My New Video Course: Dealing with Struggles

By Leo Babauta

I’m really excited to tell you guys about my new video course, Dealing with Struggles, which I’m launching today.

It’s for anyone who is struggling with:

  • Frustration
  • Procrastination
  • Changing their habits
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Feeling down or unmotivated
  • Relationship problems
  • Unhappy with their direction in life
  • Feeling bad about themselves

In short, this is all of us, to some extent.

It can seem like there’s no way out of our difficulties, but there is. It just takes some practice and a bit of courage.

This course helps us to get to the root of these common struggles.

What’s beneath all of our anxieties about ourselves, our struggles with habits and procrastination?

How can we develop the tools and the mindfulness to work with the root of all of these problems?

We’ll dive into these ideas in this course.

What You Get

In this course, you will:

  1. Get two video lessons a week
  2. Get a mindfulness exercise for each lesson
  3. Be able to submit questions that I’ll answer
  4. Work with very powerful tools to unravel our old problems
  5. Learn to deal with difficulties and the resistance we often face
  6. Learn how to break old patterns and form new ones, to create the life we want
  7. Deal with each moment with mindfulness, equanimity & compassion

These tools have helped me to change my entire life — from changing all my habits, helping me to be more mindful and compassionate. I offer them to anyone who is struggling.

I’m opening my heart to anyone who joins this course.

It won’t necessarily be easy — you’ll have to put in some work — but it can be life-changing. And I’ll be there with you.

Bonus Ebooks

In addition to the course, which I believe is already very valuable … I’m offering five bonus ebooks that I’ve written:

  1. Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness
  2. Essential Zen Habits
  3. Little Book of Contentment
  4. The One Skill – How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life
  5. Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction

I’ll also be answer questions submitted by course participants in articles and videos that I’ll publish during the course. And we’ll have a Facebook group for discussion of the course by participants.

I hope you’ll join me.

Check Out the Course

zen habits

4 Step Guide to Letting Go of the Past

By Leo Babauta

We’re constantly struggling with the past, in so many ways:

  • Mistakes we’ve made that we regret or that make us feel bad about ourselves
  • Anger about something someone did to us
  • Frustration about how things have progressed up until now
  • A wish that things turned out differently
  • Stories about what happened that make us sad, depressed, angry, hurt
  • An argument that we had that keeps spinning around in our heads
  • Something someone just did (a minute ago) that we’re still stuck on

What if we could just let go of things have have happened, and be present with the unfolding moment instead?

What if we could let the past remain in the past, and unburden ourselves?

What is we could see that our holding onto the past is actually hurting us right now … and look at letting go as a loving act of not hurting ourselves anymore?

It can be done, though it isn’t always easy. Here’s the practice I recommend, in four steps.

Step 1: See the Story That’s Hurting You

In the present moment, you have some kind of pain or difficulty: anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness, hurt.

Notice this difficulty, and see that it’s all caused by whatever story you have in your head about what happened (either recently or in the more distant past). You might insist that the difficulty or pain is caused by what happened (not by the story in your head), but what happened isn’t happening right now. It’s gone. The pain is still happening right now, and it’s caused by whatever story you have about the situation.

Note that “story” doesn’t mean “false story.” It also doesn’t mean “true story.” The word “story” in this context doesn’t imply good or bad, false or true, or any other kind of judgment. It’s simply a process that’s happening inside your head:

  • You’re remembering what happened.
  • You have a perspective about what happened, a judgment, a way of seeing it that has you as the injured party.
  • This causes an emotion in you.

So just notice what story you have, without judgment of the story or of yourself. It’s natural to have a story, but just see that it’s there. And see that it’s causing you difficulty, frustration or pain.

Step 2: Stay with the Physical Feeling

Next, you want to turn from the story in your head … to the feeling that’s in your body. This is the physical feeling: it could be tightness in your chest, a hollowness, a shooting pain, an energy that radiates in all directions from your solar plexus, an ache in your heart, or many more variations.

The practice is to turn and face this physical feeling, dropping your attention out of the story your head and into your body.

Stay and face this feeling with courage — we usually try to avoid the feeling.

Stay and explore it with curiosity: what does it feel like? Where is it located? Does it change?

If this becomes unbearable, do it in small doses, in a way that feels manageable for you. It can get intense if the feelings have been intense.

But for most feelings, we see that it is not the end of the world, that we can bear it. In fact, it’s just a bit of unpleasantness, not all-consuming or anything to panic about.

Stay with it and be gentle, friendly, welcoming. Embrace the feeling like you would a good friend. You’re becoming comfortable with discomfort, and it is the path of bravery.

Step 3: Breathe Out, Letting Go

Breathe in your difficulty, and breathe out compassion.

It’s a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen: breathe in whatever difficult feeling you’re feeling, and breathe out the feeling of relief from that difficulty.

You breathe in not only your own pain, but the pain of others.

For example:

  • If you’re feeling frustration, breathe in all the frustration of the world … then breathe out peace.
  • If you’re feeling sadness, breathe in all the sadness of the world … then breathe out happiness.
  • If you’re feeling regret, breathe in all the regret of the world … then breathe out joy and gratitude.

Do this for a minute or so, imagining all the frustration of those around you coming in with each breath, and then a feeling of peace radiating out to all of those who are frustrated as you breathe out.

You can practice this every day, and it is amazing. Instead of running from your difficult feeling, you’re embracing it, letting yourself absorb it. And you’re doing it for others as well, which gets us out of a self-centered mode and into an other-focused mode.

As you do this, you’re starting to let go of your pain or difficulty.

Step 4: Turn with Gratitude Toward the Present

As you feel that you’ve let go, instead of getting caught up in your story again, turn and see what’s right here, right now.

What do you see?

Can you appreciate all or some of it? Can you be grateful for something in front of you right now?

Why is this step important? Because when we’re stuck on something that happened in the past, we’re not paying attention to right now. We’re not appreciating the moment in front of us. We can’t — our minds are filled up with the past.

So when we start to let go of the past, we have emptied our cups and allowed them to be filled up with the present.

We should then turn to the present and find gratitude for what’s here, instead of worrying about what isn’t.

As we do that, we’ve transformed our struggle into a moment of joy.

My Upcoming Course: Dealing with Struggles

I wanted to let you guys know about an upcoming video course that I’m launching next week — it’s called Dealing with Struggles, and I’m very excited about it!

This course is aimed at anyone who has struggles:

  • Anxiety about life or social situations
  • Frustrations with themselves or other people
  • Difficulty with procrastination
  • Trouble forming new habits or quitting old habits
  • A feeling of unhappiness with ourselves
  • Struggles with finances, clutter, productivity, health issues
  • Stress about work, life, relationships

As it turns out, we all have struggles.

This video course will aim to get to the root of our struggles, and learn how to apply mindfulness practices to work with them.

It’s a four-week course, with two video lessons and two mindfulness practices a week … and it will start in April. More next week!

zen habits

The Practice of One Thing at a Time

By Leo Babauta

There’s a Japanese term, “ichigyo-zammai,” that basically means full concentration on a single act.

Sunryu Suzuki described this practice in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and said this practice of being fully in the moment with the activity is enlightened activity.

“So instead of having some object of worship, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” Suzuki Roshi wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

He said when we just do that one activity, we express our true nature.

What a beautiful idea, that when we aren’t present, our true nature cannot fully express itself … but when we are truly just doing whatever we’re doing, we start to express our true selves.

But it’s easier said than done. How often are we not in the moment?

Think about times when we are:

  • Jumping between tasks in a browser
  • Checking our phones while doing other things throughout the day
  • In a rush to do the next thing while still doing the current thing
  • Thinking about other things when someone is talking to us
  • Irritated by someone when they interrupt whatever we’re doing
  • Taking whatever we’re doing for granted, because it’s dull or routine

It turns out, we are very rarely fully in the moment with any single activity. How can we try this enlightened activity of full concentration on one act?

How to Do One Thing at a Time

These are as much reminders to myself as they are reminders for you, but here’s what I’ve been practicing with:

  1. When you start an activity, turn to it with your full attention and set an intention to be present with the act, to do nothing but this activity. You might think, “Just walk” or “Just read” or “Just drink tea.”
  2. You might open up a wide-open, sky-like panoramic awareness as you do the activity, being fully engaged with the entire moment.
  3. When you notice yourself thinking about something else, or getting your attention pulled elsewhere, or starting down a pattern of judgment, resentment, etc. … just notice. Then return to being fully present with the activity.
  4. Empty your mind of preconceived ideas about the activity, and just be curious about what the activity is actually like, right now, as it unfolds. Allow yourself to be surprised.
  5. Treat every object with reverence, as if it were your own eyesight.
  6. See the brilliance of each moment, of each activity, that underlies everything around us.

Just write. Just shower. Just give someone your full attention.

As we give each activity our full loving attention, we start to appreciate each person, each object, everything around us as something worthy of respect, love, and gratitude.

We start to take life up on the opportunity to fully engage with it, with a smile and a bow.

zen habits

Why I’m Always in a Hurry, & What I’m Doing About It

By Leo Babauta

I’ve come to realize, more and more, that I’m always rushing.

I rush from one task to the next, rush through eating my food, impatient for meditation to be over, rushing through reading something, rushing to get somewhere, anxious to get a task or project finished.

What’s the deal? This coming from a guy who has written a lot about slowing down and savoring, about being present, about single-tasking?

As always, when I write these articles, they’re as much a reminder to myself about what I’ve found to work as they are a reminder to all of you. I’ve found them to work, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to practice them. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, by any means.

So what is going on? Why do I hurry so much?

I’ve been reflecting on this, and the answer seems to be that my mind has a tendency towards greed. This isn’t greed in the sense that I want a lot of wealth … but my mind finds something it likes and it wants more. Always more.

Some examples of greed:

  • I like chocolate (or wine, or coffee, or cookies) and I crave it, and want more even if I just had a bite of it.
  • I am doing a task but also want to do 20 more tasks, because I want to do as much as possible. Wanting to do more and more, to do everything, is a good example of the mind’s tendency to greed.
  • When I learn, I want to learn everything about a topic. I’ll look up every book I can find, every blog post or article, every podcast or video, every forum post, and want to read all of it. Of course, I can’t possibly read all of it now, but I want to. I’ll buy 10 books but jump around from one to the next, not finishing any of them.
  • When I travel to a new city, I want to see it all — all the best sights, all the best vegan restaurants, all the best bookstores and museums and experiences. I can’t possibly, but I’ll do my best to fit all the best stuff into the small container of my trip, and research it for weeks.
  • When I’m going about my day, I try to fit as much as possible into it: not only all my tasks, but spending time with the wife, reading with the kids, working out and meditating and doing yoga and going for a walk and reading and learning online and answering all my emails, watching all the best TV shows and films, and checking all the forums and news and blogs and more and more.

I rush around, trying to fit all of that in. I’m trying to maximize every day, every trip, every event, every moment. I’m trying to get everything possible out of life.

This comes from a good heart — I appreciate the briefness of life, and I appreciate its brilliance, and I want all of it in the short time I have left here. That’s not a bad thing, wanting more of life.

But what is the result of always wanting more, always wanting to maximize? It’s rushing, grabbing onto everything, never having enough, never being satisfied, never actually stopping to enjoy, not really appreciating each moment because I’m greedy for more great moments.

Indulging in this greediness for more, this maximizing everything, doesn’t satisfy it. It just creates more wanting for more.

Indulging isn’t helpful. Staying with the feeling of wanting more, wanting to maximize, wanting to rush, wanting to do it all … that’s more helpful. Stay with the feeling, Leo, don’t indulge it.

Don’t try to do it all, but instead be here now.

Don’t rush, but appreciate the moments in between things as just as important as the next thing.

Don’t try to maximize, but instead practice letting go. Let go of greedy tendencies, let go of whatever you’re clinging to (having it all, doing it all), let go of the urge to rush.

Whenever there’s a tendency towards greed, counter it with generosity.

The Practice of Generosity

What does generosity have to do with hurrying and trying to maximize every day? In one sense, generosity might be giving money or possessions to people who need it, or giving help wherever needed, when possible. But that’s just one sense of generosity.

Generosity is any way that we turn away from our self-centered view and start turning towards others. It could be as simple as turning towards another person in our life and trying to see what they need, rather than focusing on what we want to get out of life.

Or it could be turning towards that person and giving them the gift of our full attention. Really try to be present, with an open heart, trying to understand and hear the person. This is the spirit of generosity.

When doing something alone, the spirit of generosity can be turned to each moment — giving that moment the full gift of our attention, seeing it fully and opening our heart to it. This is a salve to the usual spirit of needing more, more, more, of wanting to satisfy me, me, me.

I’m trying to practice the spirit of generosity, whenever I notice my greedy mind wanting everything, wanting more, wanting to get the most out of every day. Instead, I turn to this moment, each person, each activity, and give it the loving gift of my wholehearted attention.

zen habits

The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

By Leo Babauta

Our lives are spent building up to more important moments, later, the moments when we’ll be happy.

But when those moments come, we’re not happier. In fact, we’re already looking ahead to the next big moments: an upcoming trip, a big project being completed, meeting up with friends, getting that great thing you ordered online, finding your next favorite book, meal, drink, experience.

What if that wonderful moment we’ve been waiting for is this one, right now?

What if this very moment is the most important moment of our lives?

What if we stopped working for something later, and instead started paying full attention to right now?

What if we stopped thinking happiness is coming soon, and tried to see what was in front of us, and find happiness in that?

What if this were the moment we’ve been waiting for all along?

How to Appreciate This Moment We’ve Been Waiting For

If this is the most important moment of your life, some ways you could appreciate it:

  • Stop right now and notice what is right in front of you. Find a way to be grateful for this particular moment.
  • If you are looking forward to something in the future (or anticipating anything in the future), turn instead to what’s right here, and see this as your big moment, filled with wonder and the brilliance of life.
  • If you are rushing (like I often am), instead give yourself the gift of full attention to right now.
  • If you have to hurry for some reason … you can move quickly and still appreciate this moment, appreciate your motion, appreciate how your body feels in the middle of this.
  • If your life seems “blah” right now, compared to how you would like it to be … take this as a beautiful opportunity to examine your ideals about life (why does it need to be exciting or entertaining?), to practice letting them go, and to see the incredible richness of the life around you, if you pay close attention and find curiosity inside you. This is a gorgeous opportunity, to be appreciated.
  • If you are going through difficulty or pain … see this as a good opportunity to turn towards your pain or difficult feelings (anger, depression, frustration) … to be present with it, to stay with it, to be curious about it, to be kind towards it … maybe this moment isn’t filled with joy, but it’s still the most important moment of your life, because in this moment, you find the mindfulness and courage to open your heart to your actual experience, to see it as a path for learning, growth, and open-heartedness, to use it as a touching point into the goodness that’s inside of you.
  • If this moment is filled with fear, uncertainty, immense change, or anxiety … see this as a powerfully important moment to turn towards these feelings, to see that you’re reacting to the great groundlessness of your life at the moment, and to start to learn to embrace this groundlessness, not as something to run from or push away or be reactive towards … but to get comfortable with. If you can find peace in the middle of groundlessness, you open up to the ever-changing nature of life, and can be at peace no matter what life throws at you.
  • If there is someone with you right now, you can turn towards them and open up to who they are right now, and see them as a manifestation of life’s incredible beauty. How can you appreciate this human being, and see that your time with them is limited and precious?
  • No matter what you’re doing, you can turn inward and see the innate goodness in your heart. This is always there, always accessible to us, and something not to be taken for granted. Also appreciate your body, your eyes that can see flowers and the sky, your ears that can hear laughter and music, your feet that can walk the Earth, your breath.

These are just a few ideas — let yourself explore a thousand other ways to appreciate this most important of moments, in the most loving way you can — with your full attention.

zen habits

A Mindful Guide to Email in 20 Minutes a Day

By Leo Babauta

I recently did a challenge with my friend Jesse of Samovar Tea: check email just twice a day (at 10am and 4pm) for 30 minutes a session.

In addition, we couldn’t check email in the morning unless we did an hour on a specific project that morning. It ended up that on most mornings, I couldn’t do an hour of that project, so I only checked email in the afternoons.

What amazed me is that I only needed about 20 minutes a day to process email, if I focused and worked efficiently. I’d like to share how to do that, if you’re interested. (I’m continuing the challenge for at least another week, btw.)

To start with, this isn’t about being hyper-efficient. It’s not about optimizing our life or becoming productivity masters. It’s not about rushing through things.

It’s about limiting our distractions (for me, email is one of my go-to distractions) and when we do allow them, it is purposefully. And with focus and mindfulness.

Email is necessary in my life, so I don’t want to cut it out. I do want to keep it to a minimum, so it doesn’t expand to fill my day, or become something I run to.

OK, with that clear, let’s dive into the “how to.”

How to Limit Email Checking

It used to be that I would check email first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. But I realized that this was a procrastination method that felt productive, that was a way for me to postpone meditating and important work.

Email also was something I’d check whenever I was bored, didn’t want to work on something hard (but still wanted to feel productive), or just had an itch to see what people were writing to me about.

But Jesse asked me a good question: What would happen if you didn’t check email for a week? (My projects would fall behind and customers would think I’m unresponsive.) What would happen if you just checked once a day? (Nothing bad, probably.)

So we made a challenge: just check twice a day, at specific times. If you messed up, you’d have to pay the other person $ 1,000 (!). That was a ridiculous amount for such a trivial thing, so it was guaranteed that we wouldn’t check email.

There was a small caveat: if you needed to send an email (to get a report to someone, for example), you could send the email only, but would have to pay $ 1,000 if you checked any other emails.

So I recommend a similar challenge. Try it for a week. Find an accountability partner, promise to pay a really big amount, set specific terms, and see if you can limit your email checking. This won’t work for people in customer service, for example, who need to check email all day long to do their job, but for most of us, email just seems like something we need to check often, but nothing bad happens if we don’t.

Try it, see if you can limit yourself to twice a day. Or be bold, and do once a day!

How to Process Email in 20 Minutes

The “20 minutes” is actually relative to whatever volume of email you need to process, of course. Some people will need 30 minutes. But most people can do it in less, and if you find yourself going beyond 30 minutes, it’s possible you need to do a couple things:

  1. Unsubscribe from as many newsletters, promotional emails, notifications and other fluff as you can (if it has an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email, use it). Get those out of your inbox, so you can just focus on the important stuff.
  2. Decide that you’re not going to get to everything today, just the important ones that you can do in 20-30 minutes. Let go of the rest — getting to empty isn’t more important than other things you need to do.

OK, with those two key ideas in mind, here’s how to process your email in 20 minutes:

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Set your container, and work within it.
  2. Process email top down, and completely deal with each email. One email at a time. Deal with it completely (see next two items) before you allow yourself to move on to the next. Don’t put it off, don’t say, “I’ll deal with that later.”
  3. Take one of three actions. You only have three choices: a) delete (or archive), b) reply right now (and/or take care of the task it requires right now) if it will take 2 minutes or less, c) put it on your to-do list or calendar if it will take longer (see next item) and file in a “to-do” email folder. Basically, do what it takes to get the email out of your inbox. And again, unsubscribe whenever you can.
  4. Put longer tasks on your to-do list. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, put the item on your to-do list. Or if it’s a link that you need to read, put it on a read-later list. Sometimes I’ll reply to the person to let them know I’ll try to work on it today (or by a certain date), and then put it on my to-do list or calendar.
  5. Be mindful as you work. It’s easy to get into the “do this as quickly as I can” mode. But there’s also a mindfulness you can bring to the activity. As you send this email, are you being helpful, kind, clear, truthful, compassionate? How is your body feeling? Are you sitting upright? Can you smile and appreciate this beautiful moment?

When the timer goes off, find gratitude that you had that time to communicate and take care of important tasks. Let go of the rest (for now), close your email, and resist the urge to check it again later. Refocus yourself on something important.

Breathe, and meet the rest of your day with joy.

Questions & Answers

A reader asked some great questions, here are my answers:

Question: When you talk about processing email in 20-30 minutes – do you mean just going through your inbox?

Leo: Yes, that means actually dealing with the emails — archiving, replying, doing quick tasks. Longer tasks or replies get put on to-do list and can be done outside that 20-30 minutes.

Question: What about writing emails? It can take me that long to write 1 email!

Leo: I try to just do quick replies, under 2 minutes. Longer ones I’ll put in a text document to write outside of the 20-30 minutes, and send later.

Question: How do you store links you need to read?

Leo: Instapaper. But there are a few other good services too.

Question: How do you stop your to-do email folder building up? When do you process your to-do emails? Are they excluded from the 20-30mins?

Leo: I try to do the to-do items with my inbox closed (not included in the 20-30 mins). So if I have to get a bunch of information and reply, I’ll put it on my to-do list, and when I close my inbox I’ll get al the information later, write a reply, then send it (either when I check email next or I’ll allow myself to send it anytime but not check email).

How do I stop it from building up? I don’t have a trick for this, just try to do what I can each day. Sometimes emails and to-dos build up, because I’m focusing on more important things, so at least once a week I try to set aside time to catch up with the smaller, administrative items.

Question: Aside from the obvious “fluff” ones, how do you decide who to unsubscribe from?

Leo: If I feel I didn’t need to read that email, I’ll unsubscribe. Newsletters, updates, notifications, promotional emails, ads.

zen habits

How to Change Your Eating Patterns

By Leo Babauta

Many of us are trapped in our old, hardened eating patterns.

In fact, we might not even be aware of the patterns, but we do know that 1) we’d like to get healthier or leaner; 2) we have a hard time making eating changes; 3) we don’t always know how to change.

Those are good realizations! It means we have to humble ourselves, and find a way to put ourselves into an area of uncertainty and discomfort in order to change.

Some common eating patterns that are difficult to change:

  • Snacking on junk food
  • Sugary drinks like sodas or Starbuck sugary coffee drinks
  • Bingeing in the evening
  • Eating out a lot and making unhealthy choices, then regretting it
  • Needing comfort foods when you’re stressed or feeling down
  • You start drinking and then you eat like crap

And more, of course. These are just some common examples. Do you have any of these? Are there others you aren’t aware of but that keep you locked into a less-than-healthy lifestyle?

If you’re ready to make a change, let’s look at how to change our eating patterns.

What Gets in the Way

Before we look at how to change the patterns, let’s take a look at the common obstacles. Don’t get discouraged by this list! Changing is definitely possible, as my own life shows. I’ve changed my entire diet completely, and while I’m not perfect by any means, I have confidence in my ability to change my patterns if I want to.

Some common obstacles:

  • Being motivated by guilt, fear, regret: Studies show that these motivations are very common, and they don’t work well. Instead, change that sticks is motivated by a positive outlook and self-motivation.
  • Vague or too many goals: If you have a specific plan, rather than “eating healthier,” that’s more likely to succeed. If you try to change too many things at once (exercise, diet, meditation, decluttering, procrastination!), you’ll use up your limited energy and discipline.
  • Depriving ourselves: If you are on a diet, and it feels like a sacrifice and deprivation, you won’t be able to stick to that for long. Instead, eat high-volume foods like vegetables and beans that fill you up and don’t leave you hungry, and eat indulgent but healthy foods like a few squares of dark chocolate, berries, relaxing tea, a glass of red wine. Make it feel like a wonderful lifestyle rather than self-flagellation.
  • Not having practical ways to get there: It’s great to have a goal to lose weight, but how will you do it? Most people only have a vague idea of what to do, and it can be confusing. It’s best to have a practical plan. More in the next section.
  • Too much choice & variety: If you go to a buffet and there’s a hundred delicious-looking foods there, you’ll probably overeat. The same is true at home or wherever we normally eat — if you always have lots of choices, with tempting varieties, you’ll probably overeat. But if you went somewhere where there was just one choice, and it was healthy, you’d probably do much better.
  • Social eating: Eating out with friends or going to parties can make it difficult — mostly because of the above reason of too much choice and variety. But also because we’re not mindful of our choices when we’re talking to people, and also we might feel pressure to eat like everyone else instead of making healthy choices.
  • Resistance to healthy foods: Lots of people don’t like vegetables. Or beans, raw nuts, whole grains. I know people who would rather die than eat brown rice, oats, kale or drink soymilk. This is a barrier to changing eating patterns.
  • Not realizing your patterns: Many people aren’t really aware of what their eating patterns are. It can be hard to figure it out unless you’re forced to see it in the cold harsh light of day.
  • Healthy eating is confusing: There’s a lot of advice out there, so many things to learn about. To combat that, pick a simple, whole-foods diet and just stick to a simple plan. Veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains. Drink water, tea, maybe a bit of red wine. Simple!
  • Depending on willpower: If you have to stare donuts in the face, then French fries, then sumptuous dessert … you will run out of willpower. Instead, change your environment, and make things easy on yourself.
  • It’s not convenient: When you’re hungry, tired, stress, or lonely … you’ll reach for what’s easy. Instead, get rid of the junk and have convenient snacks (I like hummus and carrots, and apples and raw nuts).
  • You think it’s expensive: Healthy eating can be seen as super expensive. Actually, it can be even cheaper: try lentils! A lentil soup with potatoes or some brown rice is super cheap. Add some frozen green veggies and you have an incredibly healthy, simple meal for very little.

OK, that might seem like a lot of obstacles. But being aware of them is key, and now that we’ve looked at them, let’s talk about some solutions, and how to shake up our eating patterns.

Shaking Up the Patterns

I’m usually a fan of slow changes, but lately I’ve been realizing that it can be helpful to really give our patterns a good shakeup.

How do we do that? By giving ourselves a line to stick to.

Here’s what I mean: when we meditate, by trying to focus our attention on our breath … it becomes very obvious once our attention wanders to a chain of thoughts. Without the line drawn in the sand — trying to stick to watching the breath — it’s hard to notice the mental patterns of impatience, frustration, harshness, retreating into our stories, rationalizing, etc. The breath is the line that we try to stick to, and the line helps us see what’s going on.

So create a line to stick to for eating patterns.

I recommend that your line be a meal plan, that you try to stick to for one month.

By trying to stick to a meal plan, it becomes very obvious when you binge, or eat a bunch of afternoon snacks, or breakfast on pastries and a latte. Your patterns start to become obvious.

And when you learn that you can actually stick to the meal plan, the patterns start to fall apart. You’re aware of them, but no longer beholden to them. You start to free yourself.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Make a simple, healthy meal plan: Pick a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch, a healthy dinner, a healthy snack or two. Enter it into an online food tracker to see how the calories add up (I shoot for 250-500 calories below my maintenance level to lose weight). Keep it simple to prepare, based almost entirely on healthy whole foods, not processed foods. Again, veggies, beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits. Btw, I pick one healthy meal and eat it for both lunch and dinner, every night of the week, to keep things simple.
  • Plan for indulgences: Don’t make it a sacrifice — include delicious nutritious foods, include indulgences like dark chocolate, red wine, coffee, berries, tea. And include a couple free meals each week (don’t pig out, just eat moderately but whatever you want).
  • Stick to it for a month, give your habit time to change: Challenge yourself to stick to the meal plan (with two free meals per week) for a month. This will give your mind and body time to adjust to new habits.
  • Clean up your environment: Keep junk out of your house. Have healthy alternatives to your usual comforts — fruits instead of sweets, air-popped popcorn or carrots and hummus instead of chips.
  • Prep to make it easy: If you eat the same lunch every day, and the same dinner every day, prepare them in advance so that it’s easy to eat when it’s mealtime.
  • Have strategies for restaurants & social eating: If you have to go out, either make it one of your free meals (and remember to eat moderately) or plan what meal you’ll be eating. For example, you can look at the menu online and know that you’ll have lentil soup with a salad, or black bean tacos with guac. If you’re going to a party, prepare your healthy food and bring it to the party.
  • Give yourself time to adjust to new foods: If you don’t like the taste of vegetables at first, let yourself eat them every day for a week. You’ll start to like them.

So that’s the plan: make a simple, healthy meal plan and stick to it every day for a month (with two free meals a day). Clean up your food environment, don’t make it a super sacrifice. Yes, this is a bit boring. But if you rebel against that, it shows you a pattern — you need excitement in your food! But actually that’s not something we need to get from food — it’s not entertainment, it’s sustenance.

You’ll start to see your patterns if you try this plan. You’ll become very aware of what you’re rebelling against, what your failures are (and why), and you’ll be able to focus on those and get better at them.

Finding a Fresh Alternative

What happens when the month is over? Must we stick to a meal plan forever? No, but we can now step outside our old patterns and choose a fresh alternative.

Like what? Some ideas for alternatives to our old patterns:

  • Plan healthy meals for the week.
  • Eat healthier alternatives to our old comfort foods and snacks.
  • Change our food environment to be more conducive to health.
  • Change our social eating to be a bit healthier.
  • Find other ways to cope with stress (meditation!), comfort ourselves (a walk, a bath, tea), socialize (go for a hike).
  • Adjust to new healthy foods and find joy in the deliciousness of nutritiousness.
  • Letting go of shame around food, and instead just seeing it as nourishment.

I’m not going to tell you what alternatives you should choose, but only recommend that you allow yourself some time to contemplate how you’d like to live.

Fresh alternatives are available once we shine a light on our old patterns, and break away from them.

Course: How to Stick to a Lean-Out Diet

If you’d like to go deeper into these topics, and challenge yourself to stick to a meal plan this month … I’m offering a course for my Sea Change members called “How to Stick to a Lean-Out Diet“. It’s just a way to create a healthy meal plan and stick to it for the month, but it’ll be a good exploration of all the topics above.

Join us now to get access to the course (and a challenge with weekly reporting): Sea Change Program.

In this monthly membership program, you get access to:

  • Video lessons
  • Monthly challenges
  • A forum for supporting each other and accountability
  • A webinar (for Gold level members)
  • Lots of great content in the course library

I’d love it if you joined me today.

zen habits

A Guide to the Basic Anxiety of Life

By Leo Babauta

Underlying much of what we do is an uncertainty, an anxiety, a fear, doubts, dissatisfaction …

And we react to these anxieties, dissatisfaction and uncertainty in so many unhelpful ways: we seek distraction, we eat unhealthy food, we procrastinate, we get caught in a cycle of anxiety and unhappiness, we lash out at others, we dwell in our loneliness, and then we get in denial about it all.

If we could learn to deal with the basic anxiety of life, we would have much more ease and less struggle.

The Anxiety Underneath Our Problems

On Twitter, I asked people to share a problem they’d like me to write about … the problems were all very difficult, but the basic anxiety of life was the undercurrent to all of them.

Each one has an external problem, with the undercurrent of anxiety, fears or uncertainty underneath the external problem. Let’s take a look at a few:

  • Feeling of being left out, lack of belonging: We can all relate to this feeling of not belonging. Externally, the problem is not finding people you connect with, not having that connection in your daily life. But on top of that, we add the anxiety/dissatisfaction of feeling like we’re left out and don’t belong. This is normal, but it’s good to notice.
  • Finding your passion, optimizing potential: The external problem is that you are in a job you’re not passionate about. On top of that is the anxiety/dissatisfaction of not finding that passion, of feeling like we’re not optimizing our potential. We can all relate to this too!
  • Headaches cyclicly prevent me building a career and paying my way properly, affects my self worth hugely: The external problem (bad headaches, leading to career and financial problems) is very real, and not easy to deal with. But on top of that, we have anxiety about it all, and we add self-criticism (most of us do this, right?), self-doubt, and a downgrading of our self-image.
  • That phase of anxiety before big changes occur: The external issue is that we’re facing a big change, and then because it’s a situation filled with great uncertainty, we feel anxiety about it.
  • Beginning/purchasing self improvement books/classes/plans and not using them: The external problem is not finding the time or energy to use materials you’ve bought, but we add to that an anxiety about ourselves not living up to our potential, not taking advantage of opportunities, not doing what we hoped we’d do. I think we can all relate to this.
  • Addiction to social media, videos and cell phone: The external problem is the distractions that keep pulling our attention. But the anxiety is that we feel addicted and feel something is wrong with us for not being less distracted. In addition, the addiction is probably a coping mechanism for dissatisfaction with the moment in front of us, or anxieties in other parts of life.
  • PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder: A lot of people are coping from dissatisfaction with the political scene right now, no matter what your views on the president might be. There’s the external situation of what’s going on, and then we add our dissatisfaction, anxieties about uncertainty, frustration and anger.
  • Sometimes feel helpless & empty for a reason I can’t identify. Only time makes that go away but I feel that time was wasted: There’s probably an external situation that’s causing a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or helplessness. But the real problem is the feelings about it all, the uncertainty and anxiety about it all, and the anxiety about wasting the time it takes to get over it.
  • Getting over breakups: The external problem (end of a relationship) is overshadowed by the pain, dissatisfaction, anxiety that follow the breakup. We might have frustration and anxiety about wanting it not to have ended, about not wanting to be alone, about how we feel about ourselves after being dumped, about how the other person acted.

I think we can all relate to these problems, to not only the external situation but the reactions that we have.

There’s a fundamental anxiety and dissatisfaction that runs through the human condition, about whatever we’re experiencing in life, about other people and about ourselves.

So how do we deal with it all?

Where Does Basic Anxiety Come From?

It’s good to start by recognizing why we have this basic anxiety. It’s caused by:

  • Uncertainty about life, about the current situation, about people
  • Wanting certainty, stability when life isn’t stable or certain
  • Dissatisfaction with the above facts — which is also dissatisfaction with our situation, ourselves, and others

If you sit right now for 5-10 minutes and just pay attention to your breath, you’ll likely notice the fundamental anxiety … it results in wanting to stop paying attention to the breath, wanting the meditation to be over, wanting to get on with the tasks of life, wanting distraction, thinking that the exercise is stupid, wanting to think about problems you have.

But instead of running from this anxiety, instead of getting away from it into thinking about problems or getting out of the meditation … what if we just stayed with it and paid attention to it?

If we can get in touch with this fundamental anxiety that we suffer through in life … we can start to work with it.

Learning to Deal with This Basic Anxiety

Instead of running from the anxiety, instead of trying to cope by using distractions, food, shopping, alcohol, drugs … we’re going to find the courage to face it, with a smile.

Here’s how to work with it:

  1. Face the physical feeling. Drop out of the story that’s spinning around in your head, that’s causing the anxiety. Instead, just be mindful of how your body feels. What does the anxiety feel like, and where in your body is it located?
  2. Stay with it & be curious about it. Don’t run, just stay with the physical feeling. Instead of rejecting it and wanting it to stop, just open up to it and see it with curiosity. What does it feel like? Does it change? What kind of reaction does your mind have to the feeling?
  3. Smile at it. Develop a feeling of friendliness towards the physical sensation of this anxiety. See it as one of the fundamental realities of your existence, and learn to be friends with it. See this as a chance to work with something that will be with you for your entire life, an opportunity to get comfortable with this discomfort. If you can do that, you’ll need your coping mechanisms a lot less.
  4. Open to a bigger space. Our normal way of relating to this feeling is wanting to reject it, because we’re stuck in a small-minded, self-centered way of seeing it (I say this without judgment, it’s just something we do). Instead, we can start to touch the wide-open space of our minds, like a big blue sky, not a small space but expansive. In this open space, we can hold the anxiety like a cloud against the backdrop of the blue sky, but not be lost in the cloud. We can see the anxiety but also see that like a cloud, it’s temporary, it’s not that solid, it’s not all-encompassing, and it’s just floating by. This wide-open space of our mind is always available to us.

It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. Sometimes the anxiety we feel is small, just a bit of tightness in our chest once we investigate it. But sometimes it’s quite big, a looming depression or a manic energy that we just can’t tolerate. So face it in small doses, just for a minute, just for a moment. Then let yourself run. Continue to work with it in small, tolerable doses until you start to trust that you’ll be OK if you face it and smile at it.

Once we start to touch on this anxiety, face it with courage, stay with it like a good friend would … we start to realize it’s not so bad. It’s just something that comes up, like a ripple in a pond, like a breeze in a field, and it will go away. We don’t need to panic, we don’t need to run, we can relax, invite it to tea, and see that nothing else is required. Instead, we stay, we give it love, and see that this place of uncertainty we’re in is absolutely perfect as it is.

Join Me for a Mindfulness Retreat

I’d like to let you know that I’ve put the limited spots in my Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat on sale until April 1, 2017 …

The retreat will be held April 21-23, 2017 in San Francisco. It’s going to be amazing, and I’m really excited about it.

Read more here, and join me!

zen habits

Join Me: The Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in April

By Leo Babauta

I’m excited to announce my first retreat: the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in San Francisco!

The urban retreat will be held over a weekend, on April 21-23, 2017. It’s aimed at teaching you key mindfulness skills that can help you transform your life.

There are limited spots (at 3 different levels), so I would get your spot soon if you’d like to attend.

What This Retreat is About

It’s a 2.5-day retreat that focuses on:

  • Mindfulness practices
  • Using mindfulness to deal with our struggles and old patterns
  • Finding joy and gratitude in life
  • Seeing the underlying goodness in ourselves & overcome dissatisfaction with ourselves
  • Dealing with uncertainty, developing trust in the process
  • Finding what happens when you have no escape

Through these practices, we’ll help you develop tools that can lead to the changes you’ve been hoping for.

We will learn different types of meditations and practice exercises that help us work with our struggles.

We will also explore San Francisco a bit:

  • Mindful tea tasting
  • Mindful chocolate tasting
  • Delicious vegan food will be provided
  • We’ll go on an easy hike
  • We’ll form connections with each other to support our life changes

I’m so excited to have you join me in one of my favorite cities in the world, working on things that have changed my life completely and that I hope will change yours as well.

Three Options for the Retreat

The basic retreat described above doesn’t include accommodations (you’ll have to book your own AirBnb or hotel) or transportation to San Francisco (book your own flights).

But it does include vegan meals, activities described above, and the talks and group exercises with Leo.

Basic option: The basic retreat comes at a price of $ 2,995:

Mindfulness Retreat (Basic)

But I’m also including two other options:

  1. “With a Bed” option (below) that gets you a bed and a room in an AirBnb apartment, and
  2. a Premium Package that includes an additional lunch with me, a 1-on-1 session at the retreat, and a follow-up coaching call with me a few weeks after the retreat (see “Premium Package” below).

The “With a Bed” Option

I’ll be renting a couple AirBnb apartments with about separate beds available (each in their own room), so if you’d like to stay in an apartment with other retreat participants, you can book at the “With a Bed” rate … you’ll get a bed in your own bedroom (unless you choose to share a Queen bed with a friend or your spouse/partner).

The “With a Bed” spots come at a price of $ 3,395:

Mindfulness Retreat (With a Bed)

The Premium Package

Finally, I’ve created a few bonuses if you’d like to purchase the “premium” package …

This package includes:

  1. A bed in one of the AirBnb apartments (same apartment where Leo is sleeping)
  2. An extra lunch with Leo on Friday April 21 before the retreat starts
  3. A 1-on-1 coaching session with Leo during the retreat
  4. A follow-up coaching call with Leo about 3-4 weeks after the retreat

There are 5 premium spots available, at a price of $ 4,395.

Mindfulness Retreat (Premium)

I am really excited about this retreat and I hope you’ll join me!

Questions & Answers

You might have some questions … here are a few answers:

Q: Who is this retreat for?

A: It’s for someone who is willing to take a weekend to change their life. Someone who has been struggling and is open to practicing mindfulness and changing mental patterns. Someone who is ready to let go of old patterns and embrace new ones. Someone who is willing to put in the work for better habits and a transformed life.

Q: Are airfare or accommodations included?

A: Airfare is not included, you’ll need to book tickets on your own. Accommodations for the two nights are only included if you choose either the “With a Bed” or “Premium” options, where you’ll be staying in an AirBnb apartment with other participants. If you choose the “Basic” option, you’ll need to find your own hotel or AirBnb apartment in San Francisco, and this is not included in the price.

Q: What if I don’t like vegan food?

A: I’d suggest bringing an open and flexible mind to the retreat, and the food we’ll be eating is pretty delicious, and it’s included in the cost … however, you are free to go off and explore on your own, and buy your own food. In that case, you’ll be missing out on group meals, unfortunately.

Q: Can I book two retreat spots with a shared bed with my partner or friend?

A: Sure! In this case, book one spot at the “With a Bed” or “Premium” level (to get a bed) and then a second spot at the Basic level. Then email us to let us know you want to share a Queen-sized bed with your partner or friend.

Q: What is your refund policy?

A: No refunds after March 1, 2017. If you buy a spot, you’re preventing others from buying them, as spots are limited. So if you don’t ask for a refund by March 1, you’ll lose your fee if you can’t make it. If you ask for a refund before March 1, we’ll refund 80% of your fee.

Q: I can’t pay right now, can I pay later?

A: No, the spots will only be reserved by those who pay. If you want to wait until you can pay, it will mean there might not be any spots left.

Q: I just bought a spot, now what?

A: There is a PDF download that came with your purchase, please download and read that for more info. We’ll also be sending you a few emails over the next month, please read these and reply with your info!

Q: What do I need for this retreat?

A: A notebook and pen for notes, layered clothing for San Francisco’s fluctuating weather, and an open and flexible mind. A willingness to change and practice. An open heart. Toiletries.

zen habits

The Compassionate Way to Health & Fitness

By Leo Babauta

Lots of us would like a better body, an amazing workout habit, and a diet that celebrities would die for.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but most of us definitely have an ideal when it comes to fitness. We want to be super healthy, and we strive for it. Maybe we strive and then fail and feel bad about it, but we strive.

What would it be like to not strive for these fitness goals?

What would it be like if we removed the striving, and found compassion instead?

The Problem with Striving

When we strive for a fitness ideal (which is usually what we do), there are a few fundamental problems to be aware of:

  1. The ideal is one we will never meet. Even if we do great at our goal, it won’t be what we pictured. For example, I ran several marathons and an ultramarathon because of ideals I had in my head, and completed them … and they weren’t at all what I pictured. They were still worthwhile, but not at all what my fantasy was.
  2. You have a good likelihood of failing at some point, not meeting your ideal, and then feeling bad about yourself for failing.
  3. You don’t hit the ideal right away — most ideals are several months, if not years, in the future. So for the first few days, first few weeks … you will just do the activity but not hit any ideal. This is likely not fun. You might set ideals for each day (“go for a run today!”) but even then, you’ll go for the run and it won’t be what you fantasized it would be.
  4. Once you reach the goal you’re striving for, you’re not content. You just find another goal to strive for. And another. Until you’re dead, having never been satisfied.

What we don’t realize is that there’s nothing to strive for. We’re already in the perfect place: a moment that is filled with beauty and wonder, a life that is filled with untapped love and compassion, a goodness in ourselves underlying everything we do. We’re already in the ideal moment, but we take it for granted and fantasize about something else instead.

We can just stop striving. Just find joy in this present moment, without needing the crutch of our fantasies.

The Compassionate Way

So if we stop striving for health and fitness ideals, does that mean we just lie on the couch, stuffing our faces with potato chips and slurping soda all day? Umm, yuck. And no.

What we can do is 1) realize joy in who we are, where we are, and our intricate connection to the wonderful people all around us, and find contentment right now; and 2) in that moment of joy and contentment, we can act out of love.

What are some acts of love that we can do, in this moment of joy and appreciation for what is right here in front of us?

  1. Appreciating the gift of our bodies, we take care of them. The bodies we have are incredible, wonders of nature, and we take them for granted. We abuse them by being sedentary, taking drugs, eating junk food, not taking care of them. Instead, an act of appreciation for our bodies is to care for them. Exercise, walk, eat well, floss, meditate.
  2. Appreciating the gift of life, we explore the outdoors. There is so much to notice and explore, to behold with absolute wonder, that it’s a waste to be online or on our phones all day. Instead, it’s an act of love to get outside and move our beautiful bodies.
  3. Appreciating the gift of food, we nourish our bodies. Instead of abusing ourselves by putting junk in our bodies (just to satisfy cravings of comfort), we can find joy in the nourishment of our bodies with gorgeous, healthy, delicious food. And appreciate that the fresh food we’re feeding ourselves with is a gift, grown from the earth by people we don’t know who support our lives, a miracle not to be taken for granted.
  4. Appreciating this moment, we meditate. This moment is filled with brilliance, and yet we often ignore it. Instead, we can sit and meditate, to practice paying full and loving attention. We can do yoga, moving while we meditate. We can meditate as we go for a run, lift a barbell, ride a bike, swim in the ocean, walk in a sunny park.

There is no need for striving for fitness and health ideals. Instead, we can let go of those ideals and appreciate what’s right in front of us. And in gratitude, act with love and compassion to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the moment we’re in.

zen habits