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January 2018

Bring Purpose & Mindfulness to Your Work

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By Leo Babauta

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Can’t Focus

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

What’s going on? A number of things:

  1. We’re actually afraid to focus. The work we want to focus on is hard, full of uncertainty, uncomfortable. We want to do it, but we’re putting off the moment we have to enter into this uncertain space. We’re going to the “comfort food” of our distractions instead of the discomfort of the focus.
  2. We’re afraid to simplify. To focus, we have to clear away all our distractions, say no to social media, our phones, our messages, our email. We have to say no to the easier tasks that we’re really good at. This kind of simplicity is uncomfortable for many people, and again, we go to “comfort food” distractions and easy tasks instead.
  3. We’re constantly pulled away. You might put yourself in a space of simplicity and focus … but then your attention gets pulled away. We have so many notifications, so many messages, so many shiny distractions … and our attention is like a little monkey jumping from tree to tree. In some ways, this is because technology is designed to grab our attention. But we allow this to happen.
  4. We’re unsure about what path to take. We know we should focus, but shouldn’t we also be doing this other important task? Or those three pretty important tasks? Or checking for an important message/email that might come in? We have fear of missing something important, fear of choosing the wrong thing, fear of taking the wrong path when there are many available. This uncertainty can freeze us, or cause us to constantly switch.

OK, so it’s fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and pulled attention. How can we bring mindfulness to bear on these four horsepersons of distraction?

Bring Mindfulness Into the Arena

Armed with the knowledge of why we’re not able to focus, we’re going to further arm ourselves with mindfulness and walk confidently into the arena of meaningful work.

The first thing to acknowledge is that it’s OK to be afraid, OK to want to comfort yourself with easy tasks and distractions, OK to feel uncertainty. We’re not horrible people for being this way … we’re human. So we can look at our habits and smile on them with unconditional friendliness.

Let’s practice mindfulness in our workday with a series of questions.

QUESTION 1: What’s the best way to structure my day?

In this inquiry, we’re wondering if it’s best to constantly switch from messaging app to messaging app, from email to social media, from news sites to blogs, from small admin tasks to other quick tasks … filling up our day and not focusing on our most meaningful work.

In my own inquiry, it brings mindfulness to how I spend my time, how fragmented I allow my attention to be … and then it brings me to an intention to simplify and focus. I still need to check email and messages and do the smaller tasks … but I can lump them together at certain times of the day, and clear space for big chunks of focus and meaningful work. This intention isn’t always met, but the inquiry brings me closer to it.

QUESTION 2: What do I want to focus on?

This isn’t a question many people ask themselves each day. Ideally, you’d ask it at the beginning of each day, but also at various points throughout the day. It shifts you: you go from, “What should I check right now” or “What can I quickly do right now?” to “What is the meaningful work I want to do now and give my full focus to?”

In other words, what do I care deeply about? What kind of dent do I want to make in the world, and how can I start to make that dent right now?

It shifts from saying yes to your million things and messages, to saying no to those million things … so you can say yes to your meaningful work. So you can say yes to complete focus and mindfulness.

QUESTION 3: Why am I not focusing on it?

If you picked something to focus on and you’re working on it, great! But if you’re not … why not? What’s getting in your way? What are you afraid of? What are you comforting yourself with?

If you can identify the fear, instead of allowing yourself to habitually run from this fear … lean into it. Go towards it. Allow yourself to feel the fear, and stay in it, befriend it. Then go into your focus zone, in the middle of the fear, and let the fear be your guide and your friend. It means you are alive, that you are pushing yourself into discomfort for the sake of what you care deeply about, that you are creating meaningful work instead of running. Beautiful!

QUESTION 5: What is my intention as I focus?

As you get started with a focused session, even if it’s only for 10-20 minutes … it helps to ritualize it. Have a clear beginning, and even a clear end. What will you do to mark the beginning? Maybe stretch, smile at your work, and set an intention. An intention isn’t a goal, but how you want to go about doing the task … for example, I might say, “I want to stay focused on this task, put myself into this uncertainty for the sake of the people I care about and serve, and stay present in the middle of it.”

Keep this intention in your heart as you put yourself into this focus session.

QUESTION 6: What is this moment like, as I work in stillness?

Now you’re in the middle of the focus session … bring mindfulness to that task. That’s simply a matter of awareness and curiosity.

Bring awareness by asking: what is it like right now? What sensations can I notice? How does my heart feel as I take this gorgeous action, filled with uncertainty?

Bring curiosity when you feel like switching tasks and running … by asking, “I want to run from uncertainty, but what would it be like to stay?” The truth is, we don’t know. We think we know that we won’t like it, but actually we don’t really know until it happens. So take the curiosity stance: seek to find out. Come to this task with an open mind, and you might find a gentle wonder that you didn’t expect, in the middle of your meaningful work.

Now, you can do this for your meaningful work, but you can also do this for any task — responding to an email, answering a text message, reading an article online, contemplating a decision with care.

Bringing purpose and mindfulness to your work can be a place filled with joy, if you allow yourself to move into that space with intention and curiosity, inquiry and love.

A Guide to Moving Courageously Into a New Uncertain Space

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

By Leo Babauta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Your Devotion

We don’t put ourselves in the middle of fear for no good reason. We do it because there’s something we care deeply enough about to push into that fearful area.

Remind yourself of why you’re going into this uncertain space. What do you care deeply about? Who or what are you devoted to? This might be a cause, it might be people who are in need or struggling somehow, it might be your loved ones, it might be the team or customers you serve. Find the love and passion in your heart for this cause or these people.

Then remind yourself, each day, of this devotion. Remind yourself of it as you do each step, each task … this is what you care deeply about.

Your devotion, the thing or people you love so deeply … is greater than your fear and discomfort.

In fact, the devotion turns this uncertain space into a space of shaky and heartfelt love.

Get in Touch with the Fear & Uncertainty

Most people either run from the fear, or try to find ways to turn it off, to not feel it, to eliminate it.

Not us. We’re going to get in touch with it, and allow ourselves to fully feel it.

Why would we want to fully feel fear and uncertainty? Because it’s nothing to hate, it’s part of our experience, it’s actually the place we want to be.

Feeling the fear and uncertainty fully, allowing it to be, even welcoming it … this shows us that it’s not so bad. It’s nothing to panic about. We can grow up from our childish need to run, and instead just stay with it patiently, with gentleness and compassion.

We can touch the uncertainty and stay with it, welcome it and even find love for it.

Practice. Get good at fully feeling it. And learn that you can take it in and transform it into openness and joy.

Move Through It with Small Actions

The fear isn’t something to run away from or otherwise avoid. It’s actually the path we want to walk, because through this fear is creation. Through this fear is learning, growth, transformation, impact on the world, beauty. Through this fear is something meaningful.

So we’re going to move through it, but in small steps. We’ll use the ideas of exposure therapy to move through the fear — the idea that we can get used to the feeling by giving ourselves small, manageable doses, gradually increasing the doses in steps we can handle.

You do this through taking small actions daily.

Want to be a writer? Write a little every day, clearing space and allowing yourself to be present with your fears of writing (and failing). Want to start a company? Take the small actions required to research it, create a website, find team members, start making revenue, experimenting and learning.

Take small actions daily, exposing yourself to the uncertainty, and building trust that you can handle it.

Find Play & Gratitude

Moving into an uncertain space doesn’t have to be an exercise in rigorous discipline or self-punishment. It can be joyous and fun!

When you move into this space, see if you can find a way to play. Can you get messy and creative? Can you turn it into a game? Can you play upbeat music that gets you moving? Can you do it with others and feel the excitement of collaboration? Can you play your music for the world and see them dance to it?

As you turn it into play, allow yourself to feel the joy of that. And yes, there’s some fear mixed into the joy, but you could also call that ‘excitement.’

And in the middle of everything, pause and see if you can find gratitude for being in this uncertain space. Gratitude for being able to be here, for being alive, for being able to serve those to whom you’re devoted, with love.

Gratitude transforms the activity from one you are forced to do, to one you get to do.

Seek Support

We are not alone in this uncertain space, even if we feel like it. There are others who are forging this path as well, and we can form (or join) a group of people pushing into it as well. We can call on mentors, teachers, coaches. We can ask for support from loved ones, team members, online forums, social media friends.

When we ask for support, we are acknowledging that we are not an island, but interconnected with everyone around us. We serve others, but in turn we are supported by thousands and thousands of others who make our food, build our houses and cars and roads, create the Internet and the devices we use, and support us in an infinite number of other ways. We humble ourselves by thinking that we can’t do everything alone, but can do so much more with connection to others.

Seek support, find gratitude for that support, and feel yourself moving into this unknown space with the help of many others. May you have a joyfear-filled journey.

“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.” ~Ray Bradbury

Retreat: Go Deep Into Mindfulness (in Tulum, Mexico!)

I’m excited to share with you a mindfulness retreat that I’m holding in early May …

In this 5-day, 4-night retreat, we will:

  • meditate every morning
  • do yoga (if you like)
  • dive deep into mindfulness with daily workshop sessions
  • have time to reflect & contemplate our lives on the beautiful beaches of Tulum
  • visit Chichen Itza, see the Coba Ruins, swim in the hidden Cenotes
  • eat some amazing food
  • and connect with other like minded adventurers

The retreat will be led by me (May 2 – May 6, 2018) and is limited to 12 participants.

Get more info and book a spot here.

I hope you’ll join me — I’m looking forward to playing and going deep together!

Three Powerful Techniques to Get Better at Habits

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By Leo Babauta

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the techniques:

  1. Focus on just starting. Set a trigger when you’re going to do the habit each day — let’s say you’re going to meditate when you wake up, or work out when you get home, or read during your lunch break. When the time comes to do the habit (the trigger happens), just launch into doing the habit, without delay. Focus on getting good at this skill of starting. When the trigger happens, have a reminder note nearby that says, “Just start.” Lower the barrier to doing the habit by making it smaller (just meditate for a minute or two), create barriers to doing your usual distractions, and just take the smallest first step. You’re going to practice getting good at starting, every day. If you master this, you’ll also get a lot better at not procrastinating with other stuff!
  2. Be completely with the habit. When you do start the habit, it’s very common to focus on getting through the habit, trying to complete the task. This is a mindset that most of us have all day long — we are just rushing through our tasks, trying to finish each one. But actually this is not helpful for habits. We want to be completely present with the habit, really feel the texture of the experience, and imagine there is no end, that this moment is all there is and ever will be. It can transform the habit, turning it into a mindfulness practice, and we can even find gratitude for being able to do it. We don’t have to do it, we get to do it. This is an act of love for ourselves, and we are doing it to not only be compassionate with ourselves, but to enable ourselves to be more present, compassionate and committed to serving others. This moment of doing the habit is an act of love for everyone we know. This is a wonderful cure for the tedium of sticking to a plan.
  3. Pause when you start to rationalize. The problem with rationalizing not doing the habit is that we don’t often notice we’re doing it. We just start moving away from doing the habit. We just think, “It’s OK, I’ll do it later,” or “Screw it, I don’t really need to do this,” or “Just this one time won’t hurt.” These are not helpful thoughts. Instead, we should learn to pause. Sit still, take a breath, and remind yourself of why you’re committed to this habit. Who are you doing it for? Are you devoted to them, and if so, is your devotion larger than your momentary discomfort and rationalizations? Take this pause and remember your love, and pour yourself into this habit by just starting and being completely present with it.

I offer these three techniques to you, and I hope you’ll give them a full-hearted effort.

Mindfulness & Meditation Summit

This month, I’m going to be part of a free 10-day Mindfulness & Meditation Summit that will include me and more than 30 other renowned meditation teachers, visionary leaders, neuroscientists, researchers, writers, performers, activists, and educators.

The online summit is from Jan. 22-31, 2018 … and includes some incredible presenters: Alice Walker, Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Goleman, Jack Kornfield, Jewel, Kelly McGonigal, Alanis Morissette, and special sessions with Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Eckhart Tolle.

Whether you’re new to mindfulness practice or have been meditating for years, this gathering of over 30 leading spiritual teachers and visionaries will be sure to help you transform yourself, your community, and the world.

Registration is free, and you can sign up now.

Get Better at Dealing with Anger

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By Leo Babauta

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Going on When We’re Angry

When we get angry, it’s usually because someone else behaved in a way we don’t like. (It could also be our own actions, or just the situation in general, that we don’t like.)

This is what happens:

  1. We don’t like the way the person behaved.
  2. We feel a momentary moment of aversion to their behavior, and this causes a moment of pain — we’re hurt that they acted that way. This might only last half an instant.
  3. We then react to that hurt with a feeling of anger (or frustration, irritation).
  4. Then we start telling ourselves a story about the other person (or ourselves or the situation). It’s our narrative of what’s happening.
  5. The story keeps us angry, even if the initial pain goes away, because it keeps making the wound fresh. And then we keep spinning the story around in our heads.

So the initial aversion and pain are unavoidable, and even the anger, frustration and irritation are pretty avoidable (though you can learn to catch them earlier). It’s human. The part we can work on is noticing the story and not spinning it around in our heads to prolong and even increase the anger.

Understanding the Story

The story that we spin around in our heads is a natural thing for humans — we create stories to understand the world around us, or to put things in some kind of order we can work with.

In these types of situations, the story might be, “She’s always (doing something), I don’t know why she has to keep doing that, etc etc.” Or, “I don’t know why he has to criticize me, I was just trying to (insert some kind of justified action).” We’ve all done this, even if we’re not always aware we’re doing it.

The story is not that useful most of the time. It actually makes us angrier, and separates us from people we care about. It makes us unhappy, traps us in an emotion that isn’t helpful, and worsens our relationships.

Once we’re hooked by the story, it can spin around in our heads for a long time. Hours sometimes. Even days. It just keeps freshening our wound.

You can start to notice the story the next time you’re frustrated, hurt, angry, irritated, resentful, stressed. Just listen to what you’re saying about the other person or the situation you’re in. Just start to become aware of this story you keep replaying.

A Fresh Way to Deal with Anger

Whenever we’re angry (or frustrated, resentful, etc.), we can go into our old patterns of anger and telling the story … or we can start to try something new.

Here’s what I recommend practicing:

  1. Notice when you’re feeling this emotion. You might be telling yourself a story as well.
  2. Meditate for a second by turning your attention to the physical feeling in your body of anger/hurt.
  3. Be curious about it: what does it feel like, physically? Where is it located? What texture does it have? What energy does it have? Does it change?
  4. Stay with it: instead of instantly going back to your story (or a new story about this meditation), see if you can stay with the feeling longer. We’re training ourselves to stay longer.
  5. See if you can welcome this feeling. It’s not something that’s necessarily “bad,” nor is it something you need to reject. Just be OK with it in your body, even friendly towards it. Smile at it.
  6. See the pain you’re feeling as a sign of your good heart that’s been hurt, that is vulnerable and loves. See it as a sign of your basic goodness. You don’t need to do anything right now, just stay in touch with this tender heart.

With this fresh response, we’re opening up to the wide open nature of this moment, not needing to harden into our old stories.

We interrupt our conditioned, habitual response, and choose a new path, one that is less harmful.

And in this moment of openness, we can now try this:

  • Give ourselves some kindness and compassion with the wish, “May I find an end to my pain; may I find peace; may I find happiness and joy.”
  • Turn to the other person and see that they are struggling, they are in pain too.
  • With this realization that they are in pain, reacting out of their habitual responses, spinning around their own stories … let this realization make us feel connected to them, as we know what that’s like. It’s not fun.
  • Send them some loving kindness as well, with the same wish,” May they find an end to their pain; may they find peace; may they find happiness and joy.” Repeat it several times.
  • From this place of compassion, you can now take a more appropriate action: give them a hug, talk to them with understanding and kindness, listen to their difficulty with compassion (and see that it’s about their pain, not about you), or at least refrain from lashing out.

We normally respond anger, out of proportion to the actual situation. But now we might be able to take a more appropriate, compassionate action (or non-action, as the case might require).

We will mess up on this practice, by the way. As with anything, we get better with continued practice. When we find that we can’t open up to the feeling, that we can’t stop from spinning around our stories … we can practice with that. We can see the feeling of helplessness, of despair, of frustration with ourselves, of giving up … and practice the method above on that feeling itself.

With each screw up, with each time we’re not able to open up … we have a new opportunity to practice. Another chance opens up, again and again, to heal ourselves and to get better at dealing with this hardened emotion.

My Depth Year 2018: The Constraints of Deep Focus

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By Leo Babauta

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

What’s a Depth Year? As David writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Don’t buy new things (unless absolutely necessary). I already have everything I need.
  2. Don’t take up new hobbies. I want to go deeper with the hobbies and skills I already have. Each year I get consumed by a new hobby, but this year I won’t allow that.
  3. Don’t get new books. I already have a shelf full of 20 books I want to read. I’ve created a reading list (mostly mindfulness books, plus Infinite Jest, Ulysses), The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Jesus’ Son), and I don’t plan on getting any new books until I’ve finished those. And if I do finish the list, there are plenty at the library.
  4. Finish the magazines & online articles I already have. Stop looking for new things to read! I have lots already saved.

These constraints will help me open up and go deeper into what I already want to focus on:

  1. Meditation/mindfulness
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Fitness
  4. My mission (work focus)
  5. Deepening personal relationships
  6. Practicing yoga

If I spend the year going deeper with these focuses, I think that would be a great year. A year spent diving deeper into mindfulness practices (including yoga), getting healthier, deepening and getting better at relationships, and giving focus to my mission. I don’t need new hobbies, new skills, new things to learn … I have plenty to work with already.

Not buying new things (including books) will free me from the habit of looking for newer, better things. I can let that go out of my attention, which frees my attention for the things I want to focus on.

You can see the status of my rituals and Depth Year on this dashboard I’ve created. I should note that this is just my personal way of doing a Depth Year — I don’t prescribe it for anyone else.

Are you willing to live with constraints of your own? Are you interested in going deeper or wider? What would that look like for you?

Retreat: Go Deep Into Mindfulness (in Tulum, Mexico!)

I’m excited to share with you a mindfulness retreat that I’m holding in early May …

In this 5-day, 4-night retreat, we will:

  • meditate every morning
  • dive deep into mindfulness with daily workshop sessions
  • have time to reflect & contemplate our lives on the beautiful beaches of Tulum
  • visit Chichen Itza, see the Coba Ruins, swim in the hidden Cenotes
  • eat some amazing food
  • and connect with other like minded adventurers

The retreat will be led by me (May 2 – May 6, 2018) and is limited to 12 participants.

Get more info and book a spot here.

I hope you’ll join me — I’m looking forward to playing and going deep together!

A Guide to Making This Your Best Year Ever

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By Leo Babauta

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Want Your Year to Be?

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

So take a minute to reflect on the past year for yourself. Then give it a bow of gratitude, and say goodbye.

Now it’s time to think about the coming year … what do you want to create out of this beautiful blank canvas?

I like to ask myself:

  • How do I want to grow? What do I want to learn? What skills and capacities would I like to develop?
  • What areas of my life need some refreshing? Health, mindfulness, relationships, work?
  • What do I want to put my focus on, if I could just choose 4-6 things to focus on?
  • If I were looking back on 2018 a year from now, what would be fantastic to see? What changes would I be psyched to have happened?

For me, I’ve picked a handful of focuses:

  1. Meditation/mindfulness
  2. Healthy eating
  3. Fitness
  4. My mission (work focus)
  5. Deepening personal relationships
  6. Practicing yoga

Your list will look different, of course. Take a minute now to write down your 4-6 focuses for 2018.

Why Are These Important?

As you look over your list of focuses, ask yourself why they’re important. Is it really that important that I practice yoga? If so, why?

For example, I might think, “Well, it would be nice to have a regular yoga practice. I could use the stretching, for sure.” But that’s not important enough, and when I don’t feel like it, that won’t be a strong enough reason to push through my discomfort.

A better reason: “Yoga is a mindfulness meditation, and becoming more mindful, pushing into discomfort and uncertainty, are the training I want to do that feels most meaningful to me. It sets an example for my kids, it trains me to be able to help my readers, it makes me a healthier and happier person.”

Now that’s a reason to get me off my butt, away from my computer, and on the mat.

Take a moment to reflect on why your focuses are important to you. What will get you on the mat?

What Rituals Can You Create?

It’s one thing to say, “I want to get fitter this year,” or “I’m going to write a book this year!” … but it’s another to actually make it happen.

The best way to make big things happen, I’ve found, is to create actual daily rituals that you’ll practice every day (or at least, every day that you’re able to).

A ritual is a practice that you hold to be special, not to be taken lightly, that you set apart from the rest of your day. It’s something you surrender yourself to, not allowing yourself to reject the parts of it you don’t like, but just giving in to the experience fully.

An example might be a writing ritual, where you decide to write every morning at daybreak, shutting off your phone and Internet and just writing with a distraction-free writing app (like Ommwriter). You start by clearing your space, setting an intention to focus and pour yourself into your writing for 20 minutes. You set a timer, and then you give yourself fully to the writing, not allowing yourself to switch to other tasks until the timer goes off. When it goes off, you bow in gratitude to the practice. (This is just an example, you don’t have to do it this way.)

In this ritual, you have a structure and a regular sequence … and in this sacred structure, you’ll find yourself wanting to rebel. You’ll see your habitual tendencies to run away. You’ll see your ego thrashing about. And that’s where the true learning of the ritual takes place — in the actual practice. In the discomfort of staying in it. Rituals can be transformative if you open yourself up to them.

My rituals for this year, to support my 2018 focuses:

  1. Morning meditation
  2. A Focus Session (to work on my mission) in the morning
  3. Cook a healthy meal (to be eaten at breakfast & dinner)
  4. Afternoon workout or run
  5. Evening yoga
  6. Formally close my eating period for the day at 7pm (meaning I won’t snack after that)

I have some relationship practices that I plan to set up as well, but for now, the rituals above are what I want to create.

Now pick just two of those to focus on this month. Then two next month. Then another two the month after.

Pour everything you have into practicing those rituals, daily. Now let’s talk about setting up a structure to make the rituals stick.

What Structure Can You Set Up?

So you have some focuses, you have some rituals you’d like to create … but how will you actually make them happen? How will you stick to them this year, as opposed to what you’ve done in previous years?

This is where structure comes in.

If you pick two rituals for this month, you can create some structure for making them actually happen:

  1. Pick a time and place. What space will you do them in? What time of day? Be specific.
  2. Set up two reminders.. One on your calendar or phone (digital reminder) and a note near where you’ll be at that time of day (visual reminder). For example, I might have a phone reminder to go off at 9am every day so I’ll do my Focus Session ritual, and a note by my computer that I’ll see at that time.
  3. Write down your ritual. When it’s time to do your ritual, what will you do? Clear away distractions? Practice with a yoga mat or pen and notebook? Set an intention to be fully present? Bow, light incense, stretch? Set a timer? You don’t have to do these things, but write down the sequence of your ritual. On paper.
  4. Create accountability with others. Share your intention to practice with others, and see if others have a practice they’d like to stick to. Form a Facebook group or just commit to checking in with each other weekly on a certain day every week.
  5. Review daily, weekly and monthly. Set a reminder to journal about your rituals and focuses at the end of the day. Or review the previous day at the beginning of each day if that works better for you. This daily review doesn’t have to be long (one or two sentences) but it helps to form the habit. Set a weekly reminder to review how you did (just a couple sentences) and then share it with your accountability partner(s), and renew your intention for the coming week. Then do the same thing for the end of each month — how did you do, what did you learn, what obstacles came up (and how will you adjust for them going forward), and what is your intention for the coming month?

I find each of these five elements to be incredibly helpful and important. I highly recommend that you do this for each of the two rituals you plan to focus on this month, and then again each month for other rituals you want to create.

If you do these actions — pick a few focuses for the year, create rituals to make them happen, and then create this kind of structure to make the rituals stick — I believe this is going to be your best year ever.

Let Me Support Your Best Year Ever

I have two ways that I’m offering to support you in these focuses for this year … I hope you’ll take me up on one of them:

  1. Sea Change Program: This year, my Sea Change Program is focused on helping you stick to the habits you want to create. We have a library of about 20 video courses and 20+ article-based habit modules that you can choose from — pick a handful to focus on for now. And we’re creating accountability (a larger Facebook group, habit-focused teams on the forums, and even one-on-one accountability partners if you like). Finally, I have a habit tracker app (called Habit Zen), I offer monthly video webinars, and I’ll be doing Q&As on the forum to support you. Join me!
  2. Habit Mastery Course: If you want to do a deep dive and learn to get better at creating habits in general, my Habit Mastery Course is still open. It’s a 12-week program with two video courses a week, video & audio interviews with the best habit experts in the world, bonus ebooks, a weekly Q&A, and a Facebook group to support you. Check it out!