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Procrastination is a Practice Ground for Life Mastery

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By Leo Babauta

There isn’t a person among us who doesn’t procrastinate — put off your work for the day, distract yourself, put off pursuing your dreams, put off putting your work out in the world for fear of being judged.

But here’s the thing: most people think that this procrastination is a problem.

Most people stress out about being a procrastinator, and feel bad about themselves for doing it.

Au contraire (that’s French, don’t bother looking it up, it means you’re way wrong).

Instead, procrastination is the perfect place to practice all the most important life skills.

Our tendency to procrastinate is exactly how we’ll see how our minds work, and learn to be better at all the difficulties of life. Because life will always have these difficulties, no matter how much we’d prefer to avoid them, and how we respond to them will determine everything.

Let’s work on our responses to the hardest things in life.

How We Usually Respond

When we procrastinate, this is the usual process:

  1. We have something difficult or uncomfortable to do.
  2. We don’t feel like doing it, because it’s difficult, uncertain, uncomfortable.
  3. Our minds habitually turn away from this task, and find a more comfortable, certain thing to do, like watching videos or playing games or checking email or social media.
  4. We run to the easier thing, and then put off even thinking about the other thing.
  5. We feel bad that this happens, and start to form a negative image of ourselves. We rain harshness and criticism upon our psyche.

This makes us less likely to do better the next time around. It’s a vicious cycle, I tell ya.

We can learn to do better.

Procrastination is an Opportunity, Not a Suckfest

So what should we do instead? Ideally:

  1. We set a hard task before us.
  2. We feel the difficulty, but see this as a signpost that we’re pushing into uncertain ground.
  3. We relish the opportunity to push into uncertain ground, and dive in with gusto. (I love the word “gusto,” btw.)

But that’s not where we are. We have to practice in this way:

  1. Set a hard task, feel like procrastinating because it’s uncertain and uncomfortable …
  2. Start to procrastinate by going to something easy.
  3. Once we’ve switched over and noticed that we’re procrastinating … we pause. This Pause is the key to everything.
  4. We see this Pause as an opportunity to practice a key life skill, and we light up with joy. And yes, gusto.
  5. We practice with discomfort and uncertainty. What does it feel like? Is it horrible? Can we work in the midst of it? Can we open up to the discomfort of it all, embrace the uncertainty, and see it as a beautiful part of what we’re doing?

Slowly, through this practice, we can get better at not running, at staying with the discomfort, at embracing it all, at being patient and joyful in the middle of chaos and the unknown.

Commit yourself to this practice. You’ll find it life-changing and gorgeous.

Practicing with Discomfort & Uncertainty

So you are in the Pause. And you see that you have a chance to practice with discomfort and uncertainty.

Here’s what you do.

You turn toward the feeling — the physical feeling in your body, not just a mental idea of it — and see how it feels. Where is it located in your body? How would you describe the sensation? Can you give it an energy, a color, a sound?

You stay with the feeling, with curiosity. You surrender to it, with trust in yourself. You allow it to be there, with acceptance.

Then you go forth and do the work. The hard thing. The thing you’re completely uncertain about. And accept the uncertainty as part of life, as part of the mission you’re on, because no worthy mission will be fully certain. No hero sets out on a journey knowing how it will end. You’re that hero, and yes, you’re completely up to this mission.

You do the work, notice the discomfort, allow it to be there. You notice your urge to turn away and run, and you don’t follow the urge.

You mess up, and start all over again, like the goldarn hero that you are. You fall down a thousand times, get up two thousand. You are courageous, inspirational, and stronger than even you believe.

One step at a time, you’re expanding your comfort zone, your zone of genius, your hero range. And with each step, you’re getting stronger, and inspiring the world to do the same.

The Action Habit: Put Everything Into the First Step

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By Leo Babauta

The things that stop us from taking action are all-too-familiar:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Fear
  • Not knowing where to start
  • A habit of procrastinating and doing easier things

It’s easy to get into a mode of inaction, but building the Action Habit can be a lot more difficult. The reason is that the feedback loops in our lives are set up the wrong way: it’s easier to put things off than to act, it’s easier to seek comfort than to push into discomfort, fear and stress.

So how do we start taking action in our lives: changing fundamental health and productivity habits, getting out and looking for a job, putting our creativity out there in the world, taking steps to finally work on that project you’ve been wanting to start?

The answer lies in a simple method for creating the Action Habit:

  1. Pick one positive action
  2. Make it tiny and easy
  3. Set up positive feedback
  4. Put everything you have into it
  5. Repeat

This might sound too simplistic for some people, and you might be tempted to skip this and go read something else. This is a mistake — try this method and see if you can create the Action Habit today.

Pick One Positive Action

Yes, I know that you have a thousand things you want to do, in all areas of your life. But thinking about all the things you need to do can be stressful and overwhelming, and lead to inaction. You can’t do it all right now!

Instead, focus on something you can do right now.

But how do you choose among all the things you want to do? Try this:

  1. Make a list of the main things you want to do. Feel free to make a second list of the smaller tasks and errands you need to get to as well. Don’t get stuck on this step — if you are overwhelmed by this, just think of the biggest things you need to get done.
  2. Mark the top 3 things on your list — what feel most important to you right now? If you can’t decide, ask someone else to decide for you.
  3. Pick the No. 1 thing in your top 3. If it’s too hard to choose, make a random choice — it’s better to make a slightly less-than-optimal choice than to get stuck in indecision.

Once you have your No. 1 thing you want to get done (let’s say, “Write a book” or “Get in shape”), then you need to pick one small action you can get done on this project in the next few minutes.

What about the other projects or tasks on your list? You’ll get to those later, but worrying about everything all at once is counterproductive. Pick one thing on the list, and get moving with it. After that, you can re-evaluate and pick the next thing on your list to get moving on. In this way, you’re getting in the habit of taking action rather than getting stuck.

Make It Tiny & Easy

Now that you have something you want to focus on, ask yourself, “What tiny action can I take right now?”

For “Write a book” it could be as simple as “Open a document and write down a few ideas.” For “Get in shape,” you might choose something like, “Go out for a short walk,” “Do a few pushups,” or “Send an email to my sister to go for a run tomorrow.”

You don’t have to do the whole project right now. Just one tiny step. Once you get into the Action Habit, you’ll be able to do the other steps later. But for now, just focus on one tiny step. This is how you create the habit.

Make it as ridiculously easy as possible, so that you can’t really say no.

Are you tempted to put it off? Then make it even easier — 30 seconds of working out is so easy that anyone can do it.

Thirty seconds of working out is not going to get you in shape, but the Action Habit is about removing barriers and getting moving.

Set Up Positive Feedback

If you get one or two people into an accountability team, you’ll make it much more likely that you’ll succeed. That’s because with accountability, you get negative feedback for not doing the actions (a bit of embarrassment) and positive feedback for doing the actions (a bit of pride in your accomplishment).

It’s simple:

  1. Ask one or two friends to be on your team. This is as easy as sending an email or text message.
  2. Tell each other what tiny steps you’re going to do today towards important long-term goals.
  3. Check in at the end of the day, or when you’re done with your three tiny actions.

If you’d rather not have a team, then simply put up a list on your wall (or somewhere very visible) of your three top tiny actions for this morning, and allow yourself to check them off once they’re done. It’s rewarding to be able to check the off.

Positive feedback means you’re going to enjoy taking the tiny actions, rather than seeking comfort in putting them off.

Put Your Entire Being Into It

Once you have your accountability set up, and a tiny action chosen, then it’s time to take action!

Now put your entire self into starting the action.

All you have to do is start.

Act as if your life depends on it.

Act as if nothing were more important than keeping your word to yourself.

Act as if this one tiny action were the entire universe.

All you have to do is get moving — open a document, start an email, write one item on a list, put on your running shoes. Devote yourself single-mindedly to starting this tiny movement.

Repeat, to Create the Habit

Doing your first tiny action is amazing. Now focus your entire being on the next tiny action. This is how you create the Action Habit: by doing it repeatedly.

If you’ve taken a tiny action on an important project, congratulate yourself! Check it off your list, report it to your accountability team, feel gratitude that you got moving. Now ask yourself what is the next small step you can take on this project. Can you take it right now? One small step at a time, you’re getting some momentum on this project.

Or perhaps there’s nothing else you can do right now. Look at your Top 3 list, and see if there’s another project you can take a tiny action on right now.

If not, maybe one of your other important items. Or maybe you take action on your smaller tasks (though don’t let yourself use this as a way to put off the hard stuff). Do the hard stuff first if you can, but you need to get to the small stuff sometimes. The trick is, you’re turning the hard stuff into the small easy stuff.

Just repeat this method, re-evaluating your list once a day or so, taking tiny actions all day long, with breaks in between. This is how you form the Action Habit, and it will be incredible.

How to Train Yourself to Stay Focused

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By Leo Babauta

It’s a common problem these days: switching between browser tabs and apps on your phone, checking social media and messages and email, thinking about the million things you have to do but putting them off …

Anything but staying focused on one task at a time.

And it’s hard to break out of the mental habit of switching, being distracted, letting the monkey mind jump from one shiny thing to the next.

So how do you train your mind to stay more focused? It’s possible to get better at focusing, but I don’t recommend expecting to be focused anywhere close to 100 percent of the time. Not even 80 percent, and perhaps not 50 percent. Just more than now, which is more than enough to see big differences in effectiveness in your day.

Recently I took on a coaching client, and his biggest area for improvement is focus. So I gave him a plan, and I’m going to share it with you here.

Start with the Why

Why should you care about this? It’s best to give this a moment’s thought before diving into any plan, because when things get uncomfortable, you have to know your Why. Otherwise you’ll crumble at the first urge to switch.

This is important because constant switching and distraction leads to your time being frittered away, so that the day goes by and you’ve barely done anything important. You’ve procrastinated on the big tasks to take care of the little ones, and worse yet, squandered the day in distractions. Your life is too precious to waste, so you want to use your days better.

Staying focused on one task at a time, at least for some of the day, will help you get the important things done: writing, programming, studying, taking care of finances, creating of any kind, and so on. Those things tend to get pushed back, but staying on task will increase your effectiveness with the most important things by leaps and bounds.

If you’re feeling stressed out by all you have to do, unhappy with your lack of focus … then this one skill will help you turn that around in a big way.

So let’s move on to the how.

The Method

It’s fairly simple:

  1. Pick an MIT. First thing in the morning, before you get on your phone or online, think about what you need to do. What would make the biggest difference in your life, your work? If you have several, it doesn’t matter … just randomly choose one for now. You can get to the others later. Don’t waste your time in indecision, the point is to practice with one task. This one task you choose for today is your one Most Important Task (MIT).
  2. Do a 15-minute focus session. As soon as you start working for the day (maybe after getting ready, eating, yoga/meditation/workout, whatever), clear away all browser tabs, applications, and anything you don’t need for your MIT for today. Start a timer for 15 minutes.
  3. You only have two choices. For these 15 minutes, you can not switch to anything else (no checking email, messages, social media, doing other work tasks, cleaning your desk, etc.). You can only a) work on your MIT, or b) sit there and do nothing. Those are your only options. Watch your urges to switch, but don’t follow them.
  4. Report to an accountability partner. My coaching client is going to succeed in large part because he has me to keep him accountable. Find a partner who will keep you accountable. Create an online spreadsheet or use an accountability app that they can see (he introduced me to Commit to 3, for example). After your focus session each day, check in that you did it.

That’s it! One focus session a day for at least two weeks. If you do great, add a second focus session each day, with a 10-minute break in between sessions. If you have any trouble at all, stick to one session a day for the first month before adding a second.

After six weeks to two months, you should be fairly good at doing two 15-minute focus sessions, and you can add a third. Then a fourth when that gets easy. Stop there for awhile, and then add another session in the afternoon.

Some Important Tips

With that simple method in mind, I have a few key ideas to share:

  1. Turn off your Internet. Like disconnect from wifi or turn off your router, or use an Internet blocker. Turn off your phone. Close your browser and all applications you don’t need. This is the ideal method. If you need the Internet for your MIT, then close all tabs but the one or two that you need for the task, and don’t let yourself open anything else.
  2. If you turn off the Internet, keep a pencil and paper nearby. If you have an idea, a task you need to remember, anything you want to look up … jot it on the paper. You can get to those later. Don’t allow yourself to switch.
  3. Don’t allow yourself to rationalize putting off the session. It’s easy to say, “I’ll get to it in a bit,” but then you’re putting it off until late morning, and then the afternoon, and finally you’re doing it at 8pm just to say you did it. This defeats the purpose of the practice. Watch your rationalizations, and don’t fall for them.
  4. That said, don’t aim for being perfect. There are some days when you just can’t do it — for me, it’s when I travel or have guests. If something big has come up where you don’t have time, don’t stress about missing a day. Get back on it as soon as you can. Worrying about keeping a streak going is counterproductive.
  5. If 15 minutes is too long, just do 10 minutes. If that’s too long, do 5 minutes.
  6. Increase your number of sessions as slowly as you can. There’s no rush to do more. Focus on building a solid foundation.

OK, you have the method. Now get on the practice!

The Amazing Self-Confidence Habit

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By Leo Babauta

How often has a lack of self-confidence, or a feeling of inadequacy, stopped us from doing something awesome?

I would guess that for lots of us, this feeling of inadequacy stopped us from:

  • Putting ourselves into uncomfortable social situations were we might make new friends or start dating
  • Starting a new business, creating a book or art, putting our ideas out there into the world
  • Sticking to a new exercise, diet or meditation habit because we messed up (confirmation that we can’t do it, right?)
  • Learning something new and amazing, like a new skill, because we might embarrass ourselves
  • Being confident as we socialize with others (perhaps in the rare cases we do socialize) — a lack of confidence which might make them less interested in us

I’ve experienced all of this myself, and I know many people who know this lack of self-confidence and feeling of inadequacy very well.

It can plague all areas of our lives. And learning to feel worthy, learning a confidence in ourselves … it can change everything.

This month, I’ve created a new course in my Sea Change membership program: The Amazing Self-Confidence Habit.

I believe that self-confidence is a mental habit that we can develop. And I believe that its opposite, the feeling of inadequacy, is a set of mental habits that we’ve developed since we were young — habits that we can train out of ourselves, with diligence (and forgiveness if we mess up).

So what’s this course about?

It’s about becoming aware of our old mental patterns that sabotage our happiness, social life, habits and more. It’s about retraining our minds with new mental habits that will make us more confident in ourselves. And how to apply that to all other habits, learning new skills, and more.

Here are the video lessons — the first one just came out:

  1. How Feeling Inadequate Affects Everything
  2. How to Train the Mental Habit of Confidence
  3. See & Interpret: The Key Mental Skills
  4. Keys to Developing Mental Habits
  5. The Confidence Habit Makes You Better at All Habits
  6. Being Present Instead of Stuck in Our Story
  7. Confidence Through Skill Mastery
  8. Continuing Practice Beyond the Course

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every week this month I’ll publish two video lessons
  2. There’s a challenge to spend 5-10 minutes each day to working on one of the skills presented in the video lessons
  3. There are weekly check-in threads in the forum and discussion threads for each lesson
  4. I’ll hold a live video webinar on with a talk and a Q&A session on Sept. 13

This is all included in my Sea Change Program, which you can sign up for today. You also get access to a huge library of other courses and content for changing your life, one step at a time. I hope you’ll join me, I’m really excited!

Single-Minded Devotion to a Task

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By Leo Babauta

I’m going to share a secret to productivity, happiness and mindfulness that you can practice right now, and every day:

Devote yourself single-mindedly to anything you do.

And by that, I mean anything. For example, you can single-mindedly focus on:

  • Writing
  • Washing a dish
  • Talking to someone
  • Reading an online article
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Eating a grape
  • Running

Most of us try to combine doing two or more things at once, by listening to a podcast while running. I’ve done this, and you can’t really enjoy either activity fully. You’re not really present with either. That’s not to say you should never combine activities, but to the extent that you decide to focus on one at a time, you’ll be more present with it, and more fully appreciate it.

Most of us are also very good at switching focus. I do this too, and what it means is that we’re not really devoting ourselves to anything. We’re saying that there is nothing worthy of our full attention. Nothing is sacred if we are constantly switching.

What if we made everything we do sacred?

What if we decide that if we’re going to spend precious moments of our life on something, we’re going to treat it with reverence, wonder and respect?

What if every time we ate something, we gave it our undivided attention? Every time we talk to someone, we treat their words as if they were their last words? (An idea I’m stealing from the amazing Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder.)

What if, every time we open a website, we have only that website open … and treat it as if it were a sacred activity?

What if, every time we do anything, we give it not only our full attention, but our full appreciation? We found gratitude and wonder and love in everything we did?

If we acted like this, every day, then our lives would be filled with mindfulness, gratitude, happiness.

When you are about to start doing something, pause to notice what you’re doing. Set an intention to be fully devoted, single-mindedly devoted, to this one thing. Then give it your everything, as if it were your last act.

Starting, Over and Over Again

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By Leo Babauta

There’s a hope that when we start creating a new habit that we’ll master it and never have to worry about it again, or when we start a new project that it’ll go perfectly.

Unfortunately, life never goes according to our plans. We travel, and eating and exercise habits go out the door. We get sick, and our meditation habit falls off. We have visitors, and our writing project falls into a deep abyss.

I know from my own experience, and coaching thousands of others, that habits and projects are a messy affair. We get good at building and maintaining 5-6 habits, or we get off to an amazing start with a new project, and then everything falls apart when our lives get disrupted. And this becomes a huge problem — we get discouraged!

But what if the disruption and falling off isn’t the problem? What if the problem is our hope that we’ll never have to get disrupted, that things will always go perfectly?

This hope is, of course, greatly misguided. Things don’t ever go smoothly, progress is never linear, and we’ll always get disrupted. It would be best to give up that hope, and instead deal with the reality of our lives.

What we need to do is get good at starting, then starting again. And again. This is an incredible skill that becomes a superpower, when everyone else is wringing their hands about how much they suck at life, how difficult things are, how everything has fallen apart. Instead, we just focus on starting again, and let go of all the stress.

The Skill of Starting

The first skill, of course, is starting in the first place. Lots of people never do this, procrastinating, saying they’ll start tomorrow (I’m not judging, this is very human). So just starting at all is an incredible step.

The skill isn’t that hard, and with practice you can get good at starting:

  1. Take the tiniest step to get started. Any movement at all.
  2. Commit yourself to continuing that tiny step every day. Get accountability if you need it, and set up reminders so you don’t forget.
  3. Keep taking tiny steps, creating a good feeling about this endeavor and about yourself. This good feeling is a powerful thing.

When you notice yourself pushing it off, delaying the start, rationalizing why you can start “in a few minutes” … shake that off. Just take the first step. After that step, the other steps are a lot easier.

The Super Skill of Starting Again

OK, great, but what about when you get disrupted? Not a problem.

Most of us have a process, when we get disrupted, that looks like this: we mess up, we curse ourselves, we feel bad about it, we stress out about why our lives are a mess or we are so horrible at this, and then we let all of that stop us from continuing. Or some version of those elements.

But that’s a harmful method. Instead, if we could learn a less stressful, more helpful method, it could change everything. All of a sudden, falling off a habit or a project would be no problem at all.

Here’s the method I recommend:

  1. When you get disrupted, notice this and notice any tendency to be harsh with yourself about it, or resentful towards life or other people about the disruption.
  2. Shake off that feeling and instead, tell yourself that life is an uncontrollable river and you just have to flow with it. Instead of wishing the river were a set path, perfectly controlled and manicured, accept that things are constantly changing, never according to plan, and that you just need to adapt to the present circumstance.
  3. Shrugging off any past mistakes, focus on starting again. Just like before, focus on taking the tiniest step.
  4. If there’s any learning to take from the previous attempt, adjust your method to account for whatever obstacles you faced. Sometimes it’s just a random life event (a family crisis or a loved one died), so there’s no learning to be had — you just have to start again. Other times, there was an obstacle in the way that you can adjust for — mornings are too chaotic for writing your novel, perhaps, so you have to either wake earlier or find a better time. Maybe you need an accountability partner. Maybe you need better reminders so you don’t forget. There’s always a solution to the common obstacles we face, and someone has figured it out, so do a little research! And then adjust your method, so you are constantly getting better.

It’s that simple. Shrug off the disruption, flow with the changing circumstances, and simply start again. Adjust yourself if needed, but don’t stress out about having to start again.

Life is a constant stream of disruptions, changes, broken plans and rain delays. Every day, we’re just starting again. Every moment is simply a new start. That can be a source of frustration, or delight.

The Destructive Habit of Evaluating Everything We Do

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By Leo Babauta

You’re going through your day, and it’s like you’re a newspaper critic, constantly looking for things to praise and criticize.

Did a workout? Amazing job Leo! Spent too much time on Youtube? Bad Leo! Body is looking flabby as you walk past the mirror? You absolute slob.

Everything we do becomes something to judge: are we worthy of praise? Or criticism?

We are in the mental habit of constantly evaluating everything we do, to see if we’re worthy or not. (Btw, we do this with other people as well, and with life situations in general — everything is evaluated as “good” or “bad”).

This mental habit of evaluating everything — while completely normal and natural — is actually pretty destructive.

Why?

Because every time you evaluate yourself, you are hurting your happiness.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You are going through your day, doing stuff.
  2. Your mind is constantly evaluating: is what I did good or not? Am I worthy of praise or not?
  3. If you do something worthy of praise, you are happy! Well, actually, you rarely take time to be happy about that. More likely, you’ll think about all the other things you haven’t done yet, and not think much about what you’ve done. Or maybe you think what you did is okay, but you feel it should be better. Or you should do more. Or you’re worried about losing what you’ve gained, messing up the next time. And you’re unsure of yourself even if you did OK at something.
  4. If you did something worthy of blame … well, that doesn’t make you too happy about yourself. And this is the majority of the time.

So this mental habit isn’t helpful. It is constantly making us feel bad about ourselves, insufficient, frustrated, like we’re doing things wrong.

Why do we do it? Because we want to be worthy of praise. We are uncertain about our worthiness, so we’re constantly asking the question. And constantly coming up short, because we’re comparing ourselves to 1) every person who’s done awesome things, 2) our ideal about how we should be doing (spoiler: perfectly, with every possible thing), and 3) what we think others would be impressed by. We can’t possibly compare well to these kinds of ideals.

A Different Mental Habit

If the evaluation habit doesn’t help, what can we do instead? And how do we change? Is it even possible?

I have to admit, mental habits are not easy to change. We have to be aware of what’s going on, and constantly vigilant. We’ll fall short of being constantly aware and vigilant … so we’ll evaluate ourselves badly. That moment, of course, is a beautiful opportunity to practice letting go of evaluating!

The habit I recommend instead is finding gratitude and contentment in this moment. Yes, that’s hokey, cheesy, corny and so on. But it works, like a badass.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You do something during the day.
  2. You notice yourself judging yourself: “I’ve been lazy today! Ugh.”
  3. You say, “Ah, I’m doing it again. Don’t waste one more second on that habit.”
  4. Instead, you pause and find a way to be grateful for something in this moment, about yourself or your life. You find a way to be content with what you have, who you are, and what is going on right now. You experience the sensations of this moment, as they’re happening.

And repeat. It doesn’t matter if you sucked at doing whatever you were doing, or you have been lazy or procrastinated or forgot to do something. It also doesn’t matter if you did something good — your gratitude and contentment don’t depend on how you do at anything. You can do something well and be grateful and content, or you can do something poorly and be grateful and content.

Some examples:

  • I just finished writing a Zen Habits post — I’m amazing! Actually, I’m not going to waste my time on the ol’ evaluation habit, and instead, I’m going to notice what’s going on right now in this moment. It’s a nice day outside. My body is feeling tired. I have a nice roof over my head, and I just ate a delicious meal. I’m grateful for those things, and for my kids, my wife, my family, my friends, my readers, life in general! This is all true whether or not I wrote the post.
  • I just wasted time reading my favorite websites instead of doing my work — I suck! Again, not gonna waste another second on that habit. Again, I pause and notice what is happening right now: the air is still, there’s a humming sound from the refrigerator, there are squirrels outside, I am feeling restless, and I’m grateful for all the things I listed previously and more (music, for example, is awesome!).

You can do this at any moment, no matter what is happening: your father is dying in the hospital, you’re running late for a meeting, you just missed your train, you got another subscriber on your Youtube channel, you just ate some delicious vegan ice cream. Drop the evaluation habit, and practice the gratitude and contentment habit.

Practice by keeping something visible around you (a little drawing you made, a gift from your daughter, a flower you found on the sidewalk outside, a stone from the river on your last hike) to remind you about your new mental habit. Practice when you do a 2-minute meditation in the morning. Practice whenever you notice yourself feeling unmotivated, frustrated with yourself, depressed, overwhelmed.

The habit of gratitude and contentment will never fail you, like a good friend.

How to Get Back on Track with Motivation & Habits

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By Leo Babauta

It happens to all of us: you are going strong with a project, with learning something new, with a new habit or two … and things go sideways. You get derailed.

This is a critical junction. If you let yourself quit, all your time and effort up until now has been for naught. If you can get back on track, things can be great again.

Most people don’t know how to get back on track, and so fail repeatedly. Today I’m going to share a simple method that works for me.

Recently, I’ve had to use the method because of a few difficulties:

  • A learning project got sidetracked. For a couple months, I’ve been focused on learning something new, but I got discouraged because a) my learning efforts got interrupted by travel, which was a bummer, and b) I had a couple of failures that made me feel like quitting. As of a couple of days ago, I was on the brink of quitting altogether.
  • My eating habits have been crap lately. Well, not complete crap, but crappy enough that I’ve felt a bit unhealthy. And I haven’t been able to get it back on track.
  • My focus hasn’t been what it could be lately. In recent months, I was super focused on my mission, on mindfulness and meditation and helping others. In the last month, that focus hasn’t been there, for a variety of reasons. I haven’t given up, but have definitely been sidetracked.

Sounds discouraging, right? But not to fear, getting back on track is actually fairly simple.

The Key Principle

Here’s the key idea to understand: getting off track and getting back on track is all about mood.

When we get off track, it’s because things that affect our mood as it relates to the project or habit. For example:

  1. We get interrupted because of travel, illness, visitors, crises, etc. This interruption makes us feel discouraged. It’s not the interruption that is the obstacle, it’s the feeling of discouragement that gets in the way.
  2. We get tired because of travel, illness, a lack of sleep, etc. … and the tiredness makes us feel unmotivated towards our project or habit. Tiredness is a huge obstacle, because when you’re tired, you don’t feel motivated, your mood isn’t as good, and you just want to comfort yourself with distractions and food (among other things).
  3. When things aren’t going well, we can get very discouraged — we’re not losing weight on our diet, exercise is harder than we fantasized about, language learning is very difficult, etc.
  4. When things get busy in our lives, we often have to skip the habit, which can make us feel bad about ourselves.

When our mood, as it relates to the project or habit, is bad … we often feel like quitting, and don’t even want to think about the problem. We avoid thinking about it, turn away from it, and seek other comforts.

The Method

So how do you get back on track? Here’s the method I use.

  1. Admit there’s a problem, and ask a key question. We often want to ignore the problem, not even think about it. But this only encourages quitting, and doesn’t help the problem. All we have to do is simply say, “I’m feeling bad about this. I’m discouraged and thinking about quitting.” Then we can ask ourselves, “Do I really want to quit, or is there a good reason to get back on track?”
  2. Take one small, easy step. If you have good reason to get back on track, don’t think about the entire project of getting back on track. That’s too much, and can be overwhelming, which means we’ll never start. Instead, just think of one thing you can do. For example, if you’ve fallen off the meditation habit … can you meditate for 30 seconds right now? 10 seconds? If you stopped listening to your language tapes, can you just do 2 minutes of the tapes today? If you stopped doing yoga or bodyweight exercises, can you just do a few minutes right now? It might seem ridiculously easy, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Something tiny, anything. This is the key step, so don’t take it lightly.
  3. Focus on getting any kind of victories. If you do 30 seconds, 2 minutes, whatever … you’ve had success! This is a victory, and a victory changes your mood. If you’ve been trying to play chess and you’ve been losing and become very discouraged, then focus on doing some tactics training for one minute. That’s a victory! What other kinds of victories can you get? Look for anything: just doing another minute later today or tomorrow morning, doing a little practice on your commute, reading a little about the topic online, anything you can do. Nurture your mood — victories change your mood. Defeats and tiredness can bring it down. So see what you can do to lift your mood up, including talking to someone else about it or making it more social, playing some good upbeat music to make it fun, making some tea or lighting some candles to make it more enjoyable, etc.
  4. Build long-term strength with small steps. If you build little victories, take small steps, and nurture your mood as in the previous steps … you’ll start to have a more solid habit or motivation for your project. After awhile, you become more robust, so that a little defeat won’t really matter too much. You have room for some tiredness now and then. You’ll be strong and won’t need to worry about all of the little mood changes. But it takes a bunch of small steps and victories to get there. So focus on one small step, one victory, at a time. Don’t worry about the long term, just focus on the short term. And the long-term strength will come.

This isn’t a difficult method — anyone can do it. All it takes is a small admission of struggle, a willingness to ask whether you want to get back on track, and a focus on small steps and victories. That’s doable, and awesome.

The Eternal Dilemma: Revenge or Forgiveness?

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By Leo Babauta

It’s easy to get upset at someone who has hurt you — but what’s the best way to get them back? What kind of revenge, served cold perhaps, can you dream up?

I recently had someone write to me about this:

“Recently one of my family members hurt me badly. They believe I am an easy target since I don’t want to retaliate or cause conflicts. My question is should I take the risk of getting revenge, knowing that it is never ending (not the best solution) or should I forgive this person? The problem is I don’t want to let them walk over me anymore. How to make them stop and respect me? Or maybe there is another solution?”

There are some important issues going on here:

  1. You’ve been hurt, which isn’t nice. It certainly doesn’t feel nice.
  2. You want to lash out at the person for hurting you. This is a natural reaction from the anger and indignation that can result from being hurt.
  3. You don’t want someone to walk all over you. This seems unfair, and seems like it’s just adding to the bad treatment.
  4. You want to be respected.
  5. You are worried about the bad consequences of getting back at them.

I’m obviously going to argue against revenge, so I should just say that now rather than acting like it’s going to surprise you. Instead, let me present my arguments against revenge, then offer up a different approach.

A Few Arguments Against Revenge

So why not just do what feels right, and lash out at them somehow?

There are some big problems with that:

  1. It doesn’t actually make you feel better. Retaliating might feel good in the moment, but you won’t feel better about yourself. You’ll just be sinking to a lower level and feeling bad about yourself.
  2. It hurts the relationship. You lash out because you’re hurt, but in doing so, you’re going to hurt and anger the other person. Your relationship actually gets worse. You might argue that it’s their fault, but actually, no, you’re contributing to this as well. You might argue that you don’t care, you don’t want a relationship with a person who would hurt you, and that might be true. Just be sure you’re not saying that out of anger, but you’ve calmed down and made that rational assessment.
  3. You’re just allowing yourself to act on impulse and fear. When we lash out at someone because they mistreated us, it’s not from a rational assessment of what will be best for us, or best for the situation. It’s an impulse that is borne from fear and anger. While this is a natural reaction, I’ve found that it’s not the best idea to just follow our impulses without pausing to consider. This leads to impulse problems like eating too much junk food, distraction, procrastination, addiction to video games or TV, and more. Instead, we should get in the habit of pausing whenever we have an impulse, letting the fear subside, and instead considering what’s best for the situation. We shouldn’t let ourselves get caught up in a story in our heads about what this person did to us and how wrong they are. That’s not helpful.
  4. It doesn’t actually make people respect you more. Lashing out in anger or fear is not a recipe for earning people’s respect. In my experience, people actually respect you less if you retaliate against others. Maybe they’ll want to be around you less. But that’s out of fear or dislike of your behavior, not respect. I tend to respect people more who can handle things maturely and with calmness and compassion.
  5. You’re not being your bigger self. It’s easy to act on our impulses, but what we really want is to become out bigger self. That means the best version of ourselves that we can be —
    and forgiving ourselves, of course, when we don’t do that. The bigger self is one that forgives, is compassionate, doesn’t act out of fear or anger, and handles things maturely. This isn’t always easy to do, so we shouldn’t think of it as an “ideal” to always strive for, but as a guideline for how to act when we’re able to consider things with calmness.

So if retaliation and revenge aren’t the best ideas, what’s better?

A More Compassionate Approach

I believe a more compassionate approach is better, because:

  • You’re being your better self.
  • It makes you feel better about yourself.
  • You earn the respect of others by being more mature.
  • It helps your relationships.
  • It is a kind thing to do to the other person, who is obviously having difficulties.
  • It makes the world a better place, one relationship at a time.

You might disagree with these reasons, but I’ve found them to be true.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Pause instead of acting on impulse, fear and anger. Notice when you’re about to lash out from anger and fear. Instead of acting on that impulse, pause. Breathe. Take a timeout. Consider your actions before acting.
  2. Stay with the physical feeling, instead of the story. When you’re angry or afraid, there is a story in your head that’s causing it (“They’re being so rude!”) … instead of dwelling on this story, bring your attention to how this feels in your body, physically. Where is the feeling located — in your chest, stomach, neck, face? What physical sensations can you notice? Stay with these feelings as long as you can, returning to them when you notice your attention going back to the story (“Why do they need to act this way?”). Stay with the feeling, and give it some compassion.
  3. Enlarge your perspective to see their difficulty. Once you’ve stayed with the feeling for a few moments, see if you can get out of your you-centered story, and embiggen your perspective to include what the other person is going through. Are they having a bad day? Are they suffering through some difficulty? Feeling fear or anger? Do you know what it’s like to go through that yourself? When you realize the other person is probably having a difficult time, struggling with something … you might find some compassion in your heart for what they’re going through, in addition to the offense you feel. This is the space you want to enter.
  4. Ask: What is the most compassionate thing you can do for both of you? Is it having a gentle conversation with them? Is it ending the relationship so you don’t hurt each other? Is it getting a third party involved so you can resolve the situation? Is it just listening to their complaints? There are lots of options — try to consider ones that don’t originate from your anger or fear, but instead are compassionate.
  5. What do you need to do to respect yourself? I’m not suggesting that you be a “pushover” and let other people walk all over you. Compassion isn’t about not respecting yourself — in fact, it’s the opposite. You often need to take steps to protect yourself, so you don’t get hurt. Or at least to speak up for yourself. It’s not compassionate to remain silent when you’re being hurt. But at the same time, you can respect yourself if you make your concerns clear in a gentle way. Or set your boundaries with the other person firmly, but without anger.
  6. What’s the most loving thing you can do for them? This might be listening to them, giving them a hug, showing them that you care. But it also might be letting them go, because your relationship with them isn’t helping them. Or creating some space, at least for a little while, so they can have time to cool down (and you can too). There are lots of options, but considering this along with how to love and respect yourself, is where you want to be.

None of this is easy. I’m not claiming there are miracle solutions. But it’s not easy to hurt your relationship with escalating retaliations, and it’s not easy to deal with resentment and anger in yourself. Compassion isn’t easier, but it does bring greater happiness all around

The Magic of Forming New Relationships

I’d like to invite you to join me in my new course in the Sea Change Program to help others get good at making friends and dating … it’s called “The Magic of Forming New Relationships,” and it has just started. Join me!

The course features a guest expert, other than myself … my good friend Tynan, who is a blogger, author, coach and expert on topics ranging from minimalism, travel, productivity, habits, social dynamics, awesome cruise travel and much more. Tynan is a former pickup artist (he’s a good person, I swear) who learned to not suck at talking to girls, not suck at storytelling, and apply what he learned to making friends. I’m honored to have him as a guest expert.

So what’s this course about?

We’ll talk about making new friends and also dating — both involve getting out of our comfort zone and making new connections. It can be life-changing stuff.

Here are the video lessons — the first two have just came out:

  1. Overview — What Most People Do Wrong at First
  2. The Approach (Or, how to get someone to want to talk to you)
  3. The Art of Storytelling
  4. The First Three Dates
  5. The Preliminaries: Developing Your Confidence
  6. Making a Great Connection
  7. Building a Friendship (or Romantic Relationship)
  8. Avoiding Long-Term Pitfalls

It’ll be amazing. We’ll also talk about telling good stories, creating a great experience for the other person, and other awesome stuff that will help anyone, no matter where you are in life.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every week this month I’ll publish two video lessons
  2. There’s a challenge to spend 5-10 minutes each day to working on one of the skills presented in the video lessons
  3. There are weekly check-in threads in the forum and discussion threads for each lesson
  4. I’ll hold a live video webinar on with a talk and a Q&A session on Aug. 19

This is all included in my Sea Change Program, which you can sign up for today. You also get access to a huge library of other courses and content for changing your life, one step at a time.

New Course: The Magic of Forming New Relationships

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By Leo Babauta

It can be really difficult when you aren’t good at talking to people, at making friends, or at dating. It can stress you out, get you down, make your life harder.

I consider myself an introvert, but I’ve made a concerted effort in my life to get better at making friends and socializing. So it’s possible.

I’ve created a course in my Sea Change Program to help others get good at making friends and dating … it’s called “The Magic of Forming New Relationships,” and it has just started. Join me!

The course features a guest expert, other than myself … my good friend Tynan, who is a blogger, author, coach and expert on topics ranging from minimalism, travel, productivity, habits, social dynamics, awesome cruise travel and much more. Tynan is a former pickup artist (he’s a good person, I swear) who learned to not suck at talking to girls, not suck at storytelling, and apply what he learned to making friends. I’m honored to have him as a guest expert.

So what’s this course about?

We’ll talk about making new friends and also dating — both involve getting out of our comfort zone and making new connections. It can be life-changing stuff.

Here are the video lessons — the first one just came out:

  1. Overview — What Most People Do Wrong at First
  2. The Approach (Or, how to get someone to want to talk to you)
  3. The Art of Storytelling
  4. The First Three Dates
  5. The Preliminaries: Developing Your Confidence
  6. Making a Great Connection
  7. Building a Friendship (or Romantic Relationship)
  8. Avoiding Long-Term Pitfalls

It’ll be amazing. We’ll also talk about telling good stories, creating a great experience for the other person, and other awesome stuff that will help anyone, no matter where you are in life.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every week this month I’ll publish two video lessons
  2. There’s a challenge to spend 5-10 minutes each day to working on one of the skills presented in the video lessons
  3. There are weekly check-in threads in the forum and discussion threads for each lesson
  4. I’ll hold a live video webinar on with a talk and a Q&A session on Aug. 19

This is all included in my Sea Change Program, which you can sign up for today. You also get access to a huge library of other courses and content for changing your life, one step at a time. I hope you’ll join me, I’m really excited!