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By Leo Babauta
I’ve been diving deeper into training the mind when it meets difficulty, stress, the urge to procrastinate, anger, pain, uncertainty, discomfort.
And here’s the secret I’ve learned: what most people take to be bad news is actually the good news.
Let’s take the example of Greg … he wants to start meditating, so he commits himself to the daily habit of meditating for 10 minutes every morning. Wonderful!
And he does a great job at first, meditating for more than a month without fail. He’s feeling pretty good about himself.
Then he has to go on a trip, and he’s so busy that he misses a couple days of meditation. When he returns home, his mom comes to visit and he doesn’t seem to have time to meditate now.
What’s Greg’s reaction? He feels bad for missing mediation, breaking his streak, falling apart because of travel and a visitor. He starts doubting whether he can stick to the habit, feels guilty, doesn’t even want to think about the meditation habit. When he wakes up, he goes on his phone to distract himself from what he’s not doing.
Bad news for Greg, right? Actually, this moment is good news.
In this moment, he has entered his beautiful practice ground.
This is good news.
This idea of a Beautiful Practice Ground is something I’ve developed over working with thousands of people on habits and mindfulness … let’s take a look at what it is, why it’s good news, and how to work with it.
What is the Beautiful Practice Ground?
When Greg’s meditation habit fell off, he responded with self-criticism, guilt, self-doubt, avoidance and distraction. This might seem like bad news — who wants to respond like that?
But actually, it’s good news: we’ve learned something extremely important. This way of reacting is actually Greg’s habitual way of responding to difficulty. He has conditioned himself to respond this way to similar difficult situations, to failures small and large, probably since childhood.
This habitual way of responding to difficulty is actually what’s standing in his way.
Training the mind to respond differently in this exact kind of situation is probably the most important training Greg could do.
If he can retrain his habitual reaction, he’ll eliminate most of his difficulties. Instead of falling apart and avoiding when he misses a habit, he’ll just start again. With gratitude. When he hits upon other difficulties, with training he can just figure out a way to deal with it, and not fall apart and start avoiding things.
So it’s very, very good news that he has noticed his difficulty, his habitual response to difficulty, uncertainty, discomfort.
This very moment, when he’s avoiding and feeling bad and running to distractions … this moment is his Beautiful Practice Ground.
This is where he wants to be. In the middle of this habitual response, he can pause. He can notice what’s going on. He can practice a different response. He can start to retrain his mind by opening up other possibilities.
Come to regard your difficulties in life as good news. See the moment of your failures, complaining mind, distractedness, anger, frustration … as your Beautiful Practice Ground.
Common Beautiful Practice Grounds
The ways in which we habitually respond to difficulty are varied, but there are some pretty common ones … I’ll list some here so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about:
- Becoming annoyed by the behavior of others, and spinning a story of resentment in your head.
- Procrastinating when you have a difficult task.
- Putting off the moment of starting a habit like meditation, exercise or writing.
- Feeling bad about yourself when you fail to live up to your expectations.
- Resenting others when they fail to meet your expectations.
- Giving in to urges and temptations and then rationalizing them, criticizing yourself, or avoiding even thinking about it.
- Getting upset when things don’t go the way you want them to go, lashing out at others or stewing in resentment.
In other words, all of our most difficult situations are our Beautiful Practice Grounds!
How to Work with Your Beautiful Practice Ground
We can start to regard these difficulties as good news. As places to practice that are filled with compassion, love, and opportunity for growth.
When you notice yourself having difficulty — someone is frustrating you, you are disappointed in yourself, you’re procrastinating on a hard task or habit you’re trying to form, you’re feeling resentful or criticizing yourself — start to recognize this as your Beautiful Practice Ground. And see it as a wonderful opportunity to practice.
Now pause. Stop here in this Beautiful Practice Ground and just notice what it’s like. Notice the sensations here, the quality of the experience. Notice how you feel, and welcome whatever you feel and notice, as you would welcome a good friend into your home.
Notice what your habitual reaction is … do you want to avoid thinking about this? Do you want to run to distraction? Do you want to make a list, do an Internet search for answers, or otherwise get control? Do you want to lash out in anger, criticize, spin around a story of resentment?
Notice that you don’t need to actually do your habitual reaction. You can create a sense of space so that you have mindfulness, choice, openness.
See if you can find curiosity in the middle of this space. What is it like to just sit in this Beautiful Practice Ground?
See if you can take a different action, create a fresh response, act out of love and compassion.
This is the work in the Beautiful Practice Ground. It’s good news that you have this practice ground, and the opportunity to train in the middle of it. Once you begin to do this, the entire world can shift.
By Leo Babauta
It’s a common thing to be frequently annoyed by other people — added to our regular interactions with family, friends and coworkers are the online habits of people on various social media, and they can all irritate the hell out of us.
What can we do when other people are being annoying, frustrating, inconsiderate, irritating, even aggravating?
Well, assuming we’re not in real danger and we don’t need to take action to protect ourselves … often the best practice is an internal shift rather than trying to change the other person’s behavior.
That suggestion in itself can be frustrating for some — why should we have to change our own behavior when it’s the other person who is being aggravating?
That’s because with one simple shift, you can be happy with any person. But if you try to change every other person, you’re just going to be miserable.
This is illustrated by a metaphor from legendary Buddhist teacher Shantideva:
Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? With just the leather of my sandals, it is as if the whole world were covered. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?
In this metaphor, imagine that the surface of the Earth were covered in shards of glass or some other sharp surface … you could try to find a covering for the whole world, so that you could walk in comfort … but you’d never be able to do it. Instead, just cover your own feet, and you can walk around just fine.
This is the idea of shifting your own mindset, so that you can deal with irritating people.
Let’s look at a practice to work on that shift.
A Simple Practice
Whenever you find yourself irritated by how someone else is behaving … first notice that your mind starts to create a story of resentment about them. It’s about how they always act in this irritating way, or why do they have to be that way, or why are they so inconsiderate, etc.
This story isn’t helpful. It makes you unhappy, it worsens your relationship with others, it makes you a person you probably don’t want to be.
So the practice is to drop that story, and instead try this:
- Recognize that you don’t like the way the person is behaving. You are not happy with your current experience. In this way, you are rejecting this part of reality, rejecting a part of life. Consider opening up to all of life, without rejecting.
- Reflect on a river that flows downstream … imagine wishing it would flow upstream. It would just bring you unhappiness to wish that the river were different than it were. Now imagine that this other person is the river. Wishing they were different just brings unhappiness.
- See them as they are and open your heart to them, just as they are. See them as a suffering human being, with flaws and habitual ways of acting that can be irritating, but are actually very human. How can you love humanity just as it is?
Open up to all of life, without rejecting. Accept the river as it is. See the suffering human being in front of you, and love them fiercely, as they are.
See how it shifts you. And see how it opens you up to connecting to your fellow human beings, and the vast experience of life, just as it is.
By Leo Babauta
When I was young, I would run barefoot through the jungles of Guam, being chased by bad guys, imagining I was on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.
The world was filled with possibility, excitement, discovery, exploration, and a delicious sense of danger and the unknown lurking in the darkness. It was fun, play, and curiosity.
Adulthood and the responsibilities of family and work all did their best to beat out this sense of adventure, and create a sense of routine and discipline in me.
But I’ve always still become lit up by a sense of adventure.
One of the best discoveries I’ve made is that my entire life can be a huge adventure.
And it can be done with one simple shift: embrace the thrill of not-knowing.
Let’s take a look at a couple examples …
The Adventure of Your Commute
So you’re driving to work in the morning. Ho hum, boring, you’ve done it a few thousand times, no one likes traffic. So maybe you try to make productive use of it by listening to an audiobook or making calls, squeezing use out of this boring time.
But what if, instead, you made it into an adventure? What if you looked for the excitement of things you didn’t know about the drive?
For example, you might drive a new way, exploring side roads. You might explore mindfulness practices on each drive, seeing what you can learn as you drive. You might use the time for contemplation and invention, seeing what you could create during the enforced silence of the drive.
The Adventure of Your Work Day
We tend to just start each work day as if it were another day, launching into messages and quick tasks, meetings and calls, busywork and distraction.
But each day is a blank canvas, waiting for a splash of colorful paint! Each day is an opportunity to be seized, a life lesson waiting to be learned, full of possibility and the unknown!
What if you could ask questions throughout the day, not knowing the answer but excited to find out more?
What if, instead of running from the uncertainty of difficult projects, you could embrace the not-knowing of those tough tasks and savor the deliciousness of what might emerge from them?
For example, writing a book chapter for me might cause me to want to procrastinate, because I don’t know what to write or how people might perceive me once I publish the writing. But instead of running from that uncertainty, I can say, “I have no idea what to write — how can I play around with it and see what might happen?” Or “I have no idea what people might think of this … let’s find out!”
The dangers lurking in the darkness are then turned into thrill of potential discovery.
The fear is then excitement, wonder, a chase and a beautiful battle.
Seizing Every Moment, with Joy
One of my best friends, Scott Dinsmore, died a couple years ago on Mt. Kilimanjaro, heartbreakingly toppled in the prime of his life during one of his many adventures.
Perhaps the thing I loved most about Scott, other than his hugely generous heart, was his sense of profound adventure in everything he did. The two of us would go on a 2-hour run together through the hills of the Bay Area, with huge smiles on our faces and joy at being able to witness the incredible beauty of life with a fellow adventurer.
Everything we did together was filled with possibility and excitement. We ate bagels and drank beers with joy, because it was lifefilled, heartlifting, wonderinducing.
We ran to the top of a mountain to see the fire on sky, and our hearts would weep at the beauty. We would talk about our businesses not with a sense of frustration but of wondering what we could create. We would order everything on the menu because who knew what delights hid behind each menu listing?
This is the sweetness that can be found in each moment, if only we have the audacity to seek, to be curious, to explore.
The joy of adventure is right in front of us, if only we have the temerity to notice. If only we have the courage to savor and appreciate, once we have noticed.
By Leo Babauta
Imagine a woman who has a powerful gift to give to the world, a song to sing that will lift others up … but she only lets herself give that gift when the sun is shining and she’s happy and the moon is in perfect alignment with Jupiter.
The world would be robbed of her song. Her narrow range of when she’s willing to offer her gift would be a devastating loss to those she serves.
Imagine a man who serves everyone around him deeply, so powerfully that they are all filled with their own sense of purpose. But he only does this when he is in the right mood, when he’s not distracted by online articles, when he’s not tired or lonely, when he’s not criticized by those around him and when his house and office are perfectly clean.
Those he fills with a sense of their own purpose would be less filled. Those he gives his love to would be deprived, because he has such a narrow range of when he’s willing to push himself to offer his gift to others.
This is how most of us live our lives. Shrinking from the challenge of focusing on our purpose-filled work, because we’re tired or sad or anxious or stressed, because we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted and pulled in thousands of directions.
This is our failing, and it’s our opportunity for growth.
When you are “not feeling it,” and are procrastinating on focusing on your purpose … this is a time to notice how you feel, notice that you’re shrinking away because you aren’t in the perfect mood … and then expand yourself.
You expand by:
- Opening up your heart in the middle of pain or stress, and allowing yourself to fully feel. Don’t shrink away, but find the courage to be incredibly present with whatever you’re feeling.
- Feeling love for your experience, for whatever is causing you stress or pain, and not rejecting it. Seeing it as your teacher, your beautiful practice ground.
- Reminding yourself of the gift you need to offer the world. Reminding yourself of your purpose. Bringing your open heart to that work.
- Pushing yourself into the discomfort of focusing on that purpose, even if you are feeling sad or hurt or frustrated or distracted. Pushing yourself into the discomfort of saying no to all the distractions and busywork, and just doing what you need to do to offer your gift.
This is your challenge, in every moment. Expand your range by not needing conditions to be perfect. Not needing everything to be in order. Not needing to have all your messages responded to, all your inboxes and social media checked, all your articles read, all your crumbs swept up, before you dive into your purpose.
Expand your range by not allowing yourself to shrink. It’s like putting yourself in arctic conditions, in desert conditions, and practicing your art despite the unhappiness.
In fact, you use the unhappiness and chaos to offer your gift. You take that stress and pain, and you turn it into love. That brilliance is a part of your gift.
Let’s look at some specific practices for expanding your range of conditions so that you are no longer robbing the world of what you have to offer.
Practices to Expand Yourself
Once a day (to start with), create a space for practicing. Set yourself some purpose-filled work to do. Then try these practices:
- Notice what you’re feeling. Are you tired, stressed, frustrated, angry, sad, lonely, distracted, hurt, anxious? Then fully feel it. Forget about everything else in the world and just be fully present with whatever you’re feeling. Not the narrative in your head about what you’re feeling, but the actual physical feeling in your chest, stomach, head.
- Open your heart to that feeling. Love it. Don’t reject it, wish it would go away, try to get rid of it. Just freakin’ love it. And love its cause: the work stressing you out, the person who criticized you, the unhappy situation in your life. Love it as if it were the most beautiful thing on Earth. Which it is.
- Open your heart in the middle of this discomfort, and then take the first step in doing your work. Do the first small action, the tiniest movement, in the middle of these arctic conditions. See it as training for your heart. Courage training. Hold your heart open as you do it, keeping in mind who you’re serving.
- Love even fiercer as you do the next small step. Don’t let your people down. Imagine that you would die for them, do anything to serve them, and that you hold them powerfully in your heart.
Repeat these practices every day. See your range grow. See your gift grow out into the world, unhindered by life’s impediments. Sing your song powerfully and courageously, lifting up every soul around you. Then bow in gratitude to your practice.
By Leo Babauta
In the month of January, I created a handful of incredible rituals, and they’ve been changing my life.
The rituals are meant to support my focuses for 2018:
- Meditation & mindfulness
- Diet & fitness
- My mission (work focus)
- My relationship
- Creating a regular yoga practice
I have to say, I did a great job on all of these focuses in January, thanks to my rituals!
In this article, I’ll share what helped me create those rituals.
Where I Started Out
It’s important to understand that none of these were completely new rituals — I have had some of them for a long time, but have been inconsistent with them. I wasn’t starting from scratch.
For example, I’ve been meditating for a dozen years, but I have stretches of zero meditation for weeks every year, and I am not as consistent as I’d like.
I’ve practiced yoga off and on for awhile now (more in 2017 than ever before, thanks to my sister) … but never regularly for more than a month.
My work is a pretty consistent practice, but I wanted to refine my focus sessions in the morning.
I’ve been working on my relationship for years, but I wanted to give it more focus this year.
My diet and exercise have been much better than average for years, so I’m not starting from scratch here either … but I wanted to really improve my eating (it’s gotten lax in the last year or two) and get a bit more consistent with exercise.
I don’t recommend starting five rituals in a month, if you’re starting any of them from scratch. Only do this many if you are already established with them.
And if you’re used to changing habits and creating accountability. If not, focus on one or two per month.
The Rituals I Created
These are not all as solid as rock, but they’re becoming much more so:
- Morning meditation, first thing in the morning.
- Focus session for work, soon after meditation.
- Read Getting the Love You Want with my wife, and do praise practice with her, as we have a cup of coffee.
- Don’t eat until noon, just eat two large meals with a medium-sized snack. Bascially, I just have a couple of planned meals that are super healthy, and don’t eat much else.
- Run with wife 3x a week (she reminds me), and work out in the late afternoon 3x a week. So I’m usually doing one or the other every day.
- Yoga in the evening (usually with my 11-year-old daughter).
The eating hasn’t been 100%, but I’m OK with how it’s gone so far. The others have been fairly solid.
What I Did That Worked
With those important points established, let’s look at what really helped me create these rituals:
- Start small. I started morning meditation with just 5 minutes a morning. Now I’m up to 20 minutes most mornings (except for travel). Yoga was just a few sun salutations to start with, and I’m only slowly increasing by adding a pose every few days or so. The healthy eating was a couple small changes each week.
- Stop buying into my excuses. My mind is very good at coming up with rationalizations to put off the rituals. I decided that I have to stop listening to those rationalizations, and instead just take it for granted that I’m going to do the ritual, no matter how I feel. I’m not perfect with this, but I made big strides.
- Create powerful accountability. I am part of a couple of accountability groups in my Sea Change Program (one of them is a program-wide Facebook group), I’m doing eating accountability with my 24-year-old daughter, and I have a dashboard designed to hold me accountable. That’s multiple accountability efforts, to help me stay on track, which is frankly a lot of work. It’s working well!
- Reminders up the wazoo. I have reminders in my calendar, to-do program, paper notebook, habit app, and more. My wife reminds me. My daughter reminds me. The more things I can do to not forget, the better. After awhile, I don’t really need the reminders, but they’re really important for the first 2-3 weeks.
- Daily tracking. I use my Habit Zen app to track my habits each day, and the rituals dashboard does the same thing. I sometimes have to check in later, like when I’m traveling. Tracking just helps reinforce the rituals.
- Weekly reviews to constantly improve: This is one of the most important things I did. Each week, I review how it went. It just has to be a few sentences, and it should be honest but also acknowledge my successes, not just my failures. Then I share it with one of the accountability groups/partners I mentioned above. This helps me to get better each week, and I really think I did get better each week, for the most part. The review deepens my learning and helps me adjust.
- Do some of them with others. I meditate alone, but as I mentioned, I’ve been doing yoga with my daughter, running and relationship work with my wife, and I get the kids involved in my diet (tell them what I’m doing, ask them to help me cook, etc.). It really helps to have a partner — it’s always one of the best ways to keep something on track for me.
- Focus on the joy of the ritual. This is something a lot of people overlook. They focus on getting the habit done, which makes it feel like a chore. Instead, I recommend trying to be present and really focus on how the act of doing the ritual feels, what about it brings you joy, how it’s a gift. This shifts the ritual completely.
In the end, I wasn’t perfect, and I still am not. But I am really enjoying these rituals, and I encourage you to figure out what one or two rituals you can create this month, and how you might use some of these ideas.
And then fall in love with the ritual, each time you’re doing it.
By Leo Babauta
I’ve found that if we can create a connection between our daily actions and our deeper purpose in life, then each day will be incredibly fulfilling.
Unfortunately most people haven’t found their “deeper purpose” in life, and many don’t even believe they have one. That’s OK, but if you’re one of those who would like to create a more fulfilling life, I have one word of advice for you.
OK, I’ll have a few more words to add to that!
The way that I found my deeper purpose (and I’m still refining it every day) is by listening to what’s in my heart, as corny as that might sound. I listened to what I felt most deeply, what moved me, what made me feel shaky but in awe of life.
To listen, I had to stop letting myself be distracted. I had to create space to listen: shut off the Internet and all devices, not watch TV, get away from everything else, even for a little bit. I had to create silence and stillness, so that listening was even possible.
If you create this space, this silence … notice what you feel. It won’t be obvious what it means at first, but after listening for awhile, you’ll notice what you yearn for. What gives you joy, a sense of adventure, a sense of play. What creates pain and the wish to salve that pain. What you are afraid of, what fills you with doubt, what makes you want to run.
Eventually you’ll get an inkling: “Oh, I really love working with kids!” You won’t know what that means, but you’ll have a direction, and you’ll start to explore it. You’ll find a way to work with kids, and after awhile, if you keep listening, you’ll discover the parts of working with kids that moves you the most. You’ll hone in on that. You’ll refine, listen some more, and strip away the fat of that purpose, until it gets to its essence. You’ll find your gift to offer to the world.
And each step along the way, you’ll be walking the path of that purpose, exploring and discovering how to best offer your gift.
A Few Stories of Others Without a Purpose
Many people either know they haven’t found their purpose but don’t even start looking … or they have it in front of them but don’t recognize it, and don’t connect to it.
I’ve been working with people on this and here are a few examples … maybe you’ll connect with one of them.
- One woman is a family lawyer and she says she doesn’t have a “deeper purpose” in life, she just stays really busy doing her work, helping her clients, which she does enjoy. As I worked with her, it became clear that she was serving these clients in a powerful way. When they were facing the hardest times in their lives, she was there for them, guiding them when they felt lost. She stood for them when they were on their knees and had no hope. She made them feel safe when the world around them was collapsing. She had a powerful purpose, but she didn’t know how to see it. What she needed to do was ask herself what gift she was giving in the world (or ask friends who might see it better). Then feel deeply connected to that gift.
- I worked with a man who was a manager at a very busy service operation — he managed a large team and stayed busy from start to finish each day, putting out fires and keeping the team on track. He didn’t feel that there was a deeper purpose there. As we talked, it became clear that he was an incredibly competent leader, keeping his team motivated, staying fully focused in the middle of chaos, keeping a huge machine running so that others might relax, and doing it all with energy and a smile. This was a huge gift he was giving to each team member, to the people they served. Again, he needed to see this gift, and let himself connect to it and be moved by it.
- Another man felt he was a cog in a machine, on a team that didn’t do anything very worthwhile in the world. But this man showed up every day with a huge smile on his face, bringing energy and love and joy in every room he entered. He was very competent, constantly serving those around him. I told him to start looking for another job, but he should also recognize that no matter where he is, he bring his gift of energy, service, happiness and a brilliant smile to everyone he meets and works with. He still had some searching to do, but he should recognize and appreciate his gift.
- Another woman worked in finance, and honestly didn’t enjoy the work. She wanted to start her own company, create something beautiful in the world. She was excited to start out on this new adventure, but also filled with doubt and uncertainty about how to do it. I urged her to do it, as soon as she was able, because I was confident that she’d bring her energy and sense of adventurousness to the new venture. And she had a gift just waiting to be offered to the world.
Those are just a handful of examples, but the common threads are that 1) most people don’t recognize their own gift, and might need help from friends to see it, and 2) once you recognize that gift, you need to either find a way to offer it to the world, or if you’re already giving that gift, connect deeply with it on a daily basis so that you can be fulfilled by offering it.
My Purpose-Filled Journey
I started my current journey about a dozen years ago, in a dark place in my life, not feeling fulfilled, not happy with who I was, not knowing how to get out of my rut.
I started by just creating one change in my life (quitting smoking), which finally stuck after failing seven times, after I decided to pour my whole being into that one change. Then one change at a time, I started changing my whole life, pouring myself into each habit change.
Eventually, I was in a very different place in my life, and I started Zen Habits. I found that my gift was to share how I changed my life, and help others change theirs. Offer the inspiration of my story, the usefulness of the details of my change, and my compassion to others who were struggling in the same way.
Discovering this purpose was powerfully moving for me. I was energized, and poured myself into it.
A few years later, I discovered that I needed to help people find compassion for themselves. They were struggling with harshness and self-criticism. So I shifted, exploring self-compassion for myself and a way to share that with others. I went deeper into mindfulness and love. This was incredibly fulfilling.
Recently I’ve discovered the joy of working with people in person, and I’ve been discovering a new layer of my purpose, refining it even further. Now I’ve learned, by continually listening to my heart, that I want to:
- Lead people on a life-changing journey of greater simplicity and focus, purpose-filled work, mindfulness and whole-hearted connection.
- Help people dive into uncertainty and discomfort with joy, instead of running from it, letting themselves be moved by their purpose.
- Help people reconnect to a sense of wholeness, and let go of what causes them pain and struggle.
This is my deeper purpose at the moment, according to what resonates inside of me. This is what I’m moved to do, my gift as I understand it.
By Leo Babauta
You have a to-do list that scrolls on for days. You are managing multiple projects, getting lots of email and messages on different messaging systems, managing finances and personal health habits and so much more.
It all keeps piling up, and it can feel overwhelming.
How do you keep up with it all? How do you find focus and peace and get stuff accomplished when you have too much on your plate?
In this primer, I’ll look at some key strategies and tactics for taking on an overloaded life with an open heart, lots of energy, and a smile on your face.
The First Step: Triage
Whether you’re just starting your day, or you’re in the middle of the chaos and just need to find some sanity … the first step is to get into triage mode.
Triage, as you probably know, is sorting through the chaos to prioritize: what needs to be done now, what needs to be done today, what needs to be done this week, and what can wait? You’re looking at urgency, but also what’s meaningful and important.
Here’s what you might do:
- Pick out the things that need to be done today. Start a Short List for things you’re going to do today. That might be important tasks for big projects, urgent tasks that could result in damage if you don’t act, smaller admin tasks that you really should take care of today, and responding to important messages. I would recommend being ruthless and cutting out as much as you can, having just 5 things on your plate if that’s at all possible. Not everything needs to be done today, and not every email needs to be responded to.
- Push some things to tomorrow and the rest of the week. If you have deadlines that can be pushed back (or renegotiated), do that. Spread the work out over the week, even into next week. What needs to be done tomorrow? What can wait a day or two longer?
- Eliminate what you can. That might mean just not replying to some messages that aren’t that important and don’t really require a reply. It might mean telling some people that you can’t take on this project after all, or that you need to get out of the commitment that you said you’d do. Yes, this is uncomfortable. For now, just put them on a list called, “To Not Do,” and plan to figure out how to get out of them later.
OK, you have some breathing room and a manageable list now! Let’s shrink that down even further and just pick one thing.
Next: Focus on One Thing
With a lot on your plate, it’s hard to pick one thing to focus on. But that’s exactly what I’m going to ask you to do.
Pick one thing, and give it your focus. Yes, there are a lot of other things you can focus on. Yes, they’re stressing you out and making it hard to focus. But think about it this way: if you allow it all to be in your head all the time, that will always be your mode of being. You’ll always be thinking about everything, stressing out about it all, with a frazzled mind … unless you start shifting.
- Pick something to focus on. Look at the triaged list from the first section … if you have 5-6 things on this Short List, you can assess whether there’s any super urgent, time-sensitive things you need to take care of. If there are, pick one of them. If not, pick the most important one — probably the one you have been putting off doing.
- Clear everything else away. Just for a little bit. Close all browser tabs, turn off notifications, close open applications, put your phone away.
- Put that one task before you, and allow yourself to be with it completely. Pour yourself into it. Think of it as a practice, of letting go (of everything else), of focus, of radical simplicity.
When you’re done (or after 15-20 minutes have gone by at least), you can switch to something else. But don’t allow yourself to switch until then.
By closing off all exits, by choosing one thing, by giving yourself completely to that thing … you’re now in a different mode that isn’t so stressful or spread thin. You’ve started a shift that will lead to focus and sanity.
Third: Schedule Time to Simplify
Remember the To Not Do list above? Schedule some time this week to start reducing your projects, saying no to people, getting out of commitments, crossing stuff off your task list … so that you can have some sanity back.
There are lots of little things that you’ve said “yes” to that you probably shouldn’t have. That’s why you’re overloaded. Protect your more important work, and your time off, and your peace of mind, by saying “no” to things that aren’t as important.
Schedule the time to simplify — you don’t have to do it today, but sometime soon — and you can then not have to worry about the things on your To Not Do list until then.
Fourth: Practice Mindful Focus
Go through the rest of the day with an attitude of “mindful focus.” That means that you are doing one thing at a time, being as present as you can, switching as little as you can.
Think of it as a settling of the mind. A new mode of being. A mindfulness practice (which means you won’t be perfect at it).
As you practice mindful focus, you’ll learn to practice doing things with an open heart, with curiosity and gratitude, and even joy. Try these one at a time as you get to do each task on your Short List.
You’ll find that you’re not so overloaded, but that each task is just perfect for that moment. And that’s a completely new relationship with the work that you do, and a new relationship with life.
By Leo Babauta
There’s a practice so simple that many people will discount it as not worthy of trying.
They’ll miss out on the transformative power of that very simplicity.
The practice is this: Sit still for a moment, and just feel what it feels like to be alive. Then relax into that feeling.
Yes, I know, sitting still for a moment isn’t something we want to do right now. We got things to do, man! But just try it, for a minute. Sit still and feel what it feels like to be alive, for you, right this moment. There’s never been another moment like this particular one, and never will be again.
Let me repeat that: There’s never been another moment like this particular one, and never will be again.
That means that at this moment, we have the opportunity to fully appreciate the miracle of this moment, and how it came to be from the infinite number of causes that created it from preceding moments. We are alive in this moment because of millions of other people who have supported us, because of everything on this planet, which just happened to be the perfect conditions for creating the person we are right this moment. What a freakin’ miracle!
So tune in, and notice what it feels like to be alive right now:
- What sensations do you notice in your body?
- What is the energy of those sensations? Does the energy change, or move?
- What is the texture of your breath?
- Do you notice pain, discomfort, tenderness, tightness?
- Get curious and explore, investigate, look even closer.
- Take in the totality of your sensory input, all at once, holding it in your awareness.
- Stay with this feeling, instead of moving on. Then stay a little more.
Now that you’ve become curious, investigated, and stayed with your experience … try this:
- Relax into the feeling. That means if there’s any tightness around your experience, just relax that tightness. Relax into your experience. Often we have some kind of aversion to what we’re experiencing, or an urge to get away from it, and I’m suggesting we relax and just be with it, just as it is, not needing it to be different.
- Find gratitude for the feeling of being alive, even if there’s pain, tightness, discomfort. Be grateful for the miracle you are lucky enough to witness right now.
- Find love for everything you hold in your awareness, from everything around you to your own experience, your body and breath. It’s all one thing, and all held in your love.
Before you dismiss any of this, try it. Experience even the sensation of your resistance. And then tell me on Twitter (@zen_habits) what your experience was like. I won’t respond, but I’d love to hear about it.
By Leo Babauta
Many of us have something that we’d like to change in our lives, but it can be pretty difficult to overcome addictions or strong urges.
The things we want to quit, and the urges we want to overcome, can span a pretty wide gamut:
- Addictions like drugs, alcohol, smoking, or food
- Video games, porn, Internet activities, phone usage
- Shopping/online shopping
- Sugar/sweets, cheese, sodas, potato chips, etc.
- Chewing nails or other nervous habits
Of course, none of these activities is necessarily horrible, but lots of us would like to change behaviors around one or more of these. Urges stand in our way.
So how can we deal with these urges and addictions? It’s tough. I’ve found that it takes a combination of mindfulness and behavior-change strategies.
Let’s dive in and see how we can create a multi-pronged approach to coping with these urges and addictions.
A mindfulness technique that has proven effective for dealing with addictions is called “urge surfing,” a widely-used technique developed by psychologist and addictions-pioneer Alan Marlatt.
It’s something I used successfully when I quit smoking cigarettes more than a decade ago, and I’ve used it many times since then for other types of urges.
Here’s how I practice it:
- Notice when you have an urge. Pause instead of acting on it, and just sit with it mindfully.
- Notice where the physical sensation of the urge is located in your body. Is it in your stomach? Chest? Mouth? Focus on that area of your body and try to mindfully notice the sensations you feel.
- Allow them to rise and peak, and then crest and subside, like a wave. Just watch them, as if you’re watching a wave. It’s not anything to panic about, it’s just a sensation rising and falling.
You can do this for a minute or two, or even longer. After the urge subsides, it might come back, and you can repeat this. You can also move on to other areas of your body where you notice urge-related sensations.
Why this works: We interrupt the part of our brain that just acts immediately on urges, and shift to a new part of our brain. This pattern interruption is crucial to dealing with urges. We also learn that the urge isn’t anything urgent, isn’t a command, but rather just an interesting sensation that we can distance ourselves from.
Changing Our Environment
Another strategy that works incredibly well is changing your environment:
- Removing temptations from your environment. When I wanted to change my diet, I tossed out all junk food.
- Removing yourself from the tempting environment. Don’t go into your office kitchen area if you want to avoid the snacks. At an office party, you can move away from the cake area.
- Changing the environment to make you less likely to give in to temptation. For example, at a burger restaurant, I might tell my kids that I’ll give them $20 if they see me eat a French fry. I never eat French fries when I do this.
I find the first option to be the best, when I’m able to control my environment (living and working at home alone is a great example of when you can do that). If I can’t control my environment, I try to do one of the other two options.
Why this works: If there aren’t any temptations around, or they’re hard to get to, the urges are much less strong. Seeing cake in front of you, or being around people smoking or doing drugs or alcohol, makes you much more likely to have an urge to do those activities. If we can engineer our environment to make it less likely to be around temptations, we’ll have fewer or weaker urges to deal with.
Addictions are often our way of coping with stress or other difficulties. If we get into an argument with our spouse, lose a loved one to cancer, get yelled at by our boss … we need some way to cope with those stresses.
Over the years, we’ve learned to use the addiction as a coping mechanism. So now when the stress comes up, we get strong urges to do the addiction.
We can’t just remove the addiction, then, because we’re still going to have stress to cope with. We need to put something healthier in its place to deal with stress in our lives.
So when we try to quit an addiction, and stress comes up, we need a new healthier coping mechanism. And when the urge comes up, we need to do the new coping mechanism instead of the old habit.
- Meditation (surfing the urge, above, is one kind of meditation)
- Going for a walk or run
- Some other kind of exercise or sport
- Talking to someone
- Taking a bath
- Having tea
- Doing yoga
- Massaging yourself (I like to massage my shoulders and neck)
Pick one, and try to do it whenever you have stress. Soon you’ll have a healthier way to cope.
Why this works: If you put another coping mechanism in place, you’ll need your addiction less, and the urges will be less strong over time.
Raise Your Baseline: Sleep, Support, Emotional Health
When we are tired, depressed, or lonely … we just don’t have the willpower or emotional baseline to deal with stress, urges, addictions. We’ll give in, forget about urge surfing, forget about changing our environment or creating a new coping mechanism. Nothing seems to matter.
So raise your baseline:
- Get adequate sleep and rest. Make this a priority, or none of the rest will matter. Shut off devices at a certain time each night, write out your to-do list for tomorrow, brush and floss, and then meditate while going to sleep.
- Get some support. Friends you can talk to, professional support, a support group online. Lean on them and talk about your difficulties, and listen to them in return. Creating this kind of connection means you’re less likely to feel isolated.
- Deal with feelings of depression, loneliness, sadness. Solutions to these is a whole book in itself, so I won’t cover them here, but if you’re not emotionally healthy, the addictions are much more likely to stick around (or relapse). So make working on your emotional health a priority as well. The sleep and support, and healthier coping mechanisms, are good starts here.
Why this works: Increasing your baseline means you’re going to be stronger at dealing with your urges.
Putting It All Together: A Plan
With all of that in mind, here’s a plan you might start implementing …
Each week, pick one or two of these to focus on:
- Get good sleep. See the tips in the section above.
- Get support. Again, friends, online support groups, local support groups, professional help.
- Practice surfing the urges. You don’t have to be perfect at this, just practice.
- Start to change your environment. Toss out the stuff that makes you tempted, or block the sites that tempt you.
- Start to work on your emotional health. A gratitude practice is a good start for many people, though professional help might be recommended for some.
- Pick another coping strategy: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, going for a walk, talking to someone else, hot tea, self-massage are my favorites. Choose a couple to try out.
- Find your weak points and change the environment or create a strategy around that environment. For example, can you remove yourself from the environment or enlist the help of others to stop you from giving in to temptation?
Again, don’t worry about doing this all at once … pick a couple each week and work on them, then another couple the next week, and so on. Revisit ones that need more practice or fine-tuning.
Look at this as a learning exercise, where you’re not going to just quit a habit overnight, but get better and better at dealing with the urges and addiction over time.
I’ll tell you something, from my own experience: it’s possible. If you know how much damage this causes you (and your relationships, work, etc.), then you’ll put the effort in to stop hurting yourself in this way. And that is a loving thing.
“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson
By Leo Babauta
Our work lives are filled with busyness, distraction, procrastination, responding to messages, checking on messages, and getting lost down rabbit holes.
We struggle to be mindful and to focus on our meaningful work.
And yet, many of us want to create a life of meaning, focus, and mindfulness.
We know this, and yet we struggle. Why? What keeps us from this life of mindful focus and meaningful work?
In this guide, I’ll talk about why we get pulled away, and then how to bring mindfulness to the process to find focus and create an impact with your work.
Why We Can’t Focus
If you think about how you spent your last few days, most of us would say we’re more distracted than we like. We procrastinate more. Or we’re super busy, responding to a thousand things, making lots of decisions, and not very mindful during this chaotic work day.
What’s going on? A number of things:
- We’re actually afraid to focus. The work we want to focus on is hard, full of uncertainty, uncomfortable. We want to do it, but we’re putting off the moment we have to enter into this uncertain space. We’re going to the “comfort food” of our distractions instead of the discomfort of the focus.
- We’re afraid to simplify. To focus, we have to clear away all our distractions, say no to social media, our phones, our messages, our email. We have to say no to the easier tasks that we’re really good at. This kind of simplicity is uncomfortable for many people, and again, we go to “comfort food” distractions and easy tasks instead.
- We’re constantly pulled away. You might put yourself in a space of simplicity and focus … but then your attention gets pulled away. We have so many notifications, so many messages, so many shiny distractions … and our attention is like a little monkey jumping from tree to tree. In some ways, this is because technology is designed to grab our attention. But we allow this to happen.
- We’re unsure about what path to take. We know we should focus, but shouldn’t we also be doing this other important task? Or those three pretty important tasks? Or checking for an important message/email that might come in? We have fear of missing something important, fear of choosing the wrong thing, fear of taking the wrong path when there are many available. This uncertainty can freeze us, or cause us to constantly switch.
OK, so it’s fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and pulled attention. How can we bring mindfulness to bear on these four horsepersons of distraction?
Bring Mindfulness Into the Arena
Armed with the knowledge of why we’re not able to focus, we’re going to further arm ourselves with mindfulness and walk confidently into the arena of meaningful work.
The first thing to acknowledge is that it’s OK to be afraid, OK to want to comfort yourself with easy tasks and distractions, OK to feel uncertainty. We’re not horrible people for being this way … we’re human. So we can look at our habits and smile on them with unconditional friendliness.
Let’s practice mindfulness in our workday with a series of questions.
QUESTION 1: What’s the best way to structure my day?
In this inquiry, we’re wondering if it’s best to constantly switch from messaging app to messaging app, from email to social media, from news sites to blogs, from small admin tasks to other quick tasks … filling up our day and not focusing on our most meaningful work.
In my own inquiry, it brings mindfulness to how I spend my time, how fragmented I allow my attention to be … and then it brings me to an intention to simplify and focus. I still need to check email and messages and do the smaller tasks … but I can lump them together at certain times of the day, and clear space for big chunks of focus and meaningful work. This intention isn’t always met, but the inquiry brings me closer to it.
QUESTION 2: What do I want to focus on?
This isn’t a question many people ask themselves each day. Ideally, you’d ask it at the beginning of each day, but also at various points throughout the day. It shifts you: you go from, “What should I check right now” or “What can I quickly do right now?” to “What is the meaningful work I want to do now and give my full focus to?”
In other words, what do I care deeply about? What kind of dent do I want to make in the world, and how can I start to make that dent right now?
It shifts from saying yes to your million things and messages, to saying no to those million things … so you can say yes to your meaningful work. So you can say yes to complete focus and mindfulness.
QUESTION 3: Why am I not focusing on it?
If you picked something to focus on and you’re working on it, great! But if you’re not … why not? What’s getting in your way? What are you afraid of? What are you comforting yourself with?
If you can identify the fear, instead of allowing yourself to habitually run from this fear … lean into it. Go towards it. Allow yourself to feel the fear, and stay in it, befriend it. Then go into your focus zone, in the middle of the fear, and let the fear be your guide and your friend. It means you are alive, that you are pushing yourself into discomfort for the sake of what you care deeply about, that you are creating meaningful work instead of running. Beautiful!
QUESTION 5: What is my intention as I focus?
As you get started with a focused session, even if it’s only for 10-20 minutes … it helps to ritualize it. Have a clear beginning, and even a clear end. What will you do to mark the beginning? Maybe stretch, smile at your work, and set an intention. An intention isn’t a goal, but how you want to go about doing the task … for example, I might say, “I want to stay focused on this task, put myself into this uncertainty for the sake of the people I care about and serve, and stay present in the middle of it.”
Keep this intention in your heart as you put yourself into this focus session.
QUESTION 6: What is this moment like, as I work in stillness?
Now you’re in the middle of the focus session … bring mindfulness to that task. That’s simply a matter of awareness and curiosity.
Bring awareness by asking: what is it like right now? What sensations can I notice? How does my heart feel as I take this gorgeous action, filled with uncertainty?
Bring curiosity when you feel like switching tasks and running … by asking, “I want to run from uncertainty, but what would it be like to stay?” The truth is, we don’t know. We think we know that we won’t like it, but actually we don’t really know until it happens. So take the curiosity stance: seek to find out. Come to this task with an open mind, and you might find a gentle wonder that you didn’t expect, in the middle of your meaningful work.
Now, you can do this for your meaningful work, but you can also do this for any task — responding to an email, answering a text message, reading an article online, contemplating a decision with care.
Bringing purpose and mindfulness to your work can be a place filled with joy, if you allow yourself to move into that space with intention and curiosity, inquiry and love.