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2018-01-21T10:23:28.422Z
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By Leo Babauta

Our work lives are filled with busyness, distraction, procrastination, responding to messages, checking on messages, and getting lost down rabbit holes.

We struggle to be mindful and to focus on our meaningful work.

And yet, many of us want to create a life of meaning, focus, and mindfulness.

We know this, and yet we struggle. Why? What keeps us from this life of mindful focus and meaningful work?

In this guide, I’ll talk about why we get pulled away, and then how to bring mindfulness to the process to find focus and create an impact with your work.

Why We Can’t Focus

If you think about how you spent your last few days, most of us would say we’re more distracted than we like. We procrastinate more. Or we’re super busy, responding to a thousand things, making lots of decisions, and not very mindful during this chaotic work day.

What’s going on? A number of things:

  1. We’re actually afraid to focus. The work we want to focus on is hard, full of uncertainty, uncomfortable. We want to do it, but we’re putting off the moment we have to enter into this uncertain space. We’re going to the “comfort food” of our distractions instead of the discomfort of the focus.
  2. We’re afraid to simplify. To focus, we have to clear away all our distractions, say no to social media, our phones, our messages, our email. We have to say no to the easier tasks that we’re really good at. This kind of simplicity is uncomfortable for...

“We become brave by doing brave acts.” ~Aristotle

By Leo Babauta

I remember walking into my boss’ office at my day job to turn in my resignation, almost exactly 10 years ago today. I was quitting the life of a regular paycheck, to become a full-time blogger and writer.

I was filled with an overwhelming sensation of fear, and an overwhelming sensation of joy.

I’ve now come to associate this feeling of ‘joyfear’ with the important moments of my life:

  • The first moment I held each of my newborn kids in my shaky hands
  • Starting Zen Habits, not knowing what I was doing, jumping into the unknown
  • Creating live workshops & retreats last year
  • Publishing my first book (and every book thereafter)
  • Moving my whole family to San Francisco from Guam
  • Unschooling our kids

Each of these has been incredible for me, filled with uncertainty and joy. The fear of uncertainty can lead a lot of people to put off moving into a new space in their lives, but I’ve learned to embrace this fear, to dive into it, to see it as a place of growth and transformation and learning.

This year I’m moving into new uncertain spaces (more on that next month), and I’m practicing some more with the discomfort and uncertainty of these new wide open unknown areas. I’m practicing with leaping into the abyss with joy.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far — I’m sharing in hopes that it will help others who are moving into uncertain spaces in their lives.

Find Your Devotion

We don’t put...

By Leo Babauta

For many who started the year with great aspirations and goals of creating new habits … it’s coming to the time of year when lots of peopel start to falter on their new habits.

That’s completely normal, but we can do better.

We can figure out how to overcome the difficulties that often plague our habit-changing attempts:

  • We delay starting on the habit.
  • Our minds start to rebel from the tediousness of sticking to a plan.
  • We rationalize not doing the habit.

With those very common obstacles in mind, I’m going to share three powerful techniques for overcoming them. They take effort to implement, but you got this!

Here are the techniques:

  1. Focus on just starting. Set a trigger when you’re going to do the habit each day — let’s say you’re going to meditate when you wake up, or work out when you get home, or read during your lunch break. When the time comes to do the habit (the trigger happens), just launch into doing the habit, without delay. Focus on getting good at this skill of starting. When the trigger happens, have a reminder note nearby that says, “Just start.” Lower the barrier to doing the habit by making it smaller (just meditate for a minute or two), create barriers to doing your usual distractions, and just take the smallest first step. You’re going to practice getting good at starting, every day. If you master this, you’ll also get a lot better at not procrastinating with other stuff!
  2. Be completely with...
By Leo Babauta

Yesterday a loved one asked me about dealing with anger — he lashed out at someone he loves in a way that hurt her and filled him with shame and regret.

I think we can all related to this — most of us have lashed out in anger and regretted it later.

We all get angry, but we often deal with it in different ways. Some people constantly lash out in frustration at others, or stew about it and complain about it to people they talk to. Some people repress their anger, with the idea that they should never feel anger, that anger is not safe for others or themselves. Others seethe and seethe quietly, until finally they explode. Some of us do all three.

We all get angry. The question is, how do we get better at dealing with that anger?

I’m going to share some strategies that have worked for me. I have purposely tried to get better at dealing with anger, and while I am not perfect, I’ve come a long way. I don’t often yell at my kids anymore, for example, even though I used to yell at them in anger and even spank them. Now I can catch the frustration much sooner, and have found strategies that help me calm down, find compassion, even talk to them with understanding and love.

Before we get into the strategies, let’s understand what’s happening when we get angry.

What’s Going on When We’re Angry

When we get angry, it’s usually because...

By Leo Babauta

This year I’m going to challenge myself to go deeper by using constraints, inspired by my friend David Cain’s idea of a Depth Year.

What’s a Depth Year? As David writes:

No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.

You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.

You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale.

The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.”

This lines up perfectly with what I was thinking about for 2018, but adds the idea of some extra constraints. I have long been a fan of constraints, because they force you to choose, they force you to stay instead of running, they challenge you to go deeper and open up to the constraints of ritual.

For me, my Depth Year in 2018 will add these constraints:

  1. Don’t buy new things (unless absolutely necessary). I already have everything I need.
  2. Don’t take up new hobbies. I want to go deeper with the hobbies and skills I already have. Each year I get consumed by a new hobby, but this year I won’t allow that.
  3. Don’t get new...
By Leo Babauta

Happy New Year my friends! It’s that time of year when we start afresh, with a blank slate, and think about the possibilities that the new year holds for us.

I love this time of year. It’s a beautiful thing to reflect on your past year, how you grew and what you learned, and then say goodbye to the year. And then to think about what you might create with this year, the gorgeous freshness of it all just invigorating you.

But it can also be a fruitless effort for many people, making resolutions only to break them within a week or two. I am not about New Year’s resolutions, because they are things tossed out lightly with no structure in place for success. Let’s not repeat that mistake this year!

We’re going to create aspirations that will actually happen. We’re going to dream, to choose lovely focuses for ourselves, and then put a plan in place that will make them a reality.

Let’s look at how to make this year our best year ever.

What Do You Want Your Year to Be?

I like to start out by reflecting on my last year … you saw a bit of that when I wrote the Essential Zen Habits of 2017 post, but I’ve been journaling about it, looking back on my calendar and emails and journal entries and monthly reviews. It was a fabulous year, and I got a lot done, struggled and learned and grew.

So take a minute to reflect...

By Leo Babauta

If living in interesting times is a blessing, I have to say that 2017 has been full of blessings for me and Zen Habits.

I’m very grateful to have had all of you this year. In this post I’d like to share the top Zen Habits posts of 2017, along with an update on my personal journey …

Personally, it has been a year of change, struggle, growth, and more … here are some of my personal headlines of the year:

  • Guam & Bali: We started the year on Guam, after Eva’s dad’s funeral, and it was a great (if hectic) time for all of us with family. Eva and I also went to Bali for the first time, and it was gorgeous!
  • Adult kids: Our fourth child became an adult (only two of our kids are minors now!) … Maia not only turned 18, she studied hard for the her high school equivalency degree and passed, got a job, and decided to move to Japan to study to be an anime animator. My two adult sons got jobs as well, and my oldest daughter Chloe spent the entire year working on Guam at the local newspaper. I’m proud of all of them.
  • Mindfulness retreats & intimacy: I did meditation retreats at Spirit Rock and the SF Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farms, and took a workshop called the Art of Fearless Intimacy as I worked on deepening my marriage and getting better at keeping my heart open.
  • Travel: Eva & I...
By Leo Babauta

Simplifying your life isn’t a single project that you can finish and be done with — it’s actually a cycle.

At least, that’s what I’ve found in my decade plus of simple living … I’ve downsized numerous times, in all areas of my life, and I keep finding myself coming back to the process of simplifying.

The Simplicity Cycle goes something like this (it’s a little different each time):

  1. Inspiration phase: You find something that sparks an interest, and you start exploring it (reading about a new topic, diving into learning a new subject, exploring a new activity or hobby, creating a new project or venture, etc.). This is the inspiration phase.
  2. Addition phase: This leads you to more complexity, as you explore, buy things, read more and more, find new inspirations and ideas. This is the addition phase.
  3. Contemplation phase: At some point, you might pause to consider the bigger picture of what you’re doing. Is this the best way? Is this really important? If it is, what’s the most essential part of it? Can you pare down? Many people skip this phase (and the next) and just keep doing the first two phases.
  4. Paring Down phase: If you decided that you want to pare down, this is where you start to let go of things. You figure out what’s essential to what you have been doing and learning, and if you don’t scrap the entire thing completely (which can happen), you might just keep a few key things. For example,...
By Leo Babauta

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I heartily believe in giving your full focus to one task at a time. Single-tasking and focus are at the heart of my productivity method.

Pick one important task, and give it your entire focus. Finish that (or at least a chunk that you choose to work on right now), and then do the same with the next task. There’s simply no better way to get things done, one important task at a time. Even small tasks benefit from single-tasking with focus.

But knowing this and actually doing it are two different things. There are lots of things we know we should do, but putting them into practice, and being consistent about it, are simply much harder.

I think the answer is in intentional training.

We aren’t good at doing things we know we should do. That’s obvious. But how do we get better? By not trying? By trying, failing, and then not learning from the failure but instead being critical of ourselves about failing? Most of us just keep repeating the same mistakes, don’t get better, and don’t understand why we can’t get better.

So what if we trained ourselves to get better?

There are a number of important ideas in training that we can use to get better at single-tasking and focusing:

  1. Train in small doses to start with.
  2. Train at the easy level, and only progress with mastery.
  3. Train repeatedly, as perfectly as you can.
  4. Use the failure as feedback, and adjust.
  5. Vary...
By Leo Babauta

We all do it in some form — tell ourselves we’re going to do something, and then we often end up not sticking to that plan.

Maybe one or more of these will resonate with you:

  • You say you’re going to stick to a certain diet, and then you end up breaking it in half a day, and then mostly abandoning it.
  • You say you’re going to work hard on certain projects and not procrastinate anymore, and then you get distracted by something and the plan goes out the door.
  • You say you’re going to meditate (or do yoga, read, write, etc.) every morning, and then one of these mornings you are in a rush or are tired and skip the meditation. Then you do it again the next day.
  • You say you’re going to stay on top of your email, or read more, or finally tackle that clutter … and the plan doesn’t even get off the ground.
  • You say you’re going to work out four times a week, and that works out exactly once, then you just don’t go to the gym.

So what’s going on? Are we just horrible people, with no discipline? Are we liars, never to be believed? Are we hopeless cases, consigned to spending a life on the couch eating donuts and potato chips, watching Netflix and hating ourselves?

I find this a fascinating subject, and I’ve been studying it in myself and in the thousands of people I’ve worked with. Here’s what I’ve been finding.

The Reasons We...
By Leo Babauta

Where I live, the weather has grown colder, and the trees are becoming barren — what I consider the perfect time for reflection and contemplation.

It’s the perfect time of the year to reflect on what a well-lived life might be for you. And then start designing that life, mapping out some actions you might take to create it.

What does a well-lived life mean to you? Is it necessary to shoot for some grand life purpose in order to live life well? Is living a well-lived life about maximizing pleasures and luxuries?

Or can we live well and find contentment no matter what we’re doing?

I’m a fan of going whole-heartedly after a life mission myself, but I don’t think everyone needs one. You can find contentment working in your garden, reading a good novel, being with your kids, having a meal with friends. You can find contentment doing the work you already do.

I’m a fan of exploring the world, but you don’t need to travel or rack up incredible life experiences in order to live well. You can explore the world right where you are, going deeper instead of wider, learning and connecting to others and finding meaning in whatever you do.

For me, a well-lived life might mean that we work towards:

  • Creating mindfulness in your life, and learning to be more present
  • Finding compassion for yourself, and learning to love yourself more
  • Creating deeper connections to other people
  • Connecting your daily actions to meaning
  • Creating wellness

But as we work towards these,...

By Leo Babauta

One of the most common sources of difficulty for most of us is frustration – we can get frustrated with the smallest things, throughout the day.

And yet, becoming aware of how often we’re frustrated doesn’t quite solve the problem. Someone pointing out that you’re frustrated only makes you more irritated.

How can we let go of our frustrations, and find calm?

How can we bring ourselves to peace when our emotions have been triggered?

The answer doesn’t lie in the external — we can’t make things around us less frustrating. We might fruitlessly hope for things like:

  • People to behave the way we want them to (with consideration for us)
  • Things to go the way we’d like
  • Our homes or workplaces to be orderly, calm, and pleasant
  • Quiet when we want quiet
  • Being more disciplined with what we plan to stick to
  • People to put things back where they should go
  • World leaders to behave the way we want them to
  • Traffic to be better, or drivers to be less rude

And so on. As you might guess, it’s not possible to make all of these things come true. We can’t control other people, world events, even ourselves much of the time. Things just won’t go the way we’d like.

And when things don’t go the way we’d like … we get frustrated. We can’t solve the problem by trying to fix the external situation.

The answer has to come from within.

Starting to Change the Inner Response

I know, when someone else is being rude, it’s frustrating to think that we...

By Leo Babauta

Because of a number of family gatherings in the past week, I'm feeling heavy. I've overeaten and my exercise has been minimal.

That's just a part of the holidays sometimes — things get so busy you can't help but let your healthy habits fall off.

So as of today, I'm implementing a new holiday plan, to take me to the New Year. I'm calling it my Holiday Fitness Plan.

Here's the plan:

  1. Be as consistent as possible, when I'm not traveling and have no visitors. We're going to be traveling a bit, and right now we have visitors. So during those times, and whenever we have a family gathering, I'm not going to worry about being consistent, but just try to not overdo things. During all other times, I'm going to try to be as consistent as possible, with both exercise and eating.
  2. No sweets or starchy foods, more veggies & fibrous foods. For eating, the biggest difficulties for me are starchy foods (French fries, breads, pizzas) and sweets. So I'm just going to cut those out, unless I'm traveling or have a family gathering. Even during those times, I'm going to try to limit the carb-rich foods to a reasonable amount. Instead of sweets or starchy foods, I'm going to focus on eating as many veggies as I can, as well as other fiber-rich foods like nuts, seeds, beans. Fruits are fine too.
  3. Eat moderate amounts. I don't really like tracking my calories or anything, but I know my habits tend...
By Leo Babauta

We’re all beset with difficulties, obstacles, pain, tiredness, and a thousand other setbacks, small and large.

What determines whether we take these setbacks in stride, or let them bring us down, is something that psychologists call “resilience.” It’s an ability to come back from setbacks, adapt, learn, but not be dragged down by these setbacks.

I’ve found resilience to be an important factor in my own journey, from struggling through finances and health changes over the years, to navigating the scary and uncertain waters of running my own business.

Resilience has allowed me to:

  • Run several marathons and an ultramarathon (among other physical challenges) despite injuries and other training setbacks.
  • Write numerous books and courses, even in the middle of personal challenges, fears, delays due to procrastination, and more.
  • Face challenges such as debt or declining income with a positive attitude, and deal with the challenges as they come.
  • Raise six kids (with perhaps a little help from my wife) no matter what difficulties they face, or what personal baggage I’m bringing as a father.
  • Deal with deaths in the family with an open heart, not only finding compassion for my own grief but helping my family members in the midst of theirs.

None of this is to brag, but it’s to show the power of simple resilience. I’m not greater than any other human, but resilience has helped me deal with these difficulties, as I’m sure it has for many of you.

It’s such a powerful thing, resilience … but how do you develop it?...

By Leo Babauta

As many give thanks for what’s in their lives this week, we might look at how to go deeper with gratitude.

“Gratitude” seems like a trite and even perhaps boring topic to many — we all know we should be grateful.

And yet, there are ways that we aren’t cultivating gratitude … and our lives could be much easier, even richer, if we did use gratitude in these deeper ways.

Let’s take a few examples.

Boredom

I was talking to a friend recently about how she doesn’t like to stay in stillness and quiet, because it feels boring. She realizes this probably isn’t good for her, as she often feels the need to move, to keep busy. And she’d like to learn to be more present, slow down at times.

The answer to boredom is gratitude.

Let’s think about a situation: you turn off your phone, get away from the computer, and go sit outside with no book, no device, no one to talk to, nothing to do.

You just sit there.

How useful is that? How interesting? How productive? You might answer “not at all” to these questions, and it might seem boring. But I believe that’s because we’re not 1) paying close enough attention, and 2) appreciating the gift of that moment.

If I’m sitting alone with nothing to do, I might have the urge to get up and go do something, or reach for my phone. But what if, instead, I could pay attention to how my body feels, the texture of my...

By Leo Babauta

I’ve had several people ask me lately about what they can do about indecisiveness, and it made me realize that this is actually something I’m pretty good at: being decisive.

Making decisions can be difficult, especially when there’s no clear choice. But being indecisive, when you’re at the cusp of one of these tough decisions, can come at high costs:

  • Not taking action can cost you an opportunity, or cost money and time as you delay.
  • People waiting on you to make a decision can get frustrated.
  • You can feel stress about your indecisiveness, and stress about how you’re making people wait.

People who are plagued with indecisiveness generally know they don’t want to be that way, so I won’t belabor the point. It’s not fun, and I feel compassion for those who have this difficulty.

So how can we form the habit of being decisive instead?

It’s about recognizing what’s going on when you’re stuck with a decision, as it’s happening. And then deciding to go with a new set of habits around your decision-making.

Recognizing What’s Going On

Why do we get stuck making decisions? It’s one of our mind’s most common habitual reactions around uncertainty.

Let’s say we have a choice to make, about hiring Contractor A or Contractor B. It can be very tough, because we honestly don’t know which one will perform better, is more trustworthy, or who might screw things up for us.

So we have a lot of uncertainty. Our minds don’t like this uncertainty, so there are some things...

By Leo Babauta

So much of our days are filled with an underlying feeling of difficulty:

  • Procrastinating when things seem difficult or overwhelming
  • Distracting ourselves and doing small tasks
  • Feeling like we’re doing things wrong, and searching for the right answers
  • Trying to get things under control when they feel chaotic
  • Trying to comfort ourselves when we feel tired or stressed

And so many more examples, I can’t even list them all. Underneath most things we do is a feeling that we should be doing more, that we should be doing things differently, that we don’t want to be doing what we should be doing, that we’re failing in small ways.

It’s stress, worry, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction.

But it’s all unnecessary. We can come to rest in the basic, open nature of our lives.

Why We Feel Stress & Anxiety

The thing that we don’t like is that everything feels unstable. Everything feels uncertain, shifting, not solid. Everything feels unsettled. And this is completely true, and it makes us feel nervous, angry, dissatisfied. We don’t like the unsettled nature of life.

We want certainty, control, plans, a system. Order. Unfortunately, we don’t get that, because that’s not how life works.

Life is unsettled, always shifting, like the waters of the wide open ocean. And that is both scary and beautiful.

Scary because we want order and want to know how things are going to turn out, and we don’t get that, not even a little bit.

But beautiful because open waters are fluid, not fixed. Surprising, not boring. Completely undetermined, which means so...

By Leo Babauta

There are moments when we are able to soak in the incredible beauty of life, the preciousness of it, the awe-inspiring power of the world around us.

It is breath-taking, gorgeous, deeply moving.

But most of the time, we forget.

We move through our days like we’re in a daze, checking email and messages, saying hi to our fellow human beings without love in our hearts, jumping from one task to another, one distraction to another.

It’s like we’re in a dream, not fully aware of the life in front of us. Not fully awake to it’s immense beauty.

How do we lose sight of the awesomeness of what’s right in front of us?

It’s simple: we become acclimatized to our lives. Accustomed to our world. It becomes our “normal,” the background noise that we tune out.

When we see things every day — sunlight, trees, beautiful faces — we start to think we know it already. It’s normal, even boring. Nothing to be noted.

We walk by the deep blue flowers, the bright yellow leaves, the fresh green grass, the honeylike sunlight, and don’t even notice that it’s there.

We take for granted things that are truly magic: flying in a plane, the miracle of electricity, the instantaneous communication of the Internet, the unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, the loved ones in our life, chocolate.

We become accustomed, and then walk through life as in a dream.

This process of becoming acclimatized is normal. We all do it. As toddlers, we find wonder and delight in...

By Leo Babauta

I’ve written a lot about simplifying your life, from the philosophy behind it to the tactical steps to getting to simplicity.

But the true key isn’t in the steps, it’s in our mental habits.

For example, I could get rid of my physical clutter and simplify my day so that I have more space in my life … but until I address the mental habits that got me to a cluttered life, it will just keep coming back.

So here’s what I’ve learned is the key mental habit of simplicity: noticing the mind’s tendency to want more, and don’t believe it.

The mind always wants more. And at the same time, it wants less — there’s a polarity in the mind that craves simplicity and craves more.

Why does the mind want both? The mind wants more because it thinks that more will make it happy, it sees possibility in acquiring more, and it thinks that acquiring things will help relieve the uncertainty it feels.

The mind wants less when it is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and just wants relief from that difficult feeling. It thinks that if it gets rid of stuff, there will be peace.

Both are wrong, but they come from a good-hearted place.

Why the Desire for More, & Less, are Both Wrong

The desire for more is wrong because, as we’ve all seen, you can get a bump of joy when you receive your new package in the mail … but it doesn’t even last a day, usually. Certainly not...

By Leo Babauta

With my body in pain, I looked up at the sunlight and kept my heart open.

And I took in the heartbreaking beauty of life.

I witnessed it, and found it to be miraculous, pain and struggle and discomfort and all. It wasn’t beautiful in spite of the pain — the pain was a part of its total beauty. The struggle and discomfort itself was heart-renderingly gorgeous, as was everything else in the moment.

This weekend I took part in a workshop on relationships and intimacy called the Art of Fearless Intimacy, by John Wineland and Kendra Cunov. There’s a lot I could write about the weekend, which was life-changing, but I want to speak to just one moment.

The moment:

I was in a standing pose, doing about a quarter squat, with my arms raised in the air. For what seemed like an eternity.

I was looking deeply into another man’s eyes, a complete stranger, and also a brother and fellow warrior. We held each other’s eyes, and matched each other’s breath, for more than half an hour.

We came to be in deep discomfort, holding ourselves in stillness in that pose. My shoulders ached, screamed for mercy, wanted nothing more or less than rest from the work. My mind wanted to get away from the discomfort.

And in this moment, I could see my mental habit: reject discomfort and pain, shut it down, get away from it, find peace from it. This is a pattern that has held me in...