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February 2017

A Mindful Guide to Email in 20 Minutes a Day

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By Leo Babauta

I recently did a challenge with my friend Jesse of Samovar Tea: check email just twice a day (at 10am and 4pm) for 30 minutes a session.

In addition, we couldn’t check email in the morning unless we did an hour on a specific project that morning. It ended up that on most mornings, I couldn’t do an hour of that project, so I only checked email in the afternoons.

What amazed me is that I only needed about 20 minutes a day to process email, if I focused and worked efficiently. I’d like to share how to do that, if you’re interested. (I’m continuing the challenge for at least another week, btw.)

To start with, this isn’t about being hyper-efficient. It’s not about optimizing our life or becoming productivity masters. It’s not about rushing through things.

It’s about limiting our distractions (for me, email is one of my go-to distractions) and when we do allow them, it is purposefully. And with focus and mindfulness.

Email is necessary in my life, so I don’t want to cut it out. I do want to keep it to a minimum, so it doesn’t expand to fill my day, or become something I run to.

OK, with that clear, let’s dive into the “how to.”

How to Limit Email Checking

It used to be that I would check email first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. But I realized that this was a procrastination method that felt productive, that was a way for me to postpone meditating and important work.

Email also was something I’d check whenever I was bored, didn’t want to work on something hard (but still wanted to feel productive), or just had an itch to see what people were writing to me about.

But Jesse asked me a good question: What would happen if you didn’t check email for a week? (My projects would fall behind and customers would think I’m unresponsive.) What would happen if you just checked once a day? (Nothing bad, probably.)

So we made a challenge: just check twice a day, at specific times. If you messed up, you’d have to pay the other person $1,000 (!). That was a ridiculous amount for such a trivial thing, so it was guaranteed that we wouldn’t check email.

There was a small caveat: if you needed to send an email (to get a report to someone, for example), you could send the email only, but would have to pay $1,000 if you checked any other emails.

So I recommend a similar challenge. Try it for a week. Find an accountability partner, promise to pay a really big amount, set specific terms, and see if you can limit your email checking. This won’t work for people in customer service, for example, who need to check email all day long to do their job, but for most of us, email just seems like something we need to check often, but nothing bad happens if we don’t.

Try it, see if you can limit yourself to twice a day. Or be bold, and do once a day!

How to Process Email in 20 Minutes

The “20 minutes” is actually relative to whatever volume of email you need to process, of course. Some people will need 30 minutes. But most people can do it in less, and if you find yourself going beyond 30 minutes, it’s possible you need to do a couple things:

  1. Unsubscribe from as many newsletters, promotional emails, notifications and other fluff as you can (if it has an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email, use it). Get those out of your inbox, so you can just focus on the important stuff.
  2. Decide that you’re not going to get to everything today, just the important ones that you can do in 20-30 minutes. Let go of the rest — getting to empty isn’t more important than other things you need to do.

OK, with those two key ideas in mind, here’s how to process your email in 20 minutes:

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Set your container, and work within it.
  2. Process email top down, and completely deal with each email. One email at a time. Deal with it completely (see next two items) before you allow yourself to move on to the next. Don’t put it off, don’t say, “I’ll deal with that later.”
  3. Take one of three actions. You only have three choices: a) delete (or archive), b) reply right now (and/or take care of the task it requires right now) if it will take 2 minutes or less, c) put it on your to-do list or calendar if it will take longer (see next item) and file in a “to-do” email folder. Basically, do what it takes to get the email out of your inbox. And again, unsubscribe whenever you can.
  4. Put longer tasks on your to-do list. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, put the item on your to-do list. Or if it’s a link that you need to read, put it on a read-later list. Sometimes I’ll reply to the person to let them know I’ll try to work on it today (or by a certain date), and then put it on my to-do list or calendar.
  5. Be mindful as you work. It’s easy to get into the “do this as quickly as I can” mode. But there’s also a mindfulness you can bring to the activity. As you send this email, are you being helpful, kind, clear, truthful, compassionate? How is your body feeling? Are you sitting upright? Can you smile and appreciate this beautiful moment?

When the timer goes off, find gratitude that you had that time to communicate and take care of important tasks. Let go of the rest (for now), close your email, and resist the urge to check it again later. Refocus yourself on something important.

Breathe, and meet the rest of your day with joy.

A Guide to the Basic Anxiety of Life

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By Leo Babauta

Underlying much of what we do is an uncertainty, an anxiety, a fear, doubts, dissatisfaction …

And we react to these anxieties, dissatisfaction and uncertainty in so many unhelpful ways: we seek distraction, we eat unhealthy food, we procrastinate, we get caught in a cycle of anxiety and unhappiness, we lash out at others, we dwell in our loneliness, and then we get in denial about it all.

If we could learn to deal with the basic anxiety of life, we would have much more ease and less struggle.

The Anxiety Underneath Our Problems

On Twitter, I asked people to share a problem they’d like me to write about … the problems were all very difficult, but the basic anxiety of life was the undercurrent to all of them.

Each one has an external problem, with the undercurrent of anxiety, fears or uncertainty underneath the external problem. Let’s take a look at a few:

  • Feeling of being left out, lack of belonging: We can all relate to this feeling of not belonging. Externally, the problem is not finding people you connect with, not having that connection in your daily life. But on top of that, we add the anxiety/dissatisfaction of feeling like we’re left out and don’t belong. This is normal, but it’s good to notice.
  • Finding your passion, optimizing potential: The external problem is that you are in a job you’re not passionate about. On top of that is the anxiety/dissatisfaction of not finding that passion, of feeling like we’re not optimizing our potential. We can all relate to this too!
  • Headaches cyclicly prevent me building a career and paying my way properly, affects my self worth hugely: The external problem (bad headaches, leading to career and financial problems) is very real, and not easy to deal with. But on top of that, we have anxiety about it all, and we add self-criticism (most of us do this, right?), self-doubt, and a downgrading of our self-image.
  • That phase of anxiety before big changes occur: The external issue is that we’re facing a big change, and then because it’s a situation filled with great uncertainty, we feel anxiety about it.
  • Beginning/purchasing self improvement books/classes/plans and not using them: The external problem is not finding the time or energy to use materials you’ve bought, but we add to that an anxiety about ourselves not living up to our potential, not taking advantage of opportunities, not doing what we hoped we’d do. I think we can all relate to this.
  • Addiction to social media, videos and cell phone: The external problem is the distractions that keep pulling our attention. But the anxiety is that we feel addicted and feel something is wrong with us for not being less distracted. In addition, the addiction is probably a coping mechanism for dissatisfaction with the moment in front of us, or anxieties in other parts of life.
  • PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder: A lot of people are coping from dissatisfaction with the political scene right now, no matter what your views on the president might be. There’s the external situation of what’s going on, and then we add our dissatisfaction, anxieties about uncertainty, frustration and anger.
  • Sometimes feel helpless & empty for a reason I can’t identify. Only time makes that go away but I feel that time was wasted: There’s probably an external situation that’s causing a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or helplessness. But the real problem is the feelings about it all, the uncertainty and anxiety about it all, and the anxiety about wasting the time it takes to get over it.
  • Getting over breakups: The external problem (end of a relationship) is overshadowed by the pain, dissatisfaction, anxiety that follow the breakup. We might have frustration and anxiety about wanting it not to have ended, about not wanting to be alone, about how we feel about ourselves after being dumped, about how the other person acted.

I think we can all relate to these problems, to not only the external situation but the reactions that we have.

There’s a fundamental anxiety and dissatisfaction that runs through the human condition, about whatever we’re experiencing in life, about other people and about ourselves.

So how do we deal with it all?

Where Does Basic Anxiety Come From?

It’s good to start by recognizing why we have this basic anxiety. It’s caused by:

  • Uncertainty about life, about the current situation, about people
  • Wanting certainty, stability when life isn’t stable or certain
  • Dissatisfaction with the above facts — which is also dissatisfaction with our situation, ourselves, and others

If you sit right now for 5-10 minutes and just pay attention to your breath, you’ll likely notice the fundamental anxiety … it results in wanting to stop paying attention to the breath, wanting the meditation to be over, wanting to get on with the tasks of life, wanting distraction, thinking that the exercise is stupid, wanting to think about problems you have.

But instead of running from this anxiety, instead of getting away from it into thinking about problems or getting out of the meditation … what if we just stayed with it and paid attention to it?

If we can get in touch with this fundamental anxiety that we suffer through in life … we can start to work with it.

Learning to Deal with This Basic Anxiety

Instead of running from the anxiety, instead of trying to cope by using distractions, food, shopping, alcohol, drugs … we’re going to find the courage to face it, with a smile.

Here’s how to work with it:

  1. Face the physical feeling. Drop out of the story that’s spinning around in your head, that’s causing the anxiety. Instead, just be mindful of how your body feels. What does the anxiety feel like, and where in your body is it located?
  2. Stay with it & be curious about it. Don’t run, just stay with the physical feeling. Instead of rejecting it and wanting it to stop, just open up to it and see it with curiosity. What does it feel like? Does it change? What kind of reaction does your mind have to the feeling?
  3. Smile at it. Develop a feeling of friendliness towards the physical sensation of this anxiety. See it as one of the fundamental realities of your existence, and learn to be friends with it. See this as a chance to work with something that will be with you for your entire life, an opportunity to get comfortable with this discomfort. If you can do that, you’ll need your coping mechanisms a lot less.
  4. Open to a bigger space. Our normal way of relating to this feeling is wanting to reject it, because we’re stuck in a small-minded, self-centered way of seeing it (I say this without judgment, it’s just something we do). Instead, we can start to touch the wide-open space of our minds, like a big blue sky, not a small space but expansive. In this open space, we can hold the anxiety like a cloud against the backdrop of the blue sky, but not be lost in the cloud. We can see the anxiety but also see that like a cloud, it’s temporary, it’s not that solid, it’s not all-encompassing, and it’s just floating by. This wide-open space of our mind is always available to us.

It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. Sometimes the anxiety we feel is small, just a bit of tightness in our chest once we investigate it. But sometimes it’s quite big, a looming depression or a manic energy that we just can’t tolerate. So face it in small doses, just for a minute, just for a moment. Then let yourself run. Continue to work with it in small, tolerable doses until you start to trust that you’ll be OK if you face it and smile at it.

Once we start to touch on this anxiety, face it with courage, stay with it like a good friend would … we start to realize it’s not so bad. It’s just something that comes up, like a ripple in a pond, like a breeze in a field, and it will go away. We don’t need to panic, we don’t need to run, we can relax, invite it to tea, and see that nothing else is required. Instead, we stay, we give it love, and see that this place of uncertainty we’re in is absolutely perfect as it is.

Join Me: The Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in April

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By Leo Babauta

I’m excited to announce my first retreat: the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in San Francisco!

The urban retreat will be held over a weekend, on April 21-23, 2017. It’s aimed at teaching you key mindfulness skills that can help you transform your life.

There are limited spots (at 3 different levels), so I would get your spot soon if you’d like to attend.

What This Retreat is About

It’s a 2.5-day retreat that focuses on:

  • Mindfulness practices
  • Using mindfulness to deal with our struggles and old patterns
  • Finding joy and gratitude in life
  • Seeing the underlying goodness in ourselves & overcome dissatisfaction with ourselves
  • Dealing with uncertainty, developing trust in the process
  • Finding what happens when you have no escape

Through these practices, we’ll help you develop tools that can lead to the changes you’ve been hoping for.

We will learn different types of meditations and practice exercises that help us work with our struggles.

We will also explore San Francisco a bit:

  • Mindful tea tasting
  • Mindful chocolate tasting
  • Delicious vegan food will be provided
  • We’ll go on an easy hike
  • We’ll form connections with each other to support our life changes

I’m so excited to have you join me in one of my favorite cities in the world, working on things that have changed my life completely and that I hope will change yours as well.

Three Options for the Retreat

The basic retreat described above doesn’t include accommodations (you’ll have to book your own AirBnb or hotel) or transportation to San Francisco (book your own flights).

But it does include vegan meals, activities described above, and the talks and group exercises with Leo.

Basic option: The basic retreat comes at a price of $2,995:

Mindfulness Retreat (Basic)

But I’m also including two other options:

  1. “With a Bed” option (below) that gets you a bed and a room in an AirBnb apartment, and
  2. a Premium Package that includes an additional lunch with me, a 1-on-1 session at the retreat, and a follow-up coaching call with me a few weeks after the retreat (see “Premium Package” below).

The “With a Bed” Option

I’ll be renting a couple AirBnb apartments with about separate beds available (each in their own room), so if you’d like to stay in an apartment with other retreat participants, you can book at the “With a Bed” rate … you’ll get a bed in your own bedroom (unless you choose to share a Queen bed with a friend or your spouse/partner).

The “With a Bed” spots come at a price of $3,395:

Mindfulness Retreat (With a Bed)

The Premium Package

Finally, I’ve created a few bonuses if you’d like to purchase the “premium” package …

This package includes:

  1. A bed in one of the AirBnb apartments (same apartment where Leo is sleeping)
  2. An extra lunch with Leo on Friday April 21 before the retreat starts
  3. A 1-on-1 coaching session with Leo during the retreat
  4. A follow-up coaching call with Leo about 3-4 weeks after the retreat

There are 5 premium spots available, at a price of $4,395.

Mindfulness Retreat (Premium)

I am really excited about this retreat and I hope you’ll join me!

Questions & Answers

You might have some questions … here are a few answers:

Q: Who is this retreat for?

A: It’s for someone who is willing to take a weekend to change their life. Someone who has been struggling and is open to practicing mindfulness and changing mental patterns. Someone who is ready to let go of old patterns and embrace new ones. Someone who is willing to put in the work for better habits and a transformed life.

Q: Are airfare or accommodations included?

A: Airfare is not included, you’ll need to book tickets on your own. Accommodations for the two nights are only included if you choose either the “With a Bed” or “Premium” options, where you’ll be staying in an AirBnb apartment with other participants. If you choose the “Basic” option, you’ll need to find your own hotel or AirBnb apartment in San Francisco, and this is not included in the price.

Q: What if I don’t like vegan food?

A: I’d suggest bringing an open and flexible mind to the retreat, and the food we’ll be eating is pretty delicious, and it’s included in the cost … however, you are free to go off and explore on your own, and buy your own food. In that case, you’ll be missing out on group meals, unfortunately.

Q: Can I book two retreat spots with a shared bed with my partner or friend?

A: Sure! In this case, book one spot at the “With a Bed” or “Premium” level (to get a bed) and then a second spot at the Basic level. Then email us to let us know you want to share a Queen-sized bed with your partner or friend.

Q: What is your refund policy?

A: No refunds after March 1, 2017. If you buy a spot, you’re preventing others from buying them, as spots are limited. So if you don’t ask for a refund by March 1, you’ll lose your fee if you can’t make it. If you ask for a refund before March 1, we’ll refund 80% of your fee.

Q: I can’t pay right now, can I pay later?

A: No, the spots will only be reserved by those who pay. If you want to wait until you can pay, it will mean there might not be any spots left.

Q: I just bought a spot, now what?

A: There is a PDF download that came with your purchase, please download and read that for more info. We’ll also be sending you a few emails over the next month, please read these and reply with your info!

Q: What do I need for this retreat?

A: A notebook and pen for notes, layered clothing for San Francisco’s fluctuating weather, and an open and flexible mind. A willingness to change and practice. An open heart. Toiletries.

The Compassionate Way to Health & Fitness

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By Leo Babauta

Lots of us would like a better body, an amazing workout habit, and a diet that celebrities would die for.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but most of us definitely have an ideal when it comes to fitness. We want to be super healthy, and we strive for it. Maybe we strive and then fail and feel bad about it, but we strive.

What would it be like to not strive for these fitness goals?

What would it be like if we removed the striving, and found compassion instead?

The Problem with Striving

When we strive for a fitness ideal (which is usually what we do), there are a few fundamental problems to be aware of:

  1. The ideal is one we will never meet. Even if we do great at our goal, it won’t be what we pictured. For example, I ran several marathons and an ultramarathon because of ideals I had in my head, and completed them … and they weren’t at all what I pictured. They were still worthwhile, but not at all what my fantasy was.
  2. You have a good likelihood of failing at some point, not meeting your ideal, and then feeling bad about yourself for failing.
  3. You don’t hit the ideal right away — most ideals are several months, if not years, in the future. So for the first few days, first few weeks … you will just do the activity but not hit any ideal. This is likely not fun. You might set ideals for each day (“go for a run today!”) but even then, you’ll go for the run and it won’t be what you fantasized it would be.
  4. Once you reach the goal you’re striving for, you’re not content. You just find another goal to strive for. And another. Until you’re dead, having never been satisfied.

What we don’t realize is that there’s nothing to strive for. We’re already in the perfect place: a moment that is filled with beauty and wonder, a life that is filled with untapped love and compassion, a goodness in ourselves underlying everything we do. We’re already in the ideal moment, but we take it for granted and fantasize about something else instead.

We can just stop striving. Just find joy in this present moment, without needing the crutch of our fantasies.

The Compassionate Way

So if we stop striving for health and fitness ideals, does that mean we just lie on the couch, stuffing our faces with potato chips and slurping soda all day? Umm, yuck. And no.

What we can do is 1) realize joy in who we are, where we are, and our intricate connection to the wonderful people all around us, and find contentment right now; and 2) in that moment of joy and contentment, we can act out of love.

What are some acts of love that we can do, in this moment of joy and appreciation for what is right here in front of us?

  1. Appreciating the gift of our bodies, we take care of them. The bodies we have are incredible, wonders of nature, and we take them for granted. We abuse them by being sedentary, taking drugs, eating junk food, not taking care of them. Instead, an act of appreciation for our bodies is to care for them. Exercise, walk, eat well, floss, meditate.
  2. Appreciating the gift of life, we explore the outdoors. There is so much to notice and explore, to behold with absolute wonder, that it’s a waste to be online or on our phones all day. Instead, it’s an act of love to get outside and move our beautiful bodies.
  3. Appreciating the gift of food, we nourish our bodies. Instead of abusing ourselves by putting junk in our bodies (just to satisfy cravings of comfort), we can find joy in the nourishment of our bodies with gorgeous, healthy, delicious food. And appreciate that the fresh food we’re feeding ourselves with is a gift, grown from the earth by people we don’t know who support our lives, a miracle not to be taken for granted.
  4. Appreciating this moment, we meditate. This moment is filled with brilliance, and yet we often ignore it. Instead, we can sit and meditate, to practice paying full and loving attention. We can do yoga, moving while we meditate. We can meditate as we go for a run, lift a barbell, ride a bike, swim in the ocean, walk in a sunny park.

There is no need for striving for fitness and health ideals. Instead, we can let go of those ideals and appreciate what’s right in front of us. And in gratitude, act with love and compassion to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the moment we’re in.

How to Make Friends

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By Leo Babauta

I’m writing this guide for my kids as they grow up and go out into the world — but it’s for anyone who wants to connect with others.

I’m writing it for my teenage self, who was shy and awkward and self-conscious. I’m writing it as a reminder to my current self, who is still those things.

But I’ve been lucky enough to make a handful of good friends, awesome people who are sucking the juice out of life, who wake up every day with gratitude and energy. I’m lucky to have them, and it makes me reflect on what I’ve done right, and what they do all the time when making connections with people.

Here’s what I’ve learned. It’s not a comprehensive guide, nor will it work for everyone. I still hope it’s useful.

Guidelines for Making Friends

In my experience, people (generally) want to be friends with other people who follow these general guidelines:

  • Be positive, not negative. While it’s OK to share your struggles with people (I recommend it), if you’re complaining all the time, and are generally negative about other people and life in general, then people get tired of the complaining and negativity. We have enough trouble in life without having friends who are negative all the time. That said, a good friend will always listen when you’re in need, so don’t take this as “never complain.” Instead, just generally try to be a positive person, and if you have struggles, also try to show how you’re tackling those struggles with a positive outlook.
  • Be interested & a good listener. Be interested in other people! Don’t make the mistake of only wanting to talk about your stuff, and being bored and unimpressed with what other people are doing. I try to find the interesting in everyone, even if they lead a relatively uneventful life, there’s something fascinating about them. When someone wants to talk, listen. If they only talk about themselves all day and don’t want to hear your stuff, then they probably aren’t going to be a great friend, but still give them a chance and be interested for as long as you can.
  • Be excited about life, have energy. We generally don’t want a friend who is bored all the time. Someone who is excited about life, interested in things, has good energy … that’s someone you’d by hyped to be around. Not super hyper, necessarily, but just containing a positive energy.
  • Do interesting things. If you’re excited about life, you manifest that by doing new things, learning, creating, exploring, trying out new experiences, meeting new people. If you are this kind of person, you’ll be interesting. If you shut out life, people might not be as interested.
  • Tell good stories. No one wants to listen to someone who tells long boring stories. After the first two such stories, people generally start tuning you out. So try to keep your stories shorter, unless you can tell people are interested. Find something interesting to hook their curiosity, and then draw them in with that curiosity until you satisfy it with a good ending. Practice your storytelling when you meet people, and try to get better at it. It’s not one of my strong points, to be honest, but I recognize that and am trying to be better.
  • Smile. I’m not saying you should have a fake smile, but a smile puts you in a friendly mood, versus frowning at someone. Don’t smile all the time, or at inappropriate times. Just generally have a smiling disposition, as it signals that you like the person (also try to genuinely like the person, moving away from tendencies to judge them or complain about them).
  • Put yourself out there, be willing to try things. Sing in public even if that scares you. Try new food, new experiences, new ideas. This open-mindedness attracts others who are looking to get the most out of life.
  • Be calm, not overly dramatic. While it’s great to have a lot of energy, people who are overly dramatic about little things can be a turn-off. So learn to react to most problems as if they’re not a big deal (because they usually aren’t), and handle them with calmness instead of overreacting.
  • Be authentic, don’t try to show off. All of the above recommendations might seem like I’m recommending that you be someone you’re not. I’m not recommending that at all. Instead, I want you to be an authentic version of yourself (there are lots of versions of ourselves) — but choose the version that is more in the directions recommended above, in general. If there is a positive and negative version of you, generally choose the positive version. But most importantly, don’t try to impress people all the time — if you’re confident in yourself, you don’t need to impress. Instead, be a genuine person, not just the “best you.” When this recommendation is in conflict with any of the above recommendations, choose this one.
  • Be happy with yourself & confident. This is just something that’s good to do for yourself. Be happy with who you are, even the flaws. If you are, you can be confident that you’re good enough when you meet someone else. People generally don’t respect someone who is constantly harsh on themselves. How can you learn to be happy with yourself? That’s a whole other post, but in general, become aware of any tendency to be harsh and critical of yourself, and don’t let yourself stew in those kinds of thoughts. Start to see the good in yourself, the genuine heart and caring nature, and let that be the story you tell yourself about yourself.

I don’t claim to be an expert at any of this (my friend Tynan is a much better expert, and wrote an excellent book you should check out), but this is what I believe to be true right now.

I hope this helps, and if you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, see it not as confirmation that you suck, but as an exciting new area for you to explore.

A Loving Guide to Going Vegan

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By Leo Babauta

A loved one has decided to go vegetarian and has struggled in a couple areas, so I thought I’d write this guide for her.

I’m writing it for those who want to go vegan, because that’s what I am, but the ideas apply to those going vegetarian as well.

This is for those who are considering it, or who are just getting started and have questions or struggles.

Let’s dive in!

Understand the Why

If you come across struggles while becoming vegan, it’s easy to give up if you’re not really motivated. So figure out why you’re doing this.

My top recommendation: do it for the animals.

Health: Yes, you can do it for your health, but in truth, being vegan is not a panacea. You can become healthier as a vegan if your previous diet was crap and you start eating vegetables and whole foods. But you can also eat crap as a vegan (French fries, fried vegan “chicken” and Coke, for example), or you could do your best but not get some nutrients and your health could suffer. Also, it’s completely possible to eat healthy as a non-vegan — my sister is a pescatarian who doesn’t eat grains or processed foods, and eats lots of veggies. So health isn’t always the best reason, though I personally transformed my health by going vegetarian and then vegan.

Environment: As a vegan, your carbon footprint will drop greatly — the carbon emissions of animal agriculture is greater than the transportation industry, and is probably the biggest sources of carbon emissions in most people’s lives. It’s said that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and on some level, I agree.

However, I’ve found that for most people, the environmental reason for veganism is just a bonus, not the main driving reason they stay vegan.

Don’t hurt animals (ethics): This is the top reason people stay vegan over the long run, in my experience. It’s emotional: most people love animals, and the idea of killing them for pleasure can be distressful for many of us. It’s logical: there’s no good reason to eat animals other than pleasure, as we can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet (I am and many others are). And it’s consistent: why do we love and protect dogs and cats (we wouldn’t tolerate their abuse or horrible killings) and not pigs and cows?

For those wondering, milk and eggs actually do harm animals — for one thing, dairy cows and egg hens are often abused and live in horrible conditions their entire lives, but no matter what farm they’re on, they’re killed when they’re no longer productive. And the male chicks of egg hens are crushed alive, and the male calves of dairy cows are raised in heartbreaking conditions and killed for veal.

For me, I started down the path for health reasons, but the ethics of harming other sentient beings is what has remained meaningful to me, and is the reason I’ll never go back to eating animal products. It’s good to keep that motivation in mind as you take this journey.

Getting Started

There’s no need to become vegetarian or vegan overnight. Like many others, I started by cutting out red meat and only eating poultry. Then I cut out poultry and became vegetarian (I’m not a big fan of fish). My wife cut out red meat, then poultry, then was pescatarian (only fish, no meat or poultry) for awhile before going vegetarian. This is a common pattern, and it makes the transition easier.

For me, I slowly transitioned from vegetarian to veganism, first cutting out eggs and then drinking soymilk instead of milk (I actually love the taste of soymilk, and no, soy is not bad for you). But I held out on cheese for the longest time, as I didn’t think I could give it up. I finally did when my wife decided to go vegan in 2012, and surprisingly, it was not hard at all to give up cheese!

The point is, there’s no one right path, and it doesn’t have to be sudden at all. Some people go vegetarian or vegan all at once and do great, but others find a slow transition to be a great way to adjust your tastebuds, discover new recipes, and figure out the logistics of the new lifestyle.

Get started however you want, but just start somewhere!

Going Out to Eat

The loved one I mentioned has had a hard time going to lunch with friends and finding almost nothing vegetarian on the menu. This can be tough. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Do a few minutes of research before you go anywhere. Yelp or Happy Cow are your friends, as you can find veg-friendly restaurants that will cater to you and your non-veg friends. I like to look up the menus online of places I want to go to. Honestly, I probably spend about 5-10 minutes doing this research, so it’s not hard.
  2. If you’re too lazy to do research, some places that are delicious and typically have veg food: Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican (Chipotle is great!), and lots of Asian places. In other words, almost any cuisine other than American steakhouses or barbecue joints.
  3. If you didn’t do research, then look for menu items that can either be vegan/vegetarian, or can be made vegan/vegetarian. For example, a big salad with lots of veggies, beans, nuts can be made vegetarian if you ask them to leave out the chicken (and cheese and egg if you’re vegan). Sometimes you’ll find a veggie burger on the menu of burger places. In a Thai restaurant, you can ask them to make tofu curry or pad thai without the fish sauce, and without egg.
  4. A good restaurant will often have a chef who likes to be challenged, so feel free to ask the server to ask the chef if they can make something vegan for you. Often they’ll be able to make something simple, and once in awhile they’ll delight you.

In the end, you’ll slowly develop a mental list of the places in your town where you can go to enjoy a good vegan dish or three, and also the mental habit of doing a few minutes’ research before agreeing to a lunch place with someone.

Cooking Delicious Food

Personally, I end up cooking my own food most of the time, and only eat out about once a week. It’s cheaper, healthier, and you get the food you love rather than whatever they have to offer.

It’s not hard either. You can usually find a vegan version of that meal online — I started with vegan versions of chili, spaghetti, curries, tacos, burgers, pizzas, other pastas (like pesto) and other things that my family and I already liked.

Eventually I branched out and tried new recipes, and explored a whole world of vegan cooking. It was a lot of fun.

These days, I have simplified. I go for simple bowls that I find delicious:

There are a thousand variations on these bowls. Basically combine a whole grain (like brown rice or quinoa, or potatoes if you like) with a protein (black beans, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, lentils), veggies (spinach, kale, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, edamame) and a sauce or spices. Healthy, easy to make, delicious. As a family, we’ve made versions of this bowl with a Mexican, Thai, Japanese or Indian theme, for example.

There are a lot of good vegan recipes online! Here are a couple: Vegan Richa, Post Punk Kitchen & Oh She Glows.

Eating at Other People’s Houses

It can be awkward at first when you go to someone else’s house to eat (for a party or family gathering, for example) and all they have is non-veg food. But you learn a couple good strategies for dealing with this:

  1. Offer to bring a dish or two. I pretty much always bring a vegan dish or two whenever I go to eat at someone’s house. I just say, “I’ll bring a vegan dish!” and they say, “Cool!” If I feel like a vegan dessert, I’ll make one and bring it too. No one objects — if they don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to. More for me. Bonus: when people taste my delicious vegan dishes and desserts, it shows them how wonderful being a vegan can be.
  2. Talk to the person. It was a bit awkward at first when I would get invited somewhere and I had to tell them that I was a vegetarian (and later vegan). Most people don’t know much about it, they can get offended by the very idea, and there can be lots of questions (and bad jokes). But I learned the best policy was just to tell people I’ve become vegan, and not make a big deal about it. If they have questions, I’m happy to answer, but I’m not here to preach. I’m just enjoying life as a vegan. And yes, there are the bad jokes that you get tired of … I just see it as their attempt to lighten their own tension, and laugh with them.

Now that people know I’m vegan, there aren’t any awkward conversations, and it’s not a big deal.

Adjusting Tastes

The strange thing is that if you are just starting out as a vegan, you might not like a bunch of vegan food. That’s normal. But here’s the interesting part: your tastebuds change!

For example, I didn’t like vegan ice cream or “fake meats” but now I’ll happy have ice cream made from coconut milk, cashew cream, almond milk, soymilk — as an occasional treat. And while I don’t eat vegan “meats” every day, I think some of them are quite good.

A couple more examples: I didn’t like soymilk before. And hated kale. Now I happily drink soymilk every day. And kale is one of my favorite foods evah (I even own a kale T-shirt).

In the beginning, I stuck with familiar tastes, and just altered them as little as necessary to make them vegetarian. But slowly I tried new recipes, new vegan ingredients, changing things just a little at a time. I found that my mind opened to the new tastes and soon they became normal.

I thought I would really miss meat, but I don’t, and haven’t ever. Now I can’t stand the thought of eating meat. I used to think I could never give up cheese, but it turned out to be the easiest thing ever, when I decided I really wanted to be vegan.

Tastebuds are wonderful things, in that they can change if you let them.

Understand the Nutrition

Vegans have a few things to understand if they want to be healthy on a vegan diet. It’s not hard at all, but you should educate yourself. One of the biggest problems when people go vegan and fail is that they don’t get proper nutrition because they didn’t care enough to read a few articles. Don’t make that mistake.

There are only a few nutrients you really need to know about — the biggest ones probably being B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3s. If you’re eating lots of veggies, lots of other whole foods, you’ll probably do better than most on the rest of the nutrients.

B12 is something every vegan should supplement — I take a simple B12 pill once or twice a week, and fortified soymilk is a good option. Don’t believe the myth that you can get it sufficiently from the dirt in vegetables.

Vitamin D is usually easy to get from sunlight, but if you don’t go outdoors much or it’s winter and there’s no sun outside, then take a Vitamin D supplement. I take this one made from mushrooms grown in sunlight.

Being low on Omega 3s isn’t something that will cause any noticeable problems, but it seems to be good for the heart and brain. Omnis can get it from fish oil. Vegans can get them from flaxseeds and walnuts and canola oil and other similar foods, but I additionally take a daily tablet called Ovega-3 that has a good blend of EPA and DHA.

There’s more you can learn — read all about it at VeganHealth.org.

Dealing with Family & Friends

Tell all your family and friends you’re going veg, so they can share in your joy! Actually, most likely they’ll tease you about it, debate you, and not understand. That’s OK, not everyone gets it.

I have a few recommendations:

  • Don’t be preachy. No one likes to be preached to, and in fact they’ll start to resent you and even be defensive about their way of eating.
  • Be patient. Not everyone gets it, but generally the people you love will come to accept this new part of you. Just not right away, perhaps. They need time to adjust.
  • Be loving. When you share your new lifestyle, do so out of love, not criticism. Do so with kindness in your heart and voice. Share what you think the person is ready to learn about, but don’t push.
  • Laugh at their jokes. Don’t take jokes about vegans in a personal way. People can feel a lot of tension about this stuff, so jokes are their way to overcome that.
  • Don’t debate. If someone wants to debate the ethics of veganism, it probably won’t be productive, because they have an entrenched stance and aren’t likely to change. Instead, offer to send them some links that address their concerns, but say a debate won’t be productive. If someone is genuinely interested and open-minded, then share what you think is appropriate.
  • Don’t talk about murder while people are eating. I’ve found that people don’t like you to talk about the incredibly inhumane way that animals are treated … while they’re eating the animals. It makes them feel pretty bad, defensive, even angry. That’s not a way to open people’s minds. If they ask while they’re eating, just give them the bare minimum, smile, and enjoy your vegan food.

In the end, love and patience and understanding are the way to go.

Getting Super Healthy

Veganism doesn’t just have to be for the beautiful animals. You can use it to become super bad-ass healthy too.

Here’s how:

  1. Eat a crapload of vegetables. Greens of all kinds are king. Then expand into reds, yellows and oranges. Whites and browns. Be the god or goddess of vegetables, and let amazing health be your dominion.
  2. Move to whole foods. There’s actually no good definition of “whole foods” (good!) or “processed foods” (baaad!), it’s just a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. But try for foods that are closer to their natural state. For example, beans look like they could have just been picked from their pod. A bagel doesn’t. That said, no one has to be perfect about eating only whole foods — just eat in that direction.
  3. Cut down on junk. Pop Tarts, soda, too much beer, white breads and pastries, chips, sweets, most cereals, frozen prepared foods, fast food, most things you can get at chain restaurants. I’m not saying never eat this stuff again, but as you move away from it, you’ll get healthier.
  4. Exercise. Bodyweight exercises, yoga, biking, swimming, hiking, running, rowing, weights, climbing, sports.

It’s pretty much that simple. If you want to lose weight, I would do the above, and eat as many green vegetables with your meals as you can. If you want to gain weight, just eat more, and add nuts and nut butters and oils to your meals when you can.

A Few Myths to Debunk

It’s inevitable that you’ll run up against some common myths. It’s good to do a little research, because they simply aren’t true.

Here are a few:

  • Protein is hard to get (it’s easy)
  • Plants feel pain (no, they don’t have a central nervous system or brain)
  • We’re doing these animals a favor by giving them a life (their lives are short, brutish and filled with cruelty)
  • Our canine teeth mean we’re evolved to be carnivores (we can’t survive on a carnivorous diet; we can survive on a vegan or omnivorous diet)
  • It’s expensive to be vegan (beans and rice are cheaper than meat)
  • Vegan diets make you weak (I’m healthy & strong, and so are many other vegans)

I’m not going to dispel these (and other) myths here, but other sites have done it really well.

Enjoy, Not Sacrifice

Being vegan isn’t hard, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s not extreme, and it’s not boring. It can be, if that’s how you see it.

But I see it differently:

It’s delicious.

It’s a joy.

It’s healthy, humane, kind. Good for the Earth. Wonderful to share.

I wish you best on this journey, my friends, as you explore a world of compassion and love. Do it with your arms wide open and your hearts full.

A few additional resources
: No Meat Athlete, Plant Shift, Minimalist Vegan.

Letting Go of Distractions

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By Leo Babauta

Today I deleted several apps from my phone: Twitter, Reddit, Feedly, Snapchat, the N.Y. Times app, and more.

I’m letting go of distractions, or at least learning to.

In fact, I made a list of things I’m letting go of:

  • Twitter (except to post my latest articles)
  • Reddit
  • Favorite blogs & websites
  • News websites (most of the time)
  • YouTube (or other video sites, unless needed)
  • Shopping, buying crap
  • Reading more than one book at a time
  • Additional projects
  • Checking my phone often
  • Checking email/messages more than 3x per day
  • More than one or two tabs open (unless absolutely necessary)
  • Reading while eating
  • Extra clothes, books, equipment
  • Needing to do something all the time

That’s not to say I’m going to be able to let go of these all at once, or perfectly. I’m sure it’ll be messy, a journey. And these aren’t going to be strict restrictions, but guidelines to help me be mindful. But in general, I have the intention of learning to let go.

Why? Because distractions are a crutch, a mental habit, a refuge for the mind.

We procrastinate through distractions, of course, but we also use it to hide.

Distractions help us hide from:

  • Boredom
  • Difficult emotions
  • Being present
  • Things about ourselves we don’t like
  • Other people
  • Discomfort and fear
  • Resentment
  • Our mental patterns
  • The fear of not being busy
  • Our worry that we aren’t content, that we aren’t enough

You might be thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with having a place to rest from all of that? Who wants to face those horrible things?” I’ve found that hiding from these difficulties doesn’t make them go away, nor does it help the problem. The only thing that has helped me is to face difficulties with openness, courage, curiosity, and honesty. Giving a difficulty our loving attention actually helps the situation.

So hiding isn’t what I want to do anymore. I’m being honest with myself and admitting that I’ve been using distractions to run, to hide. I have the intention of not hiding, but facing.

You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with a little distraction, a little mental break?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting our minds rest — I’m not trying to be productive all the time. I want to just notice why I’m trying to run to distractions, and get in touch with those fears instead. I plan to rest, to exercise, to get outside, to meditate, to be present — not to work all the time. Rest is important, but distractions aren’t the only way we can rest. Distractions aren’t the only way to have fun. Distractions are a crutch, if we’re honest with ourselves.

I have no prescription for life here, nor am I judging others for their distraction habits — obviously I have my own to deal with, and I’m not in a position to judge. I thought only that I’d share my current intention and practice with the people I love. And let you know that I’m doing it with love.

The Way of Openness: Moving Away from Comfort & Security

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This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky – that’s called liberation. ~Pema Chodron

By Leo Babauta

It’s human nature to desire comfort and security. Unfortunately, that tendency is what causes most of our problems.

We humans tend not to like uncertainty, discomfort, fear, instability, drastic change or chaos. That’s natural and understandable, but our habit of running to the secure and comfortable leads to difficulties:

  • Procrastination is running from the uncertainty, discomfort and fear of a difficult task to the comfort of distractions.
  • We put off exercise, eating healthy, meditation, decluttering and other habits because they push into discomfort, and we go to comfortable things instead.
  • Addictions result from constantly using pleasurable (comfortable) things as a crutch when we’re facing discomfort.
  • We put off adventures, doing the work we love, learning new things, because they are full of uncertainty and fear, and instead we stay in our comfort zones.
  • We lash out at people when we’re angry because of fear (of being criticized, of losing our good self-image, etc.). Or we withdraw from them. This hurts our happiness and our relationships.
  • We put off connecting with other people because we’re afraid of opening our hearts to strangers, and instead stay in our comfort zones. This leads to loneliness and a craving for connection.

And so on: financial problems, health problems, work problems, relationship problems, happiness problems all stem from this running from discomfort, uncertainty, instability to comfort and security.

What if we were able to try a different way?

What if we explored the Way of Openness?

It could open up a world of change and possibilities for us, freedom from our addictions and procrastinations, our lashings out and our fears.

The Way of Openness

The opposite of running to comfort and security is … not running.

Instead, it is:

  • being open to uncertainty
  • being curious about discomfort
  • getting in touch with fears, staying with the physical feeling of fear
  • being present and facing the moment in front of us with openness
  • embracing the unknown, the unstable, as full of opportunity and learning
  • finding curiosity in every moment
  • welcoming all feelings with friendliness, not running from them
  • smiling at fear, at other people’s fears, with an open heart
  • stepping into uncertainty with courage

The Way of Openness is about embracing and welcoming and being curious about whatever is in front of us, staying in touch with our feelings, and being open to the constantly changing nature of what comes at us.

This Way is not easy, but neither is the life of running from discomfort and uncertainty, as we’ve seen.

This Way takes practice. It takes courage. It takes love.

But the result, I’ve been finding (and I’m still a beginner), is that you are capable of any kind of change, that you can open your heart to people in a way you never were able to before, and you realize you’re free from having to run, to constantly distract yourself and find something to keep you busy.

So how do we cultivate this Way of Openness?

Practices for Being Open

This is a lifelong practice, to be honest. But here are some things you can practice — pick one each day instead of trying to do them all at once, and constantly come back to practices you’ve tried before:

  1. Identify patterns: Recognize when you’re procrastinating, seeking distraction, going to addictions, lashing out, withdrawing, doing any kind of harmful action against yourself or others. Try to see the fear or discomfort that you’re running from. Notice what your go-to distractions or comforts are.
  2. Stay in touch: Once you understand your mental patterns, notice when they’re starting up, and instead of allowing yourself to run to comfort … stay with the discomfort. Locate the physical feeling in your body, and stay with it for as long as you can. Get in touch with the feeling of fear (not the mental story about fear) and keep the warm hand of your attention on it. See if it relaxes if you give it curiosity and loving attention. Welcome it as you would a friend.
  3. Be open to the present moment: As you go about your day, check in on the present moment in front of you, and notice if you’re rejecting it for any reason. Instead, see if you can embrace it. Be curious about it. Be friendly towards it. Give it your loving attention and welcome it as a friend. See the moment changing, and develop an open heart towards it.
  4. Step into uncertainty: Can you challenge yourself to move into uncertainty and discomfort each day? Staying in meditation, learning something new and difficult, facing difficult tasks or projects, putting yourself in a vulnerable place with others … these are all great practices. As you do them, use curiosity, an open heart, and a friendly smile as your tools for staying present with the uncertainty.
  5. Open your heart to others: For many, our habit is to reject things about other people, to lash out or withdraw from them when we reject things about them. Instead, practice not rejecting. Practice curiosity. Embrace the things about them you would normally reject, and find gratitude for them. Open your heart and be vulnerable, and see what happens. Be open to their rejection, their anger, their fears. Stay with the feelings of fear or anger that might arise in you.
  6. Find gratitude for everything: Instead of rejecting things about others, instead of rejecting things about the present moment … find a way to be grateful. This helps us to embrace and be open to everything.

I’d say that’s a good start. You could spend a year practicing with these ideas. Once you’re good at them, find other areas where you’re blocked or holding back, and practice opening up there too.

In the end, this is about whether we want to go through life running from what we find and seeking comfort, or whether we’re going to find the courage to be open to everything, to finally be free of the running.

In the end, we find that there was nothing to be afraid of after all. It’s a wonderful place to be, this changing, uncertain, uncomfortable and miraculous world.

Stepping Out of Old Habits & Deeper Into Mindfulness

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By Leo Babauta

Most of our lives are spent following unconscious, habitual patterns.

We wake and start immediately with our usual distractions, fall into regular eating habits, interact with people reactively out of old mental patterns, procrastinate and put off exercise out of old mental habits, are constantly thinking of something other than what we’re doing out of habit …

What if we could step away from those old habitual patterns?

What would it be like to wake up from our daydream, and make more conscious choices in each moment?

That’s what I’m exploring in my new course for my Sea Change Program called “Deeper Into Mindfulness” … and I invite you to join me this month.

In this course, we’re looking at:

  • Developing mental concentration and awareness, so that we can become more aware of what our minds are doing and of the present moment.
  • Developing mindfulness more in our daily lives, not just during meditation.
  • Letting go of attachments by seeing the fluid, impermanent, egoless nature of the reality in front of us.
  • Developing heart practices that work hand-in-hand with awareness to help relieve our stresses, be more compassionate in our relationships, and be happier in each moment.

Each week, I share two videos with my Sea Change members who are taking the course, and offer them daily practices they can do to delve deeper into mindfulness and develop these skills.

Each week, there’s a challenge to do these practices every day if possible, and a weekly accountability thread.

And I’m going to do a live webinar on the topic, and answer member questions during the webinar.

I invite you to join me by signing up for Sea Change today. And step out of your old habits, and start becoming more conscious in every beautiful moment.