Going...
I’ve often been described as a “calm” person. I’m not sure if they really mean “boring,” but I’m happy to be calm most of the time.
When others are stressing out, I can help calm them down.
When things aren’t going well, I calmly take appropriate action instead of falling apart.
When things are falling apart, I can hold to the center. I can feel into the difficulty, and find the peace, the unshakable connection to everything around me.
I’m not saying that to brag, but in hopes that it will move others to try it as well.
If you’d like to be calm, to stress out less … I offer you this guide.A Calm Motto
I recently offered this motto to my 18-year-old daughter, when she was stressing out about a situation she was facing:
“No big deal.”
I told her, “Just remember NBD. No Big Deal.”
Remind yourself of this motto whenever things are going wrong, or someone is frustrating you, or you aren’t getting what you want. No big deal.
Of course, there are some things that are a big deal:
I’m sure there are other situations that are a big deal, but most of the time, it’s not as big a deal as we imagine. We add stress unnecessarily to the situation.
You have a million things to do an not enough time to do it all? Not a big deal: pick the things you can do, and get to work. That’s...
A friend of mine was telling me about two of the most successful times of his often very scattered life … and they both came when he was very focused on one learning project.
Having a single focus really allowed him to grow — not only to deeply learn the topic he was studying, but to grow as a person.
He’s been experiencing that kind fo focus recently, picking one project and really giving it his full focus.
But his question was this: how should I combine having one clear main project for this year, while also doing lots of other things I want to do?
Basically, he wants to create focus and depth in one project, but still maintain his health, business, relationship, and mindfulness practice.
It’s a good question.
My suggestion: Create structure for the areas you need to maintain your life, to create space for deep focus.
For example, you might want to do things like:
And on top of that, you want to create one deeply focused project.
Here’s how you might structure all of that to give yourself that focus:
There’s a sense of incompleteness in our lives.
We have felt it since adolescence, at least, if not since early childhood — it’s a feeling that something is wrong with us, that something is missing, or that we’re missing out on something in the world.
It’s a feeling of disconnection or loneliness from others, a sense that we don’t fit in. A feeling of moving through the world in isolation, unfulfilled, without a sense of intimacy with others, without a sense of purpose in what we’re doing.
We crave that feeling of connection and intimacy with others, and seek it in online social networks, but it’s lacking. It drives us to use dating apps to find the perfect someone, but the dating doesn’t bring intimacy. It drives us to look at photos of what other people are doing in the world, read about their adventures, but feel like we’re not doing anything meaningful.
We wake up and immediately begin distracting ourselves, seeking something interesting, exciting, any kind of dopamine hit. We look for the convenient over the difficult, the quick and easy over struggle and meaning.
We don’t give ourselves a moment of space or quiet, filling every bit of space with videos, songs, podcasts, audiobooks, short online reads, news, social media, quick tasks, messages.
We try to fill this craving with consumerism. Buying things instantly gives us a feeling of satisfaction. Not a lasting satisfaction, not real fulfillment, but a boost of excitement. It doesn’t satisfy the craving, and any pleasure...
We’ve just started the third month of the year, and with the realization that this year is slipping past us so quickly … I’m issuing a challenge to all of you.
My March Challenge is to pick one small change that will have a big impact on your life. One small change you can do every day. Then do it every single day, at the same time every day.
Small changes can add up to having a huge impact on our lives in a few ways:
So pick one small change that will have one or more of these effects on your life (or other great effects you might think of). Then commit to doing it every day for this month.
Some examples of small changes with big impacts:
It’s said that one of the great patriarchs of the Zen tradition, Hui Neng, was enlightened upon hearing a single verse of the Diamond Sutra (one of the key teachings in Buddhism).
That verse can be translate in various ways, but the key line in it goes something like, “Develop a mind that clings to nothing.”
Imagine having a mind like that — it doesn’t get attached, it doesn’t need things to be a certain way, it doesn’t need people to behave in particular ways. It’s a mind at home everywhere, because it doesn’t need to be anywhere in particular.
All of our difficulties would be eased:
I’ve been diving deeper into training the mind when it meets difficulty, stress, the urge to procrastinate, anger, pain, uncertainty, discomfort.
And here’s the secret I’ve learned: what most people take to be bad news is actually the good news.
Let’s take the example of Greg … he wants to start meditating, so he commits himself to the daily habit of meditating for 10 minutes every morning. Wonderful!
And he does a great job at first, meditating for more than a month without fail. He’s feeling pretty good about himself.
Then he has to go on a trip, and he’s so busy that he misses a couple days of meditation. When he returns home, his mom comes to visit and he doesn’t seem to have time to meditate now.
What’s Greg’s reaction? He feels bad for missing mediation, breaking his streak, falling apart because of travel and a visitor. He starts doubting whether he can stick to the habit, feels guilty, doesn’t even want to think about the meditation habit. When he wakes up, he goes on his phone to distract himself from what he’s not doing.
Bad news for Greg, right? Actually, this moment is good news.
In this moment, he has entered his beautiful practice ground.
This is good news.
This idea of a Beautiful Practice Ground is something I’ve developed over working with thousands of people on habits and mindfulness … let’s take a look at what it is, why it’s good news, and how to work with it.What is the Beautiful...
It’s a common thing to be frequently annoyed by other people — added to our regular interactions with family, friends and coworkers are the online habits of people on various social media, and they can all irritate the hell out of us.
What can we do when other people are being annoying, frustrating, inconsiderate, irritating, even aggravating?
Well, assuming we’re not in real danger and we don’t need to take action to protect ourselves … often the best practice is an internal shift rather than trying to change the other person’s behavior.
That suggestion in itself can be frustrating for some — why should we have to change our own behavior when it’s the other person who is being aggravating?
That’s because with one simple shift, you can be happy with any person. But if you try to change every other person, you’re just going to be miserable.
This is illustrated by a metaphor from legendary Buddhist teacher Shantideva:
Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? With just the leather of my sandals, it is as if the whole world were covered. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?
In this metaphor, imagine that the surface of the Earth were covered in shards of glass or some other sharp surface … you could try to find a covering for the whole world, so that you could walk in comfort … but you’d never...
When I was young, I would run barefoot through the jungles of Guam, being chased by bad guys, imagining I was on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.
The world was filled with possibility, excitement, discovery, exploration, and a delicious sense of danger and the unknown lurking in the darkness. It was fun, play, and curiosity.
Adulthood and the responsibilities of family and work all did their best to beat out this sense of adventure, and create a sense of routine and discipline in me.
But I’ve always still become lit up by a sense of adventure.
One of the best discoveries I’ve made is that my entire life can be a huge adventure.
And it can be done with one simple shift: embrace the thrill of not-knowing.
Let’s take a look at a couple examples …The Adventure of Your Commute
So you’re driving to work in the morning. Ho hum, boring, you’ve done it a few thousand times, no one likes traffic. So maybe you try to make productive use of it by listening to an audiobook or making calls, squeezing use out of this boring time.
But what if, instead, you made it into an adventure? What if you looked for the excitement of things you didn’t know about the drive?
For example, you might drive a new way, exploring side roads. You might explore mindfulness practices on each drive, seeing what you can learn as you drive. You might use the time for contemplation and invention, seeing what you could create during the enforced...
Imagine a woman who has a powerful gift to give to the world, a song to sing that will lift others up … but she only lets herself give that gift when the sun is shining and she’s happy and the moon is in perfect alignment with Jupiter.
The world would be robbed of her song. Her narrow range of when she’s willing to offer her gift would be a devastating loss to those she serves.
Imagine a man who serves everyone around him deeply, so powerfully that they are all filled with their own sense of purpose. But he only does this when he is in the right mood, when he’s not distracted by online articles, when he’s not tired or lonely, when he’s not criticized by those around him and when his house and office are perfectly clean.
Those he fills with a sense of their own purpose would be less filled. Those he gives his love to would be deprived, because he has such a narrow range of when he’s willing to push himself to offer his gift to others.
This is how most of us live our lives. Shrinking from the challenge of focusing on our purpose-filled work, because we’re tired or sad or anxious or stressed, because we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted and pulled in thousands of directions.
This is our failing, and it’s our opportunity for growth.
When you are “not feeling it,” and are procrastinating on focusing on your purpose … this is...
In the month of January, I created a handful of incredible rituals, and they’ve been changing my life.
The rituals are meant to support my focuses for 2018:
I have to say, I did a great job on all of these focuses in January, thanks to my rituals!
In this article, I’ll share what helped me create those rituals.Where I Started Out
It’s important to understand that none of these were completely new rituals — I have had some of them for a long time, but have been inconsistent with them. I wasn’t starting from scratch.
For example, I’ve been meditating for a dozen years, but I have stretches of zero meditation for weeks every year, and I am not as consistent as I’d like.
I’ve practiced yoga off and on for awhile now (more in 2017 than ever before, thanks to my sister) … but never regularly for more than a month.
My work is a pretty consistent practice, but I wanted to refine my focus sessions in the morning.
I’ve been working on my relationship for years, but I wanted to give it more focus this year.
My diet and exercise have been much better than average for years, so I’m not starting from scratch here either … but I wanted to really improve my eating (it’s gotten lax in the last year or two) and get a bit more consistent with exercise.
I don’t recommend starting five rituals in a...
I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling.
Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those who would like to create a more fulfilling life, I have one word of advice for you.
OK, I’ll have a few more words to add to that!
The way that I found my deeper purpose (and I’m still refining it every day) is by listening to what’s in my heart, as corny as that might sound. I listened to what I felt most deeply, what moved me, what made me feel shaky but in awe of life.
To listen, I had to stop letting myself be distracted. I had to create space to listen: shut off the Internet and all devices, not watch TV, get away from everything else, even for a little bit. I had to create silence and stillness, so that listening was even possible.
If you create this space, this silence … notice what you feel. It won’t be obvious what it means at first, but after listening for awhile, you’ll notice what you yearn for. What gives you joy, a sense of adventure, a sense of play. What creates pain and the wish to salve that pain. What you are afraid of, what fills you with doubt, what makes you want to...
You have a to-do list that scrolls on for days. You are managing multiple projects, getting lots of email and messages on different messaging systems, managing finances and personal health habits and so much more.
It all keeps piling up, and it can feel overwhelming.
How do you keep up with it all? How do you find focus and peace and get stuff accomplished when you have too much on your plate?
In this primer, I’ll look at some key strategies and tactics for taking on an overloaded life with an open heart, lots of energy, and a smile on your face.The First Step: Triage
Whether you’re just starting your day, or you’re in the middle of the chaos and just need to find some sanity … the first step is to get into triage mode.
Triage, as you probably know, is sorting through the chaos to prioritize: what needs to be done now, what needs to be done today, what needs to be done this week, and what can wait? You’re looking at urgency, but also what’s meaningful and important.
Here’s what you might do: