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December 2017

Essential Zen Habits of 2017

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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 took a trip to Costa Rica for the first time (it was also a scouting trip for future retreats I want to hold), and we traveled to NYC together too. I didn’t travel as much this year, which was actually a good thing.
  • Learning Go: I got a little obsessed with the strategy game Go for a few months (starting in June). I really loved learning it, but had to pull back so I could focus more on my work projects. It’s a beautiful game. My 13-year-old son Seth learned with me and is still progressing up the ranks, he’s far better than I am now!

Those are just the bigger points, but overall, I would say there were times of stagnation, times of obsessions, times of stress, and also times of incredible learning and growth and love. Interesting times.

Zen Habits in 2017

Other than the personal headlines, I’m pretty proud of what I created here at Zen Habits this year:

  1. Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat: I conducted my first retreat, in San Francisco in April, with a small group of beautiful people. It was an experiment, the first retreat/workshop of many I hope to hold.
  2. Dealing with Struggles course: I launched my first standalone video course in March, Dealing with Struggles. I really loved working with the participants on transforming struggles into openness and joy.
  3. 44 Training Program: I launched the free 44 Training Program as a gift on my birthday, to all of you. It’s 44-day video training program to get good at mindfulness, uncertainty and discomfort.
  4. Habit Mastery course: In November, I launched my second standalone video course, the Habit Mastery Course. It is my best course on habits yet, helping you to level up your habit skills, no matter what level of mastery you’re at. I still highly recommend it, if you’re looking to create new habits in 2018.
  5. Zen Productivity workshops: One of the biggest things I started doing was creating live workshops in different cities. I started with NYC, SF, LA and SD, but I’m planning to do a bunch more in 2018. Sign up here to get notified of upcoming workshops.
  6. Nearly a dozen Sea Change courses: I was productive in my Sea Change Program in 2017, creating nearly a dozen new video courses. Now that I have about 20 video courses, and 20 other article-based habit modules, I’m going to change up Sea Change in 2018 to be focused on going deeper into these topics and holding each other accountable, rather than creating new courses. More on this soon!
  7. Habit Zen habit app: This year I worked with two excellent developers and we really created a great web app for tracking habits, called Habit Zen. It’s invite-only for now (and there’s no phone app yet), but we made it look great, added some excellent habit stats, a habit log/journal, and soon will have daily habit tips and accountability groups.
  8. My mission: In April, I announced my new personal mission: To Help the world transform fear & uncertainty into mindful openness and joy. It’s what drives all of the projects you see on this list, and will drive even more projects in 2018.
  9. Attended three events: I had the pleasure of speaking/participating at three amazing events this year: Camp GLP, Tribe Conference, and the Rich Litvin Intensive. All were amazing, and I met a lot of incredible people there. More events in 2018!
  10. Honored on the Fuel List: I had the honor of being named one of the people on Thrive Global’s Fuel List (from Arianna Huffington). Some really amazing people on there.

As you can see, it was a busy year for me. I plan to do some new things in 2018 too, more info on all of that coming up!

The Best Zen Habits Posts of 2017

To wrap up this year, here are my favorite Zen Habits post from 2017:

And more

For more best of Zen Habits:

The Simplicity Cycle: Returning to Paring Down to Find Your True Needs

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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, if you start learning about chess, you might buy a set (or two) and a bunch of books and apps and go on a bunch of websites. But in the paring down phase, you might decide that chess isn’t important enough to keep in your life, or if it is, you only need one chess set, two really key books, and one website or app. The rest you let go of. Again, many people skip this step.

If you’re into simplifying and figuring out what’s essential, you’ll do the last two steps. If you’re like most people, you’ll just keep doing one and two, which leads to a growing amount of clutter and complexity.

What I’ve Learned from the Cycle

As you might guess, I find the last two phases really important. But I also think the first two are important, because they’re about continual learning, curiosity, growth, exploration, creativity and more. I haven’t been able to stop myself from doing the first two phases, at least a few times each year. So I continue to repeat this Simplicity Cycle, several times a year.

The first two phases are where you get excited about something, where you get motivated and you’re moved to find out as much as you can. This is an essential human drive, and I would never want to suppress it.

But here’s what I’ve learned:

  • I have to hold myself back from acquiring in the Addition phase. I do this by reminding myself of how much I wasted in the last few Addition phases, when I bought too many things. It’s really hard to hold back when you’re excited. But it’s important to remember that following your every urge isn’t necessarily a helpful thing.
  • The Inspiration phase can be a wonderful thing, but sometimes it’s just a fantasy that grips hold of us (like wanting to become a black belt at something) when we see a photo or read an inspiring story of someone doing something cool. There’s nothing wrong with these photos or inspiring stories. There’s nothing wrong with the fantasy that forms in our heads. But when it grips us, and brings us to the Addition phase, then it can lead us to spend too much time or money or effort on something that’s not really that important — it’s just a fantasy that’s taken hold. The reality will be quite different once we dive into it — becoming a black belt will take years of hard work, and the payoff won’t be exactly what you dream it will be. That’s not to say we shouldn’t go after it, but we should realize it will be very different than how we picture, and probably not as exciting.
  • Often the Inspiration phase is started when we think we really want something, even need it. But it’s not a true need. We rarely explore how to get our true needs met without the Addition phase, and it’s something worth considering as we think about the big picture of our lives. What are true needs? More on that in the next section.
  • The Contemplation phase can come at any time — maybe even before you start the Addition phase! Maybe right after you start it and you pause to think about whether this is something you should be doing. Basically, you take a step back and look at the big picture — why are you bothering to do this? Is it just a fantasy or is it meaningful to you? Is the reality going to be anywhere close to the fantasy? Is there a more purposeful way you might be living? What are your true needs here? What can you get rid of, and what’s truly essential?
  • The Paring Down phase can be very liberating! Once you’ve had a realization that you want to simplify, it can be a huge burden to let go of things that you’ve been holding onto. At the same time, it can be difficult to let go if you’re still holding on to hope. And there’s the regret of buying too much or acquiring too much, the regret of being wasteful. But it’s not wasteful if you got something out of it, if you learned something from it. So give thanks to whatever gave you something, learn from the experience, and let go.

In this whole process, I find the real learning is about true needs. It’s hard to understand true needs until you’ve gone through this process a few times. Let’s take a look.

Finding Your True Needs

Going through this cycle helps you see that you can let go of things you don’t really need. They might actually be giving you a burden you don’t want, and letting go is liberating. You free yourself of it, and you’re even happier — you didn’t need it in the first place!

Going through the cycle a second time, and then a third, is just more learning about figuring out what you don’t need. And learning to let go of what you don’t really need.

If you go through the cycle a bunch of times, with consciousness, you can start to figure out the kinds of things you crave for and that excite you that aren’t really true needs. They seem cool, they’re shiny, but they don’t really satisfy anything deep within you.

I’ll give you a few examples of things that didn’t satisfy a real need for me:

  • Chess: I really enjoyed learning about chess, but the competitive aspect of chess, and the hundreds and thousands of hours you need to spend on practice to get anywhere near good were not anything I really cared about. And honestly, getting really good at chess didn’t hold real meaning to me. The true need was learning, and I can do that for free in many areas of life.
  • Gourmet food: When I moved to San Francisco, I discovered some amazing restaurants, from neighborhood gems to Michelin-starred world-class gourmet spots. I went crazy for about a year, going to as many as I could afford. It caused me to gain weight, lose a lot of money, and get tired of that kind of rich food. I did the same kind of deep dive with pizza, coffee, wine and beer at different times. To be honest, it was all a waste, and I’m glad I’m over it! The true need was exploration, and I can do that without needing to get broke or overweight.
  • Lots of books: At different points in the last 10-15 years, I’ve gone overboard in buying books. I love books, to be honest. I love the hope that each one contains, but I can go overboard with that optimism, and buy more than I can possibly read. The true need was, again, learning. I am not against books, but I am now more honest with myself (not always) about how much I can actually read.
  • Survival gear, travel gear, tech gear, hiking gear: Every now and then, I really get into a topic and decide I want the best gear in that area. I bought cool survival and travel gear, and too much ultralight backpacking gear. I don’t go overboard with tech gear, but sometimes I get a craving and cave in to that craving. None of it has really mattered to me in the long term — it’s all short-term lusts. The true need is really to get outdoors and explore.

None of those areas met my true needs — they were all extraneous, even though I thought they were important at the time.

In the end, going through the process helped me to realize what I really needed. And to let go of the things I thought were needs.

Some things I now think are true needs:

  1. Food, water, clothing, heat, shelter, and basic safety, of course.
  2. Love and connection.
  3. Learning, exploration.
  4. Play, inspiration & creative outlets.
  5. Getting outdoors, being active, being present with nature.
  6. Stillness & peace.

There might be more. Beyond the basic needs of the items at the top of the list, the others are about love and nourishment in some way.

And when I remember these needs, I can remember that these needs can be met in a variety of ways. Not only in the way I’m fantasizing about. I can meet my needs by simply going outside and going for a walk. Talking with a loved one or an interesting stranger. Reading something online. Meditating and finding stillness.

Simple things, that cost nothing. Simple things, that nourish me, and require no additions to what I already have. Simple things, that allow me to let go of the rest.

Simple things, that are available all around us in beautiful abundance.

New Book: Soulful Simplicity

I’d like to recommend a book by a good friend, Courtney Carver of Be More with Less … her book Soulful Simplicity comes out next week, and you will love it.

It’s about the power of simplicity to improve our health, build more meaningful relationships, and relieve stress in our professional and personal lives.

Check out the first chapter here, and pre-order the book now to get a bonus.

A Training Program for Single-Tasking & Focus

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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 the training.
  6. Practice regularly, instead of allowing yourself to forget.
  7. Focus on micro skills — instead of training your entire baseball swing, focus on one part at a time.

With those ideas, we’re going to train ourselves to get better at single-tasking with full focus.

The Focus Training Method

First, ask yourself whether this is important enough to train yourself in. Do you really care about finding focus, or is everything fine as it is? If it’s not fine, what difficulty does it cause you? Is it worth it to train yourself to relieve that difficulty? Do you care deeply about this? Remember that as you practice and feel like skipping the training.

Now here’s the training method I recommend:

  1. Set yourself to train in 5-10 minute bursts, 2-5 times a day, every day. There is a temptation to train for an hour, or 30 minutes, because 5-10 minutes seems silly. But we’re not attempting a marathon just yet — we want to train ourselves before we attempt a marathon. So set your practice for 5-10 minute intervals of full focus, then 5 minutes of break, then another interval, and so on. Let two of these short sessions a day be your minimum, even on weekends or when you’re traveling.
  2. Train at the easy level, don’t start with hard tasks. If writing your book is such a hard task that you really dread doing it, don’t start with that. Or maybe it’s doing your taxes/finances, or writing a difficult report or letter. Instead, start with easier tasks that won’t cause you to panic or totally dread doing it. You can work your way up to the hard tasks after a week or two, and when you do, just start in small doses (5-10 minutes).
  3. Use any failures as really important feedback for adjustment. If you get distracted or pulled away from the task, that’s completely OK — the only failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes. Failure is actually super important for training — if you’re not failing, you’re probably not pushing yourself into new learning. Failure is how we get better in training — notice what went wrong, and figure out how to adjust. Every time you mess up, think of this as a big golden opportunity, and relish the idea of reviewing what happened, and seeing how you can adjust and improve. Distracted by Facebook? Block it. Disconnect from the Internet. Give your spouse the wireless router. Tell people on Facebook you won’t be on Facebook until 5pm each day. Figure out what you need to do, and adjust.
  4. Mix up the training. There’s value in repeated training, but studies have shown that we learn best when we vary the training. Try to focus for 5 minutes one session, then 10 minutes the next. Try to focus on writing in one session, then reading in another, then writing an important email in a third session. Keep the difficulty level about the same, but mix up the tasks and even the micro skills you practice.
  5. Focus on 2-3 micro skills at a time (see below). Each practice session, just focus on a couple micro skills. Then mix it up in the next practice session. Eventually you’ll get so good at certain micro skills that you don’t need to think about them, they’ll just be easy. Then you can move on to others.

You can lengthen the training sessions (but no need to alter the number of sesions for awhile) as you get better at the training, and start to master the micro skills below. Don’t be in a rush to lengthen the training, but when you do, just add 5 minutes to the session.

So you might start with 5-10 minute sessions, then after a couple weeks, try 10-15 minute sessions, an so on. I wouldn’t recommend going longer than 30 minutes unless you do work that requires you to keep everything in your head (a complex mental model) and taking breaks is actually detrimental to the task.

The Micro Skills

There are lots of micro skills you can practice, and you’ll find some of your own as you adjust your practice based on mistakes and continued learning (blocking Facebook when needed, for example).

But here are some that I recommend practicing:

  1. Pick several important tasks to work on today. Each morning, or maybe even better the night before, you can pick three important tasks to focus on for the day (or the next day). What tasks will move the needle on your important projects, or important areas in your life? You might have a million to do, but just pick three. You can always pick three more if you finish those early.
  2. Pick one of those important tasks. In the morning, pick on of your three important tasks to focus on first. Yes, they’re all important. But you’ll get to the others later — for now, you can only do one. Pick one and focus on that. Btw, after you finish your three important tasks, you can decide to focus on smaller tasks (like answering email, paying bills, replying to messages, etc.) for half an hour or whatever you need. They’re valid things to use for your focus training sessions.
  3. Set yourself to do that task with focus. That means decide that you’re going to do nothing but focus on this task. You’re going to use it as a practice session. You might set a timer. You’re going to practice the micro skills in this section with this task, consciously, and not switch.
  4. Clear a space and make this feel important. That means clear a physical space (however clear you can get it in a minute or so) and clear your computer of whatever you don’t need. Turn off your phone. See this as a really important training session, worth using up some of your life instead of just a mindless task to get through.
  5. Set an intention. As you get started, set an intention for how you want to practice. Examples: “I want to be fully present as I read this article,” or “I want to practice focus deliberately as I write for 10 minutes,” or “I am going to do this task with love in my heart for the people I’m serving.” The intention is a way to remind yourself of the way you want to show up for this focus session.
  6. Have only the tools you need open. That means closing all apps. Turning off your phone. You don’t need a million things open to do this task. There’s just you and your yoga mat. Just you and your writing app. Just you and your book.
  7. Notice your urge to put it off. When you choose a task to focus on, you will often have an urge to put off starting. Notice this urge, and pay close attention to how it feels. It’s an urge, a moment of uncertainty and discomfort, and temptation to do something easier or more certain. It’s nothing you can’t handle, and not a reason to run. Stay with your task instead of switching to something else, and stay with how the urge feels in your body.
  8. Stay with it for just 5 minutes. Focus with complete devotion to this task for 5 minutes. You can lengthen to 10 or 15 minutes after mastering the 5-minute session.
  9. Watch your urge to switch. As you do your focus session, at different times you’ll often feel an urge to switch. You don’t need to switch just because you have the urge. Sit with the uge, meditating on how it feels, staying with it as you did with the urge to put off the task (No. 7 above). Let the urge get really strong, and realize that it’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing you need to run away from.
  10. *Take a short break, and then mindfully come back. Try setting a timer for your focus session, then when it goes off, set another 5-minute timer and take a break. Then come back to the task and do another focus session. You don’t have to do this every time, but it is a micro skill to practice.
  11. Mindfully immerse yourself in the task. As you do the task, try to be fully immersed in it, having your mind fully in the task, and/or the physcial sensations you feel as you do the task. This means noticing when your mind is wandering, and coming back. There’s nothing but you, your body, and this task.
  12. Find gratitude when you finish (as well as during). As you’re doing the task, you can feel gratitude that you’re able to do it. Gratitude for being alive, for being able to serve someone you care about by doing this task, for your growth as you practice focus. And as you finish your session, you can feel gratitude that you were able to focus (even if only for a little while), and that you furthered along your task (or finished it). Amazing!

These are some of the micro skills that I’ve found important to practice. After years of working on these skills, I can confidently say that I’m much better at them, though there are times when I need to remind myself to practice, of course.

Is focus and single-tasking something you want to get better at? Is it important to you? Will it serve you and the people you serve? Then set yourself to a training plan today!

Invites to My Habit Zen Web App

I’m opening my Habit Zen web app, designed to help you track and create new habits, to 2,000 new users in the next week or two. It’s free, just fill out this form:

Habit Zen Invite Form

We’ve been working hard to make the app better, and more improvements are coming soon!

10 Reasons Why We Don’t Stick to Things

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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 Don’t Stick With Our Plan

One of the things I’ve found is that there isn’t always just one reason. Sometimes it’s multiple reasons at once, or other times it’s different reasons depending on the situation or the type of person you are.

But here are some of the most common reasons we don’t stick to things:

  1. We don’t take it seriously. This is my No. 1 problem in this area — I tell myself I’m going to stick to a new plan, but I think that’s enough to make it happen. I somehow assume it’s going to be easy, despite all the past evidence that the only time I stick to things is when I take them seriously and put in a serious effort. Most of the time, we just half commit to something, kind of like only being half in a relationship — with that kind of commitment, eventually you’ll be out of it.
  2. We just forget. We tell ourselves we’re going to meditate every day, with complete resolve. Then the morning comes and we just plain forget. We remember later, but we’re busy then. The next morning, we forget again. By the time we remember, we feel disappointed with ourselves and give up.
  3. We run from discomfort or uncertainty. When the exercise habit (or meditation) gets uncomfortable, we stop enjoying it, and make up excuses to put it off (see No. 5 below). When we face a difficult habit like writing or big tasks at work, there is a lot of uncertainty in those tasks, so we start finding reasons to put it off. We don’t like uncertainty or discomfort, so we try to get out of it.
  4. We give in to temptation, out of habit. Temptation is all around us: the temptation of chocolate cake when we said we’re going to stick to a diet, the temptation of TV when we said we’re going to go to bed earlier, the temptation of the phone or Internet when we said we’re going to meditate. Actually, temptation is just a bit of discomfort, but our habitual response is to just give in. Rationalize, and let the temptation rule our response.
  5. We rationalize. When something gets difficult, or we have a temptation in front of us, our minds start to rationalize why it’s OK to do what we said we weren’t going to do. Our brains can be very very good at rationalizing: “Just one more won’t hurt,” or “You worked hard, you deserve it,” or “This time doesn’t count, you’ll start tomorrow,” or “It’s a special occasion, this is a good exception.” Those all sound reasonable, except that they sabotage our plans. Once we start to believe these rationalizations, sticking to anything goes out the door.
  6. We renegotiate. We say we’re going to do something, then when the moment comes to do it, we’re feeling temptation, discomfort, uncertainty … and so we start to say, “Well, I’m still going to do it, but in 5 minutes, after I check my messages.” Or, “I’m tired right now, I’ll just take a day off and do it tomorrow.” This is another form of rationalization — basically, just a habitual response to not wanting to do something, a way to get out of it. My friend Tynan says one of the most harmful things to the habit of self-discipline and building trust in ourselves is the habit of renegotiating with ourselves.
  7. We dislike the experience and avoid things we dislike. This seems natural — if I don’t like to eat vegetables, I probably will avoid them. If I don’t like to face an uncomfortable writing task, I’ll put it off. But the problem is that with every habit, with every difficult project … we’re going to find multiple moments of discomfort, of disliking the experience. We’ll never stick to anything if we bail as soon as we dislike something. Instead, we have to see that this habit of disliking, judging, resenting, mentally complaining, and avoiding … it’s hurting us. We don’t need to like everything about an experience to put ourselves fully into it. We are stronger than that.
  8. We forget why it’s important. Maybe you started out taking something seriously, but then a week into it, you’ve forgotten. Now you’re just thinking about how uncomfortable it is. If we forget the importance of something — and if something doesn’t really matter to us, we shouldn’t commit to it — if we forget, we won’t have a good reason to push into discomfort.
  9. We get down on ourselves or give up in disappointment. When we falter, when we don’t meet our ideals or expectations, when we mess up in some way … it’s actually not a big deal. Just learn from it and start again. But instead, we often beat ourselves up, feel super disappointed in ourselves. This isn’t helpful, and can actually sabotage our efforts.
  10. There are too many barriers. This is the simplest one, but we often forget. Let’s say I want to start eating healthier, and even have a plan for how I want to eat. But then morning comes, I’m hungry and in a hurry, and I’m supposed to make a tofu scramble, which requires a lot of chopping of vegetables, cooking, cleaning … too many things to do right now when I’m hungry, so I’ll just eat the bagel that will take 2 minutes to make. This is a big problem with most things we want to stick to — there are barriers that are too high for when we’re tired, rushed, or not feeling like it. Driving 20 minutes to the gym, having to declutter the living room before you meditate, having a lot of distractions when you write, anything that requires more than 5 minutes of prep time before we can get started … it’s too high of a barrier.

OK, so those are the reasons we don’t stick to things. Many of you are pretty familiar with these, but it’s good to be reminded, and it’s a smart idea to give them some consideration. Why do we let these obstacles continue to trip us up? Aren’t there good solutions?

Yes, there are — and they’re not all that difficult to implement, if we just consciously decide to do them and then take action to remember them and make them happen. Let’s take a look.

Overcome These Barriers, Get Better at Sticking to Things

  1. Take it super seriously. Is this important enough to commit to? Do you really want it, enough to push into discomfort when things get difficult? Consider this for a moment or two before deciding to try to stick to something. Then give it the effort that something important deserves — write it down. Make a plan, even if it’s just a short one. Commit to someone else. Set up reminders. Have a time when you’re going to do it every day. Clear a space to do that, set things up. Don’t take it lightly.
  2. Make sure you don’t forget. How will you remember when the time comes to do it? Where will you be, what will you be doing, when it’s time to meditate, or write, or exercise, or eat your healthy lunch? Put a reminder note or other visual reminder there. This is really important, because as we start to do something new, it’s too easy to forget. Put up multiple reminders, including one on your phone and one on your computer. If it’s important enough to commit to, it’s important enough to create these reminders.
  3. Relish the pushing into discomfort & uncertainty. We have to retrain ourselves to see discomfort and uncertainty as a signal to practice and get better at being in discomfort, instead of a signal to run away. Our minds habitually want to get away from discomfort and uncertainty, but there’s no good reason to do that. We won’t die or be hurt because we’re eating broccoli or doing a few pushups (unless you have a serious medical condition, of course — always check with a doctor if you do). There’s no need to panic and run when we’re uncomfortable. Instead, we can even start to relish this practice opportunity, to see it as a delicious experience of getting better at something, of learning and finding a way to open up to discomfort.
  4. See temptation as a signal to practice. In the same way, each time we have temptation, we can train ourselves to see it as a signal to practice staying in discomfort without needing to relieve it by giving in to the temptation. At a party where there’s chocolate cake (and you’re committed to a healthy eating plan)? Say no to the cake but hell yes to the opportunity to stay in the discomfort of not giving in to temptation. Say hell yes to the chance to explore what that’s like, to find joy and gratitude in the middle of it.
  5. Set boundaries to recognize your rationalizations. We can train ourselves, too, to become aware of when we’re rationalizing. It’s hard to see sometimes, because we’re so used to just rationalizing in the background, and allowing ourselves to believe it without any conscious thought. So to make it obvious that we’re rationalizing, it’s helpful to have firm boundaries, because then we see when the rationalizations are trying to convince us to cross the boundaries. For example, if you say, “I’m only going to eat between 11am and 6pm,” then it’s obvious when you’re trying to convince yourself to eat at 9pm. Other examples of boundaries: “I’m only going to watch two TV shows, and only after 8pm,” “I only eat hearty salads for lunch,” “I go for a walk or run every day when I get off work,” or “I meditate when I wake up, before I open my computer or phone.” When you set these hard boundaries, you see yourself trying to rationalize. When you realize this, just don’t let yourself believe the rationalization. They sound convincing, but they’re sabotaging you.
  6. Don’t renegotiate in the moment. Just don’t let yourself. Make the plan the day before (or at the beginning of the month, or the week, etc.) but don’t let yourself decide in the moment. You’re too prone to put it off or try to get out of discomfort. Instead, tell yourself that you can’t renegotiate for a week (or a month). Only after that period can you sit down and give it some thought, and decide whether you want to recommit.
  7. Relish the opening up to things you dislike. When you find yourself committed to doing something you dislike, it’s easy to try to get out of it, or resent having to do it. Instead, we can train ourselves to shift our mental attitude, and see it as an opportunity to practice open our minds up to this experience. What can we be grateful for right now, in the middle of this experience? How can we see this experience that we don’t like as a gift? How can we learn to see the deliciousness in this experience, instead of focusing on what we don’t like? Relish this opportunity!
  8. Reconnect to why it’s important. Every day, as you’re about to do this thing you’ve committed to, ask yourself why. Why is this important to you? Why have you devoted yourself to it, and is it worth devoting yourself fully to it? Can you commit wholeheartedly to it? Does this matter to you for a reason that’s bigger than your discomfort? Reconnect your actions to your devotion.
  9. Practice self compassion. When you mess up, when you are less than ideal, see when this causes you pain and difficulty. Give yourself some self compassion — actually give yourself a loving wish for an end to your struggle, a loving wish for peace, a loving wish for happiness. Instead of seeing this as a reason you suck, see it as a reason to love yourself. Then find something to learn from the experience, and start again. It’s no big deal.
  10. Remove as many barriers as you can. You’re fully committed, you’ve set up reminders, you know why this is important to you, you’ve set hard boundaries, and you’re ready to practice with your discomfort and temptations and rationalizing … now remove as many barriers as you can, to make it easier on yourself. Can you prepare everything ahead of time, so that when it comes time to do it, you just start? Can you make your meals on Sunday, so weekday lunches are just heating up a bowl of your veggie chili? Can you get your yoga mat and clothes ready, along with music or a yoga video, so that when you’re done with work, you can just change and press play? Can you remove distractions the night before, so that when you wake up to write, there’s just you and your writing program, and nothing else? Find your barriers, and remove them all. Eliminate all excuses to start.

I believe that if you implemented these steps, you’d be much better at sticking to something. What do you want to stick to for the rest of this month? For each month next year? Consider them now, figure out why they’re important to you and whether that’s an important enough reason to push into the discomfort of being consistent. Then commit yourself fully, wholeheartedly, with all of your being. You are worth it.

Designing a Well-Lived Life

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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, we can find beauty and joy right now, in who we are, in what we’re doing. There isn’t a magical destination in the future where things are better. It’s always pretty much as good as it is right now — if we don’t like this moment, it’s because we’re selectively seeing the parts we don’t like. Instead, we can learn to appreciate everything (even the parts we don’t like) and find the wonder in each moment.

I encourage you to spend some time this week thinking about what a well-lived life means for you — perhaps go for a walk, even in the cold, and contemplate what that might look like. The cold, I’ve found, is something we shrink from … but I now see it as a gift, reminding us we’re alive, helping us to eliminate frivolities and figure out what’s essential. When it’s cold, you are brought back to the present, and you have to focus. At least, that’s what I’ve been finding.

My New Course: Designing a Well-Lived Life

I’ve decided to create a new course, called Designing a Well-Lived Life, for my Sea Change Program this month.

In this course, we’ll spend some time reflecting on what makes a well-lived life … but we’ll also start designing that life for ourselves, and mapping out the next year so we can start to create that life (or be happier with the one we have already).

Here are the lessons:

  1. Connecting to Something Meaningful
  2. Living Mindfully with Appreciation for Life
  3. Navigating Uncertainty
  4. Creating Wellness
  5. Connecting to Others
  6. Focusing on the Essential
  7. Letting Go & Acceptance
  8. Radical Self-Acceptance

I’m would love to work on this with you guys!

I’ll be publishing two video lessons a week (I started this week), doing a live video webinar on Dec. 13, and asking you to consider your life in the areas described in the lesson titles above.

Join Sea Change today to start the course.

A Guide to Finding Calm & Being Less Frustrated

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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 have to be the ones to change our response. Why can’t they just change the way they act? Well, we already know how that goes — we can’t get them to change, so we’ll just be frustrated.

So again, we have to accept the fact that the solution to our frustration lies only within.

If you’re up for inner change, then starts with this process:

  • Notice what our habitual response is (the Pattern) to frustrating external situations (the Trigger).
  • Notice what Result we get from the Pattern. For example, if the Pattern is to be frustrated and resentful by saying things to ourselves like, “Why do they have to be like that?” … then the Result might be unhappiness, stress, a worsening of our relationship. It might be anger and lashing out at someone. It might be withdrawing from the person and spinning around a resentful story in our heads in private.

So there’s a Trigger (external situation that we don’t like) and a Pattern (our habitual response to the Trigger), and then a Result from the Pattern (frustration, unhappiness, lashing out, worse relationship).

Now ask yourself: Do you want to continue to get this result? Is it a desirable result? Is the Pattern helpful to you?

If it’s not a helpful Pattern, you can start to create a new one.

Creating a New Pattern

What Pattern would be more helpful to you?

You might consider one like this: “This (person/situation) isn’t what I want. I wonder if I can open up to it and be curious about it? I wonder if there’s a way to be grateful for this moment I’ve been given? I wonder if I can find a way to love this moment, in all its entirety.”

This Pattern might be more helpful. Try it and see. If not, create your own Pattern.

Then start to ingrain the Pattern, replacing the old one. It takes practice, so don’t expect to be perfect at it (at all).

Here’s how to practice with the new Pattern:

  • Notice when you start down the old Pattern with one of your usual Triggers (something you don’t like, someone behaving badly, you aren’t living up to your own expectations, etc.).
  • Interrupt the old Pattern and don’t let yourself stay on it, even if you only notice after it already started. For example, a minute into your old Pattern, you notice … interrupt yourself now. Say, “That’s not helpful, I’m not going to waste my time on that anymore.”
  • Insert your new Pattern instead. Say the words you planned out (like the ones I suggested above), and try to really adopt that attitude. Don’t worry if you’re not good at it at first — just try to open up to it.
  • See what Result you get with this new Pattern. Give it a few tries before you judge the Results (maybe 10-15 tries).

If the Result is better, then maybe continue to practice this. If not, make a new Pattern and try that.

This takes practice. It takes remembering, so put up reminder notes anywhere you can, and forgive yourself if you forget.

Be patient with yourself, and see this as a loving act for yourself. See it as a way to reduce your frustration and unhappiness, and to find peace and calm instead. What a beautiful thing to do for yourself, and the ones you love!

Zen Productivity: Last Chance at L.A. & San Diego Workshops

Hey my friends, I have a few spots left in my Los Angeles and San Diego workshops this weekend and next.

I would love to have you come and work with me.

Zen Productivity Workshops

We’ll work on the main obstacle to finding focus and simplicity, to reducing procrastination, to finding calm and mindfulness and overcoming stress. It’ll be awesome, come play with me!

How to Get Fitter During the Holidays

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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 toward overeating. So the key, other than food choices, is to eat a moderate amount. Meaning eat to less than full (because when I eat to full, it's usually a little too much). This requires mindfulness of how fast I'm eating (I tend to eat too much) and portion sizes. When I'm eating alone, this is much easier, but when I eat with the family, mindfulness is more of a challenge. I think I can do it if I remind myself before each meal.
  4. Weights to keep the muscle, running to keep fit, yoga to keep sane. I plan to lift weights twice a week (just to retain muscle), doing squats, deadlifts, bench press and chinups. Then run three times a week to stay fit (my wife and I are doing a half marathon training plan), throwing in some sprint intervals in the shorter runs. The Saturday run will usually be a longer run. Then an almost-daily short yoga session, which I need for flexibility but also believe is a great meditation session.

So a pretty simple plan: no starchy or sweet foods, eat lots of veggies and fiber-rich foods, lift weights 2x a week, run 3x a week, with a short yoga session most days. And it's flexible: if I'm traveling, am at a family gathering, or have visitors, I don't have to stress out.

The key is to stick to this plan. Here's how to get better at sticking to plans like this:

  • Write it down. Put it somewhere you'll see it regularly.
  • Picking some simple rules, like the ones above, help make things clear-cut, with no decision making or negotiating every day.
  • Each day, wake up and have a plan. What are you going to do to work out? What are you going to eat?
  • Pick a few meals and just make those on most days. I like scrambled tofu with veggies for breakfast, tempeh stir-fry with veggies for lunch and dinner, and big hearty salads. Sometimes a bean and veggie soup.
  • Have reminders. How will I remember to work out? How will I remember to stay mindful at meal times?
  • Get better at keeping promises to yourself. Does this matter to you? Does it matter more than urges to eat sweets? Does it matter more than the discomfort of exercise? If it matters, make a promise to yourself and keep it. If it doesn't matter, don't make the promise, do something else.

The holidays are always busy, always filled with overeating and too many unhealthy meals. But they don't have to be the time when you just drop everything. I'm going to do my best to stick to these simple rules, and keep my promises to myself. I'll let you know how things go, by the New Year!