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By Leo Babauta
The best of intentions often flops around without some kind of structure.
You might decide you’re going to change your diet and lose some weight, but when mealtime comes around, you just eat the same kind of food and still get too full from eating too much. Or you decide you’re going to procrastinate less and be more focused, but then after a short success, you start going to your usual distractions. You start exercising but then get lazy and fall off the habit. You start waking early but then have a late night or two and the whole house of cards comes crashing down.
We start with great intentions, but the harder ventures cause us to flounder around. Then we repeat that: start with good intentions, flounder around. Over and over again, until we feel hopeless to change anything or start to nourish a deep sense of inadequacy.
What can we do to change things? It’s not you, it’s your method.
If you current method of change isn’t working (start with good intentions and then flounder), you have to try a new method.
Unfortunately, there isn’t just one perfect method. But there is one thing you can do to vastly improve your method: add some kind of structure.
How Structure Improves Our Method
What do I mean by structure? Anything that keeps you sticking to the course better. Anything that holds you to your intentions.
The possibilities are endless, but here are some common examples:
- Create rules: No sugar, don’t go 2 days without a workout, no electronics after 9pm, meditate first thing upon waking.
- Get accountability: I like having a group of people who I report to every day. A simple way to do that is to use an app (Runkeeper, some kind of diet tracking app) where you have friends on the app who will see your log. Another way is to create a Google spreadsheet and use it to track how you did with a goal each day. Or just email people each week who agree to hold you accountable.
- Set reminders: How will you remember to do what you said you did? This is a huge obstacle — forgetting. Instead of forgetting, set reminders on your phone, on your computer, little notes all around.
- Do it with others: Find a workout partner, a collaborator on a project, a group class. Doing a project or going through change with others is always an amazing idea.
- Get a coach: I am a big believer in coaching, for many reasons — but one of the simplest reasons is that if you have someone you’re paying and reporting to, you’ll simply be much more likely to follow through. And a coach can see patterns that are getting in your way that you can’t see. In fact, I am currently offering coaching if you’re willing to pay a decent amount for impactful shifts in your life — I’m looking for people on a mission, filled with uncertainty, who want an expert trainer to help them open into that uncertainty (apply here if that’s you).
- Create a challenge or game: I’ve done challenges with my family or friends (pushup challenge, drawing challenge, reading challenge) and also made up games with points and rewards. It creates structure and makes it fun, two amazing ways to create change in your life!
You can see the idea. What can you do to add structure to your change or goal?
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~Pema Chodron
By Leo Babauta
Life has its down periods: your boss is unhappy with you, your business is struggling, you get into a fight with the love of your life, your finances are tight, you aren’t getting good sleep, you get sick or have chronic pain.
Our way of dealing with this is usually to do one or more of the following:
- Get away from the problem — quit your job, break up with your partner, or stop caring. Anything you can do to exit.
- Ignore the problem — just don’t think about it. Pretend nothing’s wrong. Think about anything else.
- Comfort yourself — drink, smoke, food, TV, Internet, porn, social media, games. Anything to take your mind off the difficulties.
- Complain — lash out at someone, rant, moan about it to a friend, feel resentful, tell yourself that the other person is the problem (because they are, right?!).
There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. Don’t feel guilty if you do them. Sometimes, they can be soothing or helpful. Talking to someone about your problems, for example, is a good idea. Giving yourself some rest so that you are better prepared to take on the world’s problems … that’s not a bad idea too.
But trying to avoid the problem, exit from it, or even comfort yourself — these have limited effectiveness. We know that by now, because despite our best efforts, the down times keep happening. We get in a slump, we get miserable, we feel down.
Here’s a mental shift that might help: when you’re feeling hurt, sad, angry, overburdened … think of it not as a problem, but as an experience.
Fully feel whatever pain or sadness or anger you’re feeling.
Stop avoiding it and just feel it. Truly allow yourself to feel it.
And as you feel it, don’t think of the difficult feeling as a problem you need to solve. A thing you need to get rid of. Think of it as an experience you’re having.
It’s not a problem, it’s an experience.
That’s all it is: an experience, a feeling. Nothing to panic about. (Unless you’re feeling panic — that’s OK too.) It’s something you’re experiencing right now, and it’s not good or bad. It’s just an experience. It might not feel good, but that’s not a problem. Not all experiences feel good, right? Sometimes we just have to experience cold, heat, storms, and pain. It’s part of the experience of life, and we don’t have to shut it all out.
Feel your difficulty fully, with as open a heart as you can muster. Allow it into your heart, as you would a good friend. And just be with it, no judgments, no need to do anything. It’s just your present experience.
Whatever you’ve done to comfort yourself — no judgments with that as well. That’s not a problem, just an experience.
You can find peace with whatever that experience might be.
Now it’s time for action.
From this place of peace about who you are, what you’re experiencing … you can take the next step. It might be something like:
- Love the feeling, the experience, the pain.
- Love the person who is in front of you, hurting. Feel them.
- Love the world. Give the world your gift.
- Take a small step toward making your situation better.
- Take a small action to realize your life’s mission .
- Be silent, so you can listen. Be still, so you can experience.
What action to take depends on the situation, but it starts with a feeling of being at peace with your experience.
By Leo Babauta
A lot of the time, life can be pretty stressful:
- You feel like you’re treading water, or drowning from an overwhelming number of things to do.
- You feel bad about yourself because you’re not sticking to things, you’re in debt, you’re overweight, you feel like you keep messing up.
- Your relationships are a mess, you’re fighting a lot, you feel lonely.
- Things suddenly happen to shake up your life, or maybe it’s constantly being shaken up, and you’re facing tremendous change and uncertainty.
Basically, life can feel groundless – no solid, stable ground under your feet.
And the truth is, that’s almost all the time. Our lives are always groundless, even if we try to get routines and control and stability. Things constantly happen to pull the rug out from under our feet, and that kind of uncertainty can be stressful, disappointing, painful, uncomfortable.
So what can we do?
We start by just dropping into the moment. Just notice the particularities of this incredible moment. Start to tenderly feel the moment as it is, right now, without trying to make it any different. Start to feel, with a raw and open heart, the magic of this miraculous moment.
That’s a pretty good start.
Then drop into this short meditation:
- Pay attention to how your body feels. What does it feel like to be alive right now? It’s a feeling, this aliveness — what does that feel like? Feel that for a minute.
- Synchronize your mind with your breath. Instead of having your mind doing something else, let it just rest on the sensation of the breath. What is that like? Stay here for a minute. Come back if you start to wander off.
- Now just keep an open awareness on your experience. Notice how your heart feels. If there’s any kind of pain, tension, tightness — just notice that.
- Notice the tenderness under the pain, tension, tightness. That’s your tender heart.
- Start to feel the basic goodness inside of you. That includes your tender heart, but also your pain, stress, discomfort, and all the sensations of your breath and body. It includes your everpresent awareness. It includes everything. You don’t have a basic goodness, you are basic goodness.
This is the ground of your existence. It’s not stability in your life, not routines or systems, not a sureness of who you are or what your world is. It’s just awareness of your basic goodness. And you can start to feel it, if you practice the meditation above. You can start to sense it, and trust in it. It’s always there, in the background. It’s the vast blue sky to the clouds of your thoughts and feelings.
You can trust that it’s there, sense it whenever you need to, once you learn to sense it. This basic goodness that is unconditional, wider than you can imagine.
Practice this for five minutes a day, or anytime you notice yourself feeling groundless.
By Leo Babauta
Most of us want a greater sense of peace and ease in our lives — life can be stressful, chaotic, overwhelming, full of distractions, exhausting.
We want to get away from all of that, exit the madness, and get to a place of greater peace.
I’m going to share how to find that life of peacefulness in one simple method. In a minute.
First let’s look at the biggest mistake we make: trying to escape the stress and chaos.
To escape the chaos, we do a lot of things:
- Try to get our world in order, trying to control everything
- Distract ourselves, because it’s all too much
- Comfort ourselves from the stress, with TV, food, drink, drugs, social media
- Hide from all the things we do, try not to think about it all
- Complain about it, about the burden of it all
- End a relationship, an arrangement, a commitment, because you don’t want to feel bad anymore
- Stress out, rush, constantly feel busy
You might recognize some of your reactions to stress and chaos in this list, or maybe you have other strategies. But in the end, it’s all about trying to escape, to exit, a desire to get away from it all and get a sense of peace.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get away from difficulty or pain. If you’re in true danger or abuse, get out. But most of the time, it might be a path of growth to not exit. To stay, to face the stress and chaos with a sense of bravery. And then to find peace in the middle of the chaos.
You can create a life of peacefulness in the middle of this overwhelming, stressful, busy, chaotic world. If you don’t run, but instead find the fearlessness to be with it fully.
Let’s look at how, with one simple method.
A Method for Creating a Life of Peacefulness
So you’re stressed, feeling overwhelmed — how can you use this difficulty to create peace?
It’s a simple method, but it takes practice.
It’s just three steps:
- Face the difficulty. You’re feeling stressed, rushed, overwhelmed, frustrated? Instead of trying to exit from that feeling or situation, turn toward the feeling. Notice how it feels. Allow yourself to fully feel it. It’s not about the story about what’s going on, or your story about the feeling … these stories are actually causing the feeling. Instead, turn toward the physical sensation of the feeling itself. With curiosity: what is it like? What color, temperature, energy, texture does it have? Does it change? Find the courage to fully face this feeling, and fully experience it.
- Open & relax. After a moment of that (it can take a minute or two of facing the feeling, or often just a few seconds) … allow yourself to open up to your present experience. Opening is about relaxing into it, opening your heart so that you aren’t closed to the experience but actually fully feeling it with rawness and tenderness, being present with gentleness, even finding love for this moment of stress. Even, possibly, falling in love with this beautiful moment, that includes the discomfort but isn’t limited to it, is so much more than that. In the end, the key is relaxing and letting go of whatever you need to let go of, in order to feel peace.
- Take the next step, in peace. Finding a sense of peace in this moment, take the next step. Do what’s needed next — start writing that report or email, have the conversation, get moving with the project, make a list — but do it with this sense of peace. It’s a shift in the way we normally do things, which is with a sense of tension, rushing, tightness. Instead, do it with a relaxed sense of peace, smiling at the joy of doing.
OK, I said it’s simple, but in fact this can take a lot of practice. Just the first step is a huge shift for most people, but I promise, it can be done. Facing the difficulty is just turning your attention to it, and feeling it, with a sense of allowing it to be there rather than needing it to go away. This turning toward is a transformative practice, and if you only do this one step, it’ll be a powerful thing.
But the second step is powerful too: this is where a life of peacefulness comes from. It’s a recognition that peace is available to us at any time, that we don’t need to exit to find it, that we can stay, and love the place where we are, and at the same time, relax into peace. Ease into peace. Smile and find love for our life, just as it is.
The third step is about taking action from that place. We can sit and meditate and that’s great, but at some point we have to act. We can’t do a whole project at once, so we just focus on taking that first step. And we do it with peace in our hearts.
Then we repeat this whole process, over and over, until it becomes ingrained in us. That doesn’t mean the stress goes away forever, or that you’ll never know chaos again. On the contrary: you’ll know chaos better than you ever have before. Because you’ll learn to face it fully, and be with it, and smile with acceptance, gentleness, friendliness and gratitude.
In the end, this is a training in being fully present with whatever we’re facing. And finding peace with that — because a life of peacefulness isn’t one that’s absent of difficulty, but one that isn’t struggling so hard to run from it.
“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” ~Rumi
By Leo Babauta
One of the things I want of people who join the Fearless Training Program is to have some kind of deeper purpose in life.
That purpose could be a lot of things:
- To make the lives of people better through coaching, writing, podcasting
- To serve an audience, a small team, a group of people in your community
- To raise kids who are self-sufficient and happy with themselves
- To help others feel empowered to speak out, to pursue their dreams, to feel heard
- To help those in need, those who are suffering
- To be a good person to everyone you meet, so that they might feel the magic of kindness
- To dedicate your life to helping others get enlightened so that they are freed from suffering (the Bodhisattva path)
And millions of other possibilities. You don’t have to be making a living off of your passion — as long as you feel you are doing something meaningful, and you care deeply about those who you’re serving.
The training has to be about something bigger than yourself. It’s not just about self-improvement, but growth to serve others.
Two big reasons it’s important to have some kind of purpose bigger than yourself:
- You need a deep reason: If you don’t have a deeper reason for doing the training, you’ll wuss out when things get hard. And when things get hard, that’s when things get really good. That’s when true change happens.
- You need to get out of your closed-in world: Much of the time, we’re very concerned about ourselves. About how we look, about what people think about us, about whether we’re being treated right, about why they have to be like that to us, whether we’ll get what we want, about whether we’re good enough. Our self-concern is natural, but it closes us in to a very small world of self-concern that makes us less happy, less content.
Let’s look at these a little closer. And then talk about how to find your deeper purpose, and beyond that, how to live a life of purpose.
A Deeper Reason to Push Into Discomfort
Imagine this: you decide to go into a weeklong meditation retreat, because it would be nice to be more mindful. Sounds really nice, right?
But then you get to the retreat, and after a brief intro, they have you sit and meditate. Then walk a bit, in silence, meditating as you walk. Then sitting in meditation. Repeat until you eat in silence. Go to bed early, because tomorrow you’re going to meditate all day, speaking to no one. As you get to your room, you realize this is way harder than you thought when you fantasized about it.
You get through the second day, but again in your room, you start to think about escaping. You don’t want to do this anymore. You don’t really care about this meditation enough to keep doing it when your hips are sore, your back is tired, your mind is tired.
This is a key juncture: do you quit or do you keep training?
The truth is that if you can push into the discomfort, with love, and keep going … it’ll be an amazing breakthrough for you, an opening up of your habitual patterns. It’ll be a place of growth, of learning, of tremendous change.
This is the kind of training that you need to put yourself in if you want to grow. Not a meditation retreat, necessarily, but any kind of practice that makes you want to retreat. It doesn’t have to be hardcore, just something that causes you to be uncomfortable, that causes your old habitual patterns to come up.
At this point, if you have something you care about — a group of people you really love, who you want to serve — you can stay in this place of discomfort and growth.
If you don’t, you’ll probably run. Because why put yourself through that?
You need the deeper reason.
A Way Out of Our Closed-In World
Besides giving you a deeper reason to push into discomfort … having a purpose expands your world.
Most of us live worried about ourselves most of the time, worried about whether or not:
- We get what we want
- We’re in discomfort, pain, illness
- We have bodies we like
- Other people are treating us nicely or fairly
- People think highly of us or not
- Things are difficult, stressful, overwhelming
- Things go the way we like, things are orderly, things are pleasurable
And so forth. We want what we want, we want others to be nice to us and think highly of us, we want to be happy and good looking, etc.
But this is a narrow world. It’s small — focused only on ourselves and what we want or don’t want.
Having a bigger purpose, focused on helping others, broadens that world. It expands our view so that we’re thinking of others and ourselves, and how we are all interconnected.
It’s a much more fulfilling way to live.
How to Find the Purpose
That’s all great, but how do you find your purpose if you don’t have a clue where to start looking?
There are two guiding principles:
- Clear away all distractions, and
- Listen deeply
If you don’t have a clear purpose yet, if you haven’t found work or an activity that gives you fulfillment and meaning … it would help to make looking for that your main purpose. Your entire focus is on seeking a purpose.
So clear everything out, and have no distractions. Simplify things so that you can start looking. Clear your schedule as much as you can, drop your commitments to the extent that you can (as they’re not meaningful to you anyway).
Then do this:
- Make a list of everything you do right now. Which ones give you meaning and fulfillment? Which don’t?
- Make a list of things you’ve done in the past that have given you meaning. Are there any connections between them? Any connections to the ones on your current list?
- Open to suffering in your life. Things become more meaningful when you’ve been through suffering — it’s not something to be avoided, but something to work with, something to grow with, a path to deeper meaning. Think about the most meaningful experiences in your life — they probably involved other people, and they probably involved some kind of suffering.
- Take time in silence. Out in nature, on a couch meditating. Use the silence to listen — to your heart, to the infinite, to your deeper consciousness. Really listen. Open yourself to not knowing.
- Open to the not knowing even as you interact with others and read books and online articles. What are people saying that feels meaningful? What inspiration can you find?
- Open yourself to others: their challenges, their feedback.
- Listening, listening … then pick something and take action. You won’t really know until you get started, so pick anything that feels remotely right: volunteer, work at a non-profit, write a blog or a book, start recording something, find someone to help as best you can. Get started, take action, and see what happens.
You do not have to have the perfect answer to get started. That’s a need for perfection, a need for knowing. Instead, embrace not-knowing, and just start.
How to Live a Life of Purpose
Once you’ve found an approximation of your purpose, some kind of meaningful activity … now it’s time to live a life of deeper purpose.
There’s no one way to do that … but here are some ideas:
- Start to cultivate a list of guiding principles. Gather them from books, from things that speak to you, from things you’ve learned over the years. These are not things you need to be hardened around, but values and ideas that seem to guide you well. Keep the list somewhere visible. Live by these principles as much as you can, adjusting your behavior regularly if needed, tossing out or revising principles as you learn, not holding to them too tightly.
- Keep your purpose front of mind. Every day, reflect on your purpose. How are you living it? How can you go deeper or expand with it? What one or two things can you do today to serve that purpose?
- Set an intention with each task. If you’re going to write an article, record a video, clean a church floor, see a patient … start that activity by setting an intention to serve the people you care deeply about with love, mindfulness, devotion, or whatever you want to bring to that activity. It helps to set the intention, because the activity becomes filled with purpose, instead of something not very meaningful.
- Have regular reviews. I’ve found that it’s one thing to have an intention, but it’s another to actually live it. We forget, we get distracted, we fall into habitual patterns. To get us back on track, it really helps to have regular reviews. For example: have a 5-minute review at the end of the day — how did you do today? How can you get better? Maybe write 1-2 sentences in a journal. Or just reflect on it. Do the same each week: plan out your week on Sundays (for example), but also review your past week. How can you adjust for the upcoming week? And each month, and each year. Put these on your calendar and don’t skip it when the review date comes up!
- Have people hold your purpose in their hearts. Find at least 1-2 other people (and ideally more) who will hold your purpose in their hearts. That means: you tell them about it, they care about you and what you’re doing, and they’ll ask you about it, maybe support your mission in some way. They’ll challenge you if they feel you’re not doing everything you can or living your best life. They’ll share their mission with you. They’ll be on the journey with you, because no one fulfills their deepest purpose alone.
- Connect to your fulfillment. Reflect on the meaning you get from fulfilling your purpose. Don’t just go through the motions — feel it, deeply. Feel the love you’re offering (and receiving) as you push into this purpose. See the good you’re doing for others. Live your life as love.
It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not always simple to live a life of purpose. But putting these ideas into practice, you’ll feel a greater sense of meaning in your life.
Have a purpose and want to train in pushing into the discomfort and uncertainty of that purpose? Train with me in my Fearless Training Program.
By Leo Babauta
I’ve just launched a new Patreon campaign called the Fearless Training Program, and I could not be more excited about it.
I’m on a mission, over the next two years, to create the best training program in the world for shifting habitual patterns around:
- Cultivating fearlessness with anything we experience
- Pushing into uncertainty with joy and deep purpose
- Shifting habitual patterns around stress, busyness, distraction and more
And I want you to be a part of this mission, to get in on the training program and to help me shape it.
Over the next two years, I’ll be creating this training program for those who join the campaign … and once I do, I’ll take it out into the wider world, in the form of a book, online course, small-group coaching program, possibly a phone app and more.
Join me today, and let’s create something life-changing.
Who This is For
I don’t just want anyone in this program … I want someone who will be fired up about the training. I want you.
- A person who cares deeply about their mission and the people they are serving.
- Someone creating something in the world: a business, an app, a book, music, change in communities, a service while leading a team, etc.
- Someone who takes action, and won’t just sign up and not do the training.
- Someone who is willing to cultivate mindfulness, an open heart, and fierce courage through practice.
- A person willing to invest time, money, energy and determined focus on making changes with gratitude, to serve people better.
You deeply want:
- Impact: You want to make a difference in the world, to serve others powerfully, to pursue your meaningful mission, to find focus and be as effective as you can.
- Peace: You want to bring a sense of mindfulness, calm and order to your chaotic, overwhelming, busy day. You want a life of greater simplicity.
- Connection: You want to create a small number of deep, intimate connections, including creating more intimacy and depth with your partner (or future partner).
You and I are going to create this together. We’re going to create art together, to serve the world.
Who I Am
I am fiercely loyal to you, determined to serve you as deeply as I can.
I am someone who has changed his own life, one step at a time, and then used what I learned to help others change theirs. I teach mindfulness, simplicity, and contentment.
I stand for what you want to create in this world, I stand for who you care deeply about, I stand for the service you offer the world.
I am committed to working with you to create powerful change, to learning along the way and admitting my mistakes, and helping you find compassion for yourself when you make mistakes.
I am excited about this difficult, transformative, joyful training we’re going to do together.
How This Program Will Work
You can sign up for different levels of the training, and depending on the level, you’ll get:
- Access to the training (in written form)
- Ability to give me feedback on the training to shape the program
- Videos to help you train
- The ability to submit questions for me to answer
- Guided meditations
- Downloadable PDFs and ebooks
- A monthly group video call to train together
- And lots more: discounts on my books & courses, early spots on programs/workshops I create, personal videos, and more
By Leo Babauta
OK, so the title was an attention-grabber, I’ll admit — eating healthier meals won’t necessarily make you sexier.
But that’s because most of you are as sexy as possible already.
Still, eating a healthy diet packed with plants, fiber and nutrition is great for your health. So I’m issuing a challenge to all of you for June: eat healthy meals every day.
What does that mean? The first week, I challenge you to eat a hearty salad for lunch. Then each week after that, add a healthy meal to your day (more below) or clean up the junk in some part of your diet.
I’m going to do this challenge myself, and would love for you to join me. It’s not just for those who want to lose weight (though it’s well suited for that goal), but also for anybody who wants to get leaner, gain muscle, or just have radiant health.
It’s my belief that radiant health comes from:
- A healthy diet full of vegetables and other fibrous, nutritious foods
- Good sleep
- Regular exercise (strength, yoga, and some kind of walk/run/bike/sports activity are my favorites)
- Not smoking
- Some kind of purpose in life
- Mindfulness & stress coping mechanisms
Not in that order, as they’re all pretty important. But if you could develop these, you’d be living a radiantly healthy life.
Of these, probably the areas that would have the biggest impact for most people would be sleep, diet and quitting smoking (if applicable). I’d like you to pick diet for June, unless you strongly need to focus on your sleep right now.
So I’m issuing the Eat Healthy Meals Challenge!
Here’s the challenge:
- First week: Focus on eating a hearty salad for lunch every day (or some other veggie-filled simple meal)
- Second week: Focus on eating a healthy, fiber-filled breakfast (while keeping the salad for lunch)
- Third week: Focus on eating a healthy dinner (I have some suggestions), keeping the other meals going
- Fourth week: Strengthen areas that need to be strengthened — changing your accountability or environment (if needed) to be more consistent, getting rid of unhealthy drinks or snacks, etc.
Join my Sea Change Program and I’ll be providing some vegan recipes for the hearty salad, my favorite breakfast at the moment, and my favorite dinner … but you are free to choose something different, as long as you are getting lots of vegetables and fiber and other nutrition.
If you join Sea Change](http://seachange.zenhabits.net/), I’ll have articles talking about nutrition and changing your eating habits as well. And of course, we’ll have a weekly check-in.
Take the challenge on your own, or join Sea Change today!
Questions & Answers
A couple answers to questions you might have:
- Q: Do I need to eat vegan for this challenge? A: Not at all. The meals I’ll share will be vegan, but you can either alter them to suit you (add fish or chicken, for example) or choose your own healthy meals to stick to.
- Q: What if I don’t want to eat a salad for lunch? A: You can make the challenge whatever you want. I highly recommend a hearty salad because you’re getting a ton of nutrition in one meal (I’ll go more into that soon), but I’m not going to force anyone to do anything.
- Q: Can I do this challenge without joining the Sea Change Program? A: Yep, absolutely. In the program, we’ll have accountability as well as videos & articles, but to do the challenge, you just need to follow the guidelines above. Use the #EatHealthyMeals hashtag on Twitter if you like!
My New Fearless Training Program on Patreon
So I’ve launched something new … it’s a training program that I’m developing to change habitual patterns around fear, procrastination, distraction and more … it’s called the Fearless Training Program, and you can be a part of it.
I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to get started!
By Leo Babauta
There’s a part of us that wants to find peace from all the chaos in our lives, all the busyness and distractions and complication and stress and overwhelmingness of it all.
We want to get away from it all, or get control of everything and create order out of the mess. We want stillness, we want rest, we want peace.
But this kind of banishment of chaos and stress isn’t usually possible, unless you go into the mountains and live in a monastery. (Spoiler: You’ll find chaos there too.) So what can we do?
The answer is to find stillness and peace in the middle of chaos.
This is an advanced practice, and so if you’re new to meditation, I suggest starting with my beginner tips for mindfulness and then move on to my short ebook, the Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness. But if you’ve meditated a bit, you’ll have the foundational skills for stillness in chaos practice.
In this post, I’m going to share a practice of resting at home, and then talk about how to use that in the middle of the chaos of our lives.
Resting at Home Meditation
Try this now, if you’re somewhere where you can sit in quiet (even on a train or bus) for a minute or two:
- Sit still, ideally in a position where you feel stable and grounded.
- First check in with your body — how does it feel right now? What sensations can you notice? Is your posture upright and relaxed? What kind of energy are you feeling in this moment? What does it feel like to be alive right now?
- Then check in with your breath — is your breathing relaxed? How does this breath feel? What is the texture of this breath? Keep your attention on the breath for a few moments.
- Next, expand your awareness to everything in the room, including yourself. Not anything in particular, just a general open awareness of everything, eyes open, taking in all sensations, receiving them, not labeling them. Don’t judge anything, don’t fix on anything in particular, just open yourself to awareness of a field of sensations, your own body included in that field, not separate from anything.
- In any of these steps, if your mind starts to wander to thoughts, just notice that (without judgment) and gently come back to your awareness of the present moment.
If you can rest in this open awareness, coming back when you wander … what can happen is that you yourself can drop away. Not your body or your awareness, but your conception of yourself. We all have this idea of ourselves, a structure we’ve created that is “me,” but in truth it’s just a mental concept. With an open awareness, this conception can drop away. Try it for a minute or two, and see if you can let that mental concept of yourself drop away, so that you’re just a part of everything in your awareness.
What I’ve found is that in the moments you can do this, it feels like you’re coming home.
Think about what it’s like to come home — either to your home at night, or to your childhood home after being away. It’s like coming home to the familiar, to the comfortable, to a sense of belonging. This is where you belong, where you are loved, where you can be at rest. That’s the feeling that you can get if you rest in open awareness, with your sense of self just dropping away.
Rest in this sense of coming home. Rest in this place of stillness, of connecting to the infinite.
Finding Stillness in Daily Chaos
If you can get glimpses of this sense of stillness and of being at home, at peace, in the meditation above (and don’t worry if you can’t yet, it can take some practice) … then you have a place to come back to at any moment.
In a moment of stress or frustration, you can pause and find this sense of stillness. In an argument with your spouse, in the snarl of commuter traffic, in the frazzle of getting through your overwhelming daily tasks … you can rest at home, in this place of belonging.
At any moment during the day, you can access this:
- Notice that you’re stressed and feeling a sense of groundlessness, of chaos. Notice that this comes from wanting peace, stillness, control. Notice that this comes from wanting to be safe, wanting your idea of yourself to be in a safe, stable, peaceful place.
- Find that place by resting in open awareness, in this moment. Letting go of the sense of self, just being part of everything around you. Just coming home, to where you belong, where you’ve belonged all along.
- Find a sense of love for everything in your awareness, a sense of compassion for the parts that are in pain (yourself included, but also for others), a feeling of friendliness to everything in your awareness, a feeling of curiosity, of gentleness, of gratitude.
- Continue to do what you need to do in this moment, going through your email, doing your daily tasks, but with a sense of stillness in the middle of the chaos, a connection to the infinite all around you, a feeling of peace as you take action.
There’s no need to get away from the chaos. It’s just movement, in the place where you belong.
By Leo Babauta
You’re starting a project or a new exercise plan, and it’s in shaky new territory for you. You feel doubt about whether you can do it, and so you’re tensely doing everything you can to make sure it will turn out the way you hope.
The stress, fear, doubt and tension here all come from an attachment to the outcome, to how things will turn out. We want to lose weight and get fit (the results of the exercise) or be brilliant at our new project and have everyone think we’re wonderful.
But perhaps we could acknowledge that:
- The outcome isn’t always fully in our control. Sometimes other people get in the way or unintentionally sabotage a project, sometimes things happen that we didn’t expect, sometimes despite our best efforts things just turn out differently than we pictured in our heads. On a training plan, the weather could get worse than we thought, we might come down with a flu for a week, we might get injured or things come up to throw our schedule off.
- There are multiple outcomes that will be OK, if not great. For example, maybe we won’t get six-pack abs if we do our best with this plan, or maybe we won’t finish the marathon we’re training for … but maybe we’ll get healthier despite not meeting the goal? Maybe we’ll enjoy the exercise, maybe we can meet other people trying to get healthier, and maybe we’ll experience beautiful outdoors that we wouldn’t otherwise get to experience? On our new project, maybe it won’t turn out as well as we hope, but we could still enjoy the process, learn a lot, form good relationships with our team or client, get better at the process itself. The outcome we hope for isn’t the only one we can be happy with, and sometimes the actual outcome will be better than we hoped for, if we’re open to it.
- Focusing on the outcome is detrimental. It causes us to stress out, to enjoy the process less, sometimes to not even start something because we don’t think we have a chance of getting the desired outcome. We don’t ever write that novel because we think we can’t write a good one. But how do you ever get good at writing a novel if you never attempt it? It also causes us to be disappointed with the outcome when it’s not what we want, to be disappointed in ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations, to feel that we’re not enough (or others are not enough).
But what if the outcome matters? You are supposed to hit an objective of X for your work … don’t you need to focus on the outcome? Well, you should do the actions that are most likely going to get you that outcome … plan out the steps, then do the steps … but as you’re doing each of the steps themselves, you don’t have to be attached to the outcome.
Let’s explore that a bit, see how to do it and why it might be helpful.
Letting Go of Attachment to Outcome
Letting go of our attachment to the outcome is freeing. It helps us to be more present with the doing, the being, the act itself, rather than what might come in the future. It can help us have better relationships, because we’re more focused on the people than the goal. It can help us have a better relationship to ourselves, as we focus on our own well-being and contentment, rather than some external source of possible happiness (spoiler: happiness doesn’t come from external things).
What can you focus on instead of outcome? A few good ideas:
- The intention. I’ve found my intention in doing a task to be much more important than the outcome. It’s what I hope to bring to the task rather than what I hope to get out of it. It’s how I want to show up right now, rather than what I want things to be in the future. Examples: I have an intention to be helpful and loving as I write this post; I intend to be mindful and appreciative of nature as I go out for a walk or run; I intend to be fully present with the person I’m talking to, compassionate and open-hearted with them. I bring this intention and try to let it inform how I work, how I do anything in the world.
- The effort. Instead of worrying about how things will turn out, pay attention instead to how focused you are on it, how much effort you’re putting into it, how mindful you are as you do it. How much of your heart are you putting into it? How much love and care are you giving it?
- The process. The outcome is a result of the process — if you’re not getting the outcome you want, focus on improving the process. How much care are you taking as you do it? How can you step up your game? Don’t worry about the outcome as much as you pay attention to how you’re doing things.
- The moment. What is beautiful about this particular moment, as you do the action? What can you notice? Can you be curious as you do the act, instead of having a fixed mindset? What is there to appreciate about yourself, about the other person, about everything around you, right now?
- Relationships. Much more important than the outcome is the relationship you have with the people you’re serving and working with, or your relationship with your loved ones. When you’re focused on the outcome, you often disregard the feelings of the people you’re working with, snapping at them when they’re not doing things the way you’d like. Instead, you can focus on your connection with them, on finding ways to make them enjoy the process more, on being loving or compassionate.
Think about how this might change things for you. If you’re working on a shaky new project, you can let go of how you might want things to turn out, and instead focus on how you want to show up, what is beautiful about the moment, having fun with the effort, playing and being curious, being more loving to yourself and others. This transforms every act, every habit, every project, every moment with others.
Do every act out of devotion and love, with letting go of attachment to the outcome.
My Mastery Academy at the World Domination Summit
I’ll be teaching an academy at next month’s World Domination Summit in Portland called “How to Create Mastery” … I’d love for you to join me.
My academy will be from 1:30-4:30 pm on June 28 … here’s more about it:
We would like to pursue our mission, our purpose-filled work … but fear, uncertainty, discomfort, procrastination, distraction and overwhelm get in the way. In this academy, we’ll learn how to stay in the middle of that uncertainty, how to find focus in the middle of that chaos, how to create mastery in the middle of that fear and discomfort.
Leo will lead mindfulness practices and share mastery techniques for retraining the mind’s patterns so that we can push into the discomfort of uncertainty with love, and find mastery of our work so that we can serve those to whom we’re devoted.
- What’s stopping us from finding focus on our mission
- Mindfulness techniques for finding that focus in uncertainty
- Mastery techniques for retraining the mind to practice those mindfulness techniques
By Leo Babauta
This week I had conversations with a couple of loved ones who struggle with an inner voice that tells them that something is wrong with them. It made me think about many years where I felt this sense of inadequacy, a deep sense of not being worthy. I still struggle with it sometimes.
This is a particularly difficult problem, because it affects everything in our lives. It causes us to struggle with trust and insecurity in our relationships (personal and work). It makes us less happy with ourselves and more likely to catastrophize when something goes wrong.
This last bit makes it hard when we are working on improving our sense of self-worth, but then we mess up and because we have a feeling something is wrong with us, we are harsh on ourselves and our efforts fall apart.
So what can we do when we have this inner critic, this voice inside us that doesn’t seem to feel that we’re worthy?
There’s no magic bullet, but here’s what I’ve found to help.
The Practice of Self-Compassion
The first place to start is with the ancient meditation of compassion and loving-kindness. This is because when we have been beating ourselves up for years, there’s a deep sense of pain and a lack of kindness to ourselves. We need to reverse this, every day.
So the practice is just to take a minute every single morning (or evening), notice your pain, and silently wish for it to end. Wish for your own happiness. Then do the same for people you know.
For example, you might repeat each of these phrases three times, trying to genuinely feel these wishes in your heart:
- May there be an end to my suffering.
- May I be happy.
- (Thinking of someone you care about) May there be an end to their suffering.
- (Thinking of someone you care about) May they be happy.
What you’re cultivating is a capacity to care for yourself and others, to be kind, to be friendly and loving. This doesn’t immediately cure everything, but it’s a capacity we don’t often have, and by developing it over time, we are developing a new relationship with ourselves (and with others).
You can apply this anytime you’re having difficulty as well. Just pause when you notice you’re stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, or hurting. Then wish for an end to your own suffering, and for your own happiness. Several times. With real feeling!
A Mantra to Replace Old Habits
One of the biggest problems here is that we have a story we tell ourselves, in our heads, about ourselves.
It might go something like this: “Gawd, I keep messing this up. What’s wrong with me? I can’t do anything right. I suck, I suck. I wish I wasn’t so terrible.”
Of course, your own story will be different, and you might have several versions of it depending on the situation. But the plain fact is, there’s a story we tell ourselves, and it’s not helpful. It makes us feel bad about ourselves.
If we’re doing this to ourselves, how do we stop? How can we flip the script and learn to be more positive?
First, you need to find some gratitude for your amazingness. There is an inner goodness in yourself that’s there all the time. Check on it now: see if you can notice, in the area where your heart is, not only a pain or stress but also a sense of tenderness. This is your tender heart, your basic goodness that’s there all the time. (It’s OK if you don’t notice it right now, check in several times today and see if you can notice that tenderness.)
This is your good heart, the part of you that loves the world, that wants to offer your incredible love to everyone, that wants to be happy and not hurt. It’s the part that feels hurts so acutely. It’s an amazing quality, and you were born with it.
Find gratitude for this goodness, and for all your other amazing qualities. List the things about yourself that you’re grateful for, instead of focusing on the parts you dislike.
Second, come up with a mantra to replace your unhelpful story. A mantra is something you can say to yourself repeatedly, but especially during times when you need it. It’s a new story, more helpful than the old one. It’s based on this sense of your own inner goodness, the gratitude for the amazing qualities you have.
For example, a mantra might be: “I have an amazing heart, and the world loves me.”
The mantra I’ve been working with is: “The world craves me and my gift.”
It helps, because it shifts how we see the world, shifts how we feel about ourselves. It’s based on this place of gratitude and inner goodness, and it radiates out to everything we do.
Set Yourself a Self-Care Challenge
Taking care of yourself is a loving act, and loving yourself in as many ways as you can is a good tonic for the self-harshness you’ve practiced over the years.
Set a challenge to do something to care for yourself every day for 30 days. That might include:
- Spending time talking with people you love, who give you love
- Setting healthy boundaries for yourself — saying no to people, setting limits to how much of yourself and your time that you give, using boundaries to take care of your mental and physical health
- Do things that make you feel confident, from learning a skill that makes you feel competent to walking into a room with your head held tall, to strolling down the street like a silverback gorilla
- Get support from others whenever you need it, asking for help, asking for someone to talk to, going to therapy if it helps, joining a support group, etc.
- Do something that helps you cope with stress — meditate, go for a walk, exercise, do yoga, take a bath, massage your neck and shoulders, do some deep breathing, drink some hot tea
These are just a few ideas, but you get the picture. Taking care of yourself becomes your default mode, and when you are taking care of yourself, you start to feel better about yourself.
With a regular practice of self-compassion, a practice of gratitude towards your amazingness, a mantra that changes how you see yourself, and a regular habit of self-care, you’ll start to soothe the unhelpful inner voices and develop a new loving relationship with yourself.