Sea Change Program: Change Your Life in 2017

By Leo Babauta

I believe the freshness of this year brings a renewed energy for changing our lives. I believe 2017 can be great for all of us, with a bit of focus and effort.

So I’ve created a revised Sea Change Program that’s geared to creating a great 2017 for all of you, full of positive life changes.

How can Sea Change help you change your life in 2017?

  1. Video Courses: I’ve created a huge library of content: video courses and articles that are aimed at helping you practice mindfulness, exercise, eat healthier, declutter, stop procrastinating, get out of debt, overcome fear, find gratitude and more. I’ve been building up this content library for 5 years! I think it’s pretty awesome.
  2. Challenges: Every month I plan to have a new challenge. This month, it’s a Mindfulness Challenge — try to meditate every day of the month. Report on your challenge once a week. It really helps you to stick to change more to participate in a challenge.
  3. Forums: You can discuss the challenges, report your progress each week, and in general support each other’s changes.

So video and article content on changing your life, a monthly challenge, and a forum to connect with and get support from other people who are making similar changes. I’ve found this to be a simple but effective method for change.

If you’re ready to make changes in 2017, try my Sea Change Program for one week free (and $ 15/month after that).

Deeper Levels

In addition, if you want to go deeper, I offer Gold and Platinum memberships to help support people who are ready to fully commit to life changes.

How do these levels help you go deeper? A few key ways, in addition to what’s above:

  1. Live Webinars (Gold and Platinum): Gold members have access to monthly live webinars where I give a talk about the current challenge and answer member questions. My members have found these to be a great resource.
  2. Ask Questions (Gold and Platinum): Members can submit questions during the month and I’ll do my best to answer them. I highly recommend asking questions, as it deepens the learning process and helps me to see where you need help. People who ask questions are much more likely to see change.
  3. Accountability Teams (Platinum): I’ve created a Sea Change team on Slack for Platinum members to discuss their life changes, and more importantly to provide accountability teams of about 5-10 members to support each other’s changes.
  4. Twice-monthly Calls with Leo (Platinum): I’ve just added this feature for the new Platinum membership level … I’m going to have twice-monthly calls where people can ask questions and I’ll answer them, and other members can share their progress, I can even do some one-on-one coaching on the call with other members benefitting from listening. I think this will be a great help for people who are ready to go deeper into their learning and habit changes.

So four tools for more personal support, which I’ve found to be a key ingredient to lasting change.

Key Ingredients to Lasting Change

Through changing my own life in a hundred different ways, to helping others change theirs, I’ve found some things to be incredibly helpful if you want to make a change that sticks:

  1. Motivation: Do you really want to change? If you care about the change, and are willing to focus your life on it for a little while, you can make it happen. If it’s just “it would be nice,” then it probably won’t last until you are ready to get serious about it.
  2. Small changes, gradually: Most people hear this and ignore it, but they are missing one of the most important ingredients. If you want to meditate, start with just a couple minutes. If you want to exercise, just do five minutes. Start small, increase only gradually. Do less than you’re capable of, and the change will last.
  3. Reminders and focus: If you forget to do your habit, you won’t change. If you can set reminders, put up physical, visual reminders around you, and keep your focus on the habit, you’re much more likely to stick to it.
  4. Social support: Doing the change with other people is remarkably powerful. I haven’t found another tool more effective than this, if you are willing to put it to use.
  5. Gratitude & mindfulness: OK, you can have lasting change without these final ingredients, but I’ve found them to be essential in my personal changes. Why? If you aren’t mindful, you’ll give in to urges to procrastinate or quit your change, because you won’t even notice the urge, you’ll just follow it. And if you find gratitude as you do the habit, you’ll enjoy every step of the way, which means it won’t be a sacrifice but a joy. These are two amazing ingredients, use them!

So those are the key ingredients. You can change your entire life over the course of a year or two if you make small, gradual changes with mindfulness, gratitude, motivation and social support. I’ve seen it over and over.

It’s possible. Take the step today and join me and thousands of other members in Sea Change:

Join Sea Change

zen habits

How to Cultivate a Year of Mindfulness

By Leo Babauta

In 2016, I practiced mindfulness more than I ever have before, after 10 years of sporadic practice.

I meditated regularly, practiced with a local Zen group, did a great one-day sitting, went on a retreat, took courses, read books, practiced mindful eating and exercise, learned some great new practices, and taught several mindfulness courses.

I learned a lot about how to cultivate a more mindful life, and I’d like to encourage you to try it this year.

Why? A few good reasons:

  • You learn to be awake to the present moment more, and lost in the daydream of your thoughts less.
  • You begin to see your mental patterns that affect everything you do, and thus begin to free yourself of those patterns.
  • You learn to be frustrated less, and let go more. And smile more.
  • You learn to be better at compassion, equanimity, love, contentment.
  • You learn to be better at not procrastinating, and better at building better habits.

I could go on about better mental and physical health, better relationships, less fear … but the reasons I’ve given are strong enough. It’s important stuff.

So how do we cultivate a year of mindfulness? I’m glad you asked.

Tips for Cultivating Mindfulness

I’m just going to dive in and share my favorite tips for creating a year of mindfulness:

  1. Commit to sitting daily for a month. It would be great to commit to a year of sitting meditation practice, but I think that’s too long for the brain to commit to. So I recommend trying to sit everyday for a month. Tell people about it, set reminders on your phone and calendar, put a note somewhere you won’t miss it, and keep the meditation short — just 2-5 minutes to start with, until you become more regular. This is the foundational practice for being more mindful, so make a big commitment to sitting.
  2. Find a group. If you can find a meditation group in your area to sit with once a week, that’s ideal. It doesn’t matter much what kind of group it is (Zen, Tibetan, Vipassana, etc.), just meet with them and meditate however you like when you’re on the cushion. If you can’t find a group in your area, find a group that meets online (San Francisco Zen Center has an online practice group, for example). This commitment to a group deepens the practice.
  3. Practice mindful eating. I’m gonna be honest here, I don’t practice this as much as I should. But it’s a good example of how you can take something you already do every day, and use it as a meditation. Simply commit to doing nothing but eating — single-task instead of multitasking. As you eat each bite, pay attention to the food, the textures and flavors and colors. Notice when your mind wanders. Savor the food. Showering, brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, walking and sweeping are other good activities to use as meditation.
  4. Take a course. This is a bit self-promotional, but I’m offering mindfulness courses in my Sea Change Program. However, you can take any online or in-person course, free or paid — I find that they force you to practice and reflect on your practice, so that your learning deepens even further.
  5. Find a teacher or partner. I am lucky to have a teacher who I meet with every couple months … I find that just knowing that I’m going to be talking to her means that I’ll try harder to learn, remind myself a bit more, reflect on my learning more so that I have something to talk to her about. If you can’t find a teacher, a learning partner can function the same way.
  6. Watch your frustration. When you get irritated, frustrated or angry … let it be a mindfulness bell! It is a great opportunity to drop out of your story, and notice how your body is feeling. What got you hooked? What story are you telling yourself? What is your mental pattern when you get hooked? What is the physical feeling in your body at this moment? Practice as much as you can!
  7. Read a good mindfulness book. You learn mindfulness by practicing, but a good book can guide your practice. I recommend checking out my recently published Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness, and I also like Mindfulness in Plain English.
  8. Practice yoga or mindful movement. Yoga is moving meditation, and I highly recommend it. If you aren’t drawn to yoga, try walking or running or doing other exercise while trying to pay mindful attention to your body and breath. Either way, see it as an opportunity to meditate as you move.
  9. Sit with procrastination & fear. Whenever you start to procrastinate or run to distraction, there is fear at the root of your urge. Instead of running, sit with it. Notice the fear or resistance. Stay with this feeling, become intimate with it, be friendly towards it, smile at it. Stay, stay, until it dissolves.
  10. Journal & review regularly. The best learning is deepened by reflecting what you’ve been learning about, reflecting on your obstacles and challenges, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. You evolve your learning through reflecting. Journaling is a great tool for that — it helps you reflect in a mindful way. Journal daily, weekly, or monthly, reviewing what you did the previous day (or week or month) and what you learned from it, and what your intentions are in the coming day, week or month.

That might seem like a lot of things to do, but you don’t have to do them all at once! Nor do you have to be “perfect” at this (perfection doesn’t exist). Just try one or two things, try another couple things later, and explore with no real desitation or outcome in mind. Play with these practices and tools. See what happens.

Challenge: A Month of Mindfulness

To start your year of mindfulness, I challenge you to do a full 30 days of mindfulness, starting today. That means meditating every day, for at least a few minutes (start small), and trying to incorporate mindfulness practices in your life in small ways.

Are you up to the challenge? If so, commit to it by announcing it to your loved ones, on social media, or emailing your friends. It’ll be an amazing way to start this year.

If you’d like to go deeper with mindfulness, sign up for my Sea Change Program. We’re doing a Month of Mindfulness in January, and I’ve issued the same mindfulness challenge to my members (we check in once a week). Don’t worry if you’re starting mid-month … it doesn’t matter. Go on your own schedule, let go of the idea of perfection.

Join us in Sea Change today!

zen habits

Filter Out the Noise

By Leo Babauta

It can seem like our lives are filled with busyness, noise, distractions, and often meaningless activities.

What if we could filter out all that noise, and focus on the meaningful?

What if we could find stillness instead of constant distraction?

I believe that most of us have that power. In my experience, most of the noise is there by choice, but we’ve fallen into patterns over the years and it can seem like we’re not able to change them.

Let’s talk about ways to filter out the noise, then how to find stillness and meaning.

Ways to Filter the Noise

Take the rest of today to notice what noise you find in your life. Even take a little time to make a list, whenever you find distraction or busyness.

For example, noise in my life comes from: email, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter, blogs and other sites I like to read, text messages, Slack, and watching Netflix. You might have other sources: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, news, cable TV.

Once we’re aware of the noise, how can we filter it out? We have to decide that we want more quiet and meaning in our lives. That it’s important enough to “miss out” on some things in those noisy channels.

Then we can take action:

  • Turn off notifications as much as possible. Including the unread messages count by each app on your phone.
  • Decide to check on some things (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) just once a day. Others you can check twice a day, or three times if needed (like email or Slack). But set a limit.
  • Delete accounts or delete apps that aren’t giving you real meaning (I deleted my Facebook account years ago).
  • Unsubscribe from everything possible in your email account. And from Twitter or any other app where you’re “following” people or blogs/websites. If you use an RSS reader, unsubscribe from as many feeds as possible. Leave only a handful that give you meaning.
  • Tell people that you are only checking your messages once a day, to set expectations. Don’t use an autoresponder — I find those annoying. Instead, just send a message to the people who matter most, and ask that they be understanding.
  • Set a time each day when you watch TV or movies (if at all). Set a time of day when you read news or blogs (if at all). If you say, “I only watch TV after 7 p.m.,” then you’ve limited how much space this takes up in your life.
  • If there are some things (like email, for example) where you need to stay connected because of work, try to negotiate with your boss or team so that you can find periods of disconnection. For example, ask if you can take a couple hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon to be disconnected, to focus on more important work.

If you take these actions, you’ll filter out most of the noise.

What’s left? Time for quiet, stillness, focus and meaning.

Finding Stillness & Meaning

Once you’ve filtered out the noise, you are left with a few interesting problems:

  1. Changing your habits of busyness and constant movement.
  2. Figuring out what’s meaningful.
  3. Learning to stop and stay still.

I think those are wonderful problems to be faced with. Most people never even consider them. Find gratitude that you can work on this at all.

Take some time to notice your constant need for busyness or distraction. For example, if you have a moment where you’re not doing anything — you’re waiting in line, you’re alone at your restaurant table while your friend goes to the bathroom, you’re sitting on your couch — what do you try to do out of habit? This is your pattern of busyness and movement.

Now see if you can let go of those patterns. Catch yourself, and instead opt for stillness and quiet. Try to just sit there and notice your surroundings. Soak it all in. Savor the moment. Meditate on your breath. Reflect on your day. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for right now.

Start building new patterns of stillness. For example, try morning meditation on your breath, even if just for a few minutes every day. Try going for a morning or evening walk, without your phone. Try turning the phone and computer off and just journal.

Start finding activities that are more meaningful to you. This doesn’t have to be done in one day — you can slowly experiment to figure out what’s meaningful to you. You might start writing a book or screenplay, for example, or taking photos or drawing or making music. You might decide to start a business or charity that changes the world. You might start to learn something that’s meaningful, or teach others. Find ways to help others and make the world a better place. Journal, meditate, exercise, make healthy food, declutter, make dates with people who are important to you.

When you notice yourself running to busyness and distraction, pause. Turn instead towards stillness and your meaningful activities.

Build a life around stillness and meaning, and notice the difference it makes in you.

zen habits

5 Tips For When You Have Too Much to Do

By Leo Babauta

Too much to do, not enough time.

This is a perpetual problem for a lot of people, but it seems to be especially pronounced during the holidays. With holiday events, shopping, travel, family visiting … things tend to pile on top of our already busy lives.

But no matter what time of year it is, the problem is the same: our list of tasks is neverending, and our days are too short.

How can we deal with this in a sane way?

I’ll offer five suggestions that work for me.

1. Use this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. In the middle of your stress and feeling of being overwhelmed … you have the opportunity to be present. When you notice yourself feeling this way, drop in: notice how your body feels. Take a second to observe the physical sensations of your surroundings (sounds, light, touch sensations, etc.). Notice how your body feels as your mind is spinning with anxiety or busyness.

No, stress and overwhelm are not the two most pleasant feelings, but they’re also not the end of the world. And if you see them as an opportunity to practice, to learn, to get better, then they can actually be good news. They are your teachers, and this is your time to be mindful.

You don’t have to spend a whole minute dropping in, but just take five or 10 seconds. Just observe how you’re feeling, observe your surroundings, observe how your thoughts are affecting you. Just notice, briefly, and in that short time, you’ve woken up from the dream we’re in most of the time.

2. Realize that you can’t do it all right now. You might have 20 things to do, or 100 … but you can’t do all of them right now. You probably can’t do them all in the next hour even. How many can you actually do right now? One.

This reminder is meant to free us from the idea that we need to do everything right now. We can’t. So instead, this allows us to focus on just one thing. Just pick one task, and focus on that. Because the others, as urgent as they might seem, can’t possibly be done right now. You can delegate them, eliminate them, defer them, but you can’t do them all right now. So focus on one, and give it your full attention. This is the most helpful way to work, in my experience.

3. Pick a high impact task to focus on. When we’re busy, we often get into the mode of doing a lot of small tasks really quickly. It feels like we’re knocking a lot of things off the list, which can feel productive. But it’s just running around like a chicken without a head.

If you’re going to focus on just one task, it’s best to make it a good one. Something that will have a decent impact on your day, your work, your life. That probably isn’t answering a bunch of unimportant emails or checking Facebook messages. One important email that will close a deal, move along a key project, help someone’s life … that’s a higher impact task. For me, writing is almost always the highest impact thing I can do. It’s hard to figure out what the highest impact task might be, but if you give it some thought, you can see which ones are probably not that important, and which ones are more important. Pick one from the latter category when you can.

That said, you still have to do the smaller tasks. Answer the other emails, run the errands, clean the kitchen counter. I like to take care of those between the bigger tasks, as a way to take a break. Do something important with focus, then relieve my brain by cleaning or answering a few emails. The key is not to procrastinate on the bigger tasks by doing the smaller ones.

4. Be present with this task, with intention. Once you’ve picked an important task, set aside everything else for now. You can’t do them all now, so be here with the one you’ve chosen. Breathe. Set an intention for this task: who are you doing this for, and why? For me, I am often doing my work tasks for you guys (my readers), but I do personal tasks for my family or to help myself. Set a simple intention: I’m writing this article to help my readers who are struggling.

Then let that intention move you as you focus on the task. Be present with the task, noticing how your body feels as you do the task, letting yourself melt into the doing of it, pouring yourself into it as fully as you can. You might get the urge to switch to something else — just notice that and stay with the urge, not letting yourself follow it unthinkingly, then return to the task when the urge subsides. Remember your intention, then let yourself be fully immersed in the task.

5. Practice letting go, with a smile. Having too much to do, and wanting to get it all done as soon as possible … can actually get in the way of doing. This desire to get it all done is an obstacle. Luckily, it’s a great practice to work with this obstacle!

The practice is letting it go. Notice what you think you need to do (your ideal), and let go of it. Instead, tell yourself you don’t know, and instead be open to the reality that’s right in front of you: you can only do one task. Be open to that idea, and the stress will be lowered.

And as you let go of your ideal and open to the reality, smile. Be grateful for the moment you actually have, rather than wishing for the one you don’t have. Smile, and be happy now, rather than waiting for happiness to come at some unspecified date.

In the end, will these suggestions clear away your to-do list? No. You’ll always have a lot of things on your list, and not enough time to do them all. What this does is help you to deal with that fact, and make you more mindful and focused in the middle of that reality.

Life is too short to spend most of it stressed out by an unchangeable fact. We don’t have to waste our time and mental energy worrying about too much to do. Instead, we can smile and be happy doing what we can do now.

zen habits

Essential Zen Habits of 2016

By Leo Babauta

It’s been quite an amazing year for me and Zen Habits. I’m glad I’ve had all of you along with me for the ride.

Other than the 2016 election and other craziness in the world, which I decline to discuss on this site, a lot has happened for me personally:

  • Eva’s dad died this month, and we’ve flown back to Guam for the funeral. The good news is we’re finishing the year here on Guam, with family we love and miss, and it is gorgeous here.
  • My son Rain graduated from high school and started college, and my daughter Chloe moved back to Guam and started working at the newspaper. We had a family reunion in the summer for my wife’s family. Our son Justin moved back to California and focused on learning 3D animation. My other son Seth got into making electronic music, my daughter Maia started playing in a band and animating, and my other daughter Noelle saved up for a trip to Guam.
  • I traveled a lot: a retreat in Ecuador’s cloud rainforest, a hiking trip in Japan, a cruise from Sydney to Hawaii through New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, a nine-day drive around Iceland, and visits to Stockholm, New York, Maui, Guam, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu. Actually it was a bit too much travel, but I’m not complaining!
  • I got into ultralight hiking and explored the Desolation Wilderness, and have more hikes planned for next year, and camped in the Sierra Nevada with my wife and kids.
  • I dove deeper into learning about mindfulness. It became probably the biggest focus for me this year, and I hope to continue that in 2017.
  • I worked with developers to develop the Habit Zen web app for habits, and did a successful Kickstarter campaign for it.
  • I wrote several ebooks: the Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness, Ultralight: The Zen Habits Guide to Traveling Light & Living Light, and the Habit Guide Ebook
  • I created 8 video courses for my Sea Change Program members.

Whew! What a year! I’m grateful to be here through all of this wondrousness.

The Best Zen Habits Posts of 2016

To wrap up this year, here are my favorite Zen Habits post from 2016:

And more

For more best of Zen Habits:

zen habits

Mindfully Free of Wanting People to Be a Certain Way

By Leo Babauta

One of the biggest sources of difficulties for every single human being is the desire for people to be a certain way.

We can’t seem to help it: we want the world to be the way we want it. Unfortunately, reality always has different plans, and people behave in less-than-ideal ways.

The problem isn’t other people. It’s our ideals.

Yes, I think it would be great if people stopped killing animals for food and fashion, and became vegan instead. But that’s not the reality I’m faced with, and it’s not going to happen for quite some time, if ever.

Yes, I think it would be great if my kids behaved perfectly all the time, but that’s not the reality of kids. Or any human beings, for that matter.

Yes, it would be great if my wife always agreed with me, but that’s not going to happen.

So the problem is:

  • We have ideals about how people should act, or ways we’d like them to be.
  • People don’t act in those ideal ways, or aren’t the way we’d like them to be.
  • We get bothered by that reality. Frustrated, angry, sad, disappointed, stressed.
  • This makes us unhappy, and damages our relationships with others.

This is obviously not great.

We have a couple options:

  1. Stick rigidly to the way we want people to be, and be upset when they don’t meet those ideals.
  2. Stick rigidly to the way we want people to be, and try really hard to make them be that way. (This pretty much never works.)
  3. Let go of the ideals and be happier and less frustrated.

When we think about it this way, it’s obvious that option 3 is the best route. We’ll talk about this option soon, but let’s talk about a couple objections first.

Objections to Letting Go

When people are confronted with the idea of letting go of their ideals about other people, they usually have a few objections:

  • Objection: But then people get away with bad behavior. There’s a difference between wanting someone to behave a certain way (and getting upset when they don’t) … and accepting that a person is acting a certain way, and then compassionately finding an appropriate response. In the first case, you are angry at them for their behavior, and your response out of anger is likely to make things worse. In the second case, you aren’t bothered too much, but can see that their behavior is harmful and want to help them not harm. You can’t actually control them, but you can try to help. If you try to help but need them to accept your help, then it will be continued frustration. Help but let go of the ideal outcome you’d like from your offered help.
  • Objection: But what about abusive behavior? There’s a difference between being agonized about the abuse, and accepting that the person is abusive and taking appropriate action. Letting go of your ideals about how the abusive person should act doesn’t mean you let them abuse you. It just means you accept that they are an abuser, while taking the appropriate action of getting away from them, and reporting them or seeking help for them if it’s appropriate. Don’t leave yourself in a place where you’re being harmed, but that doesn’t mean you have to be afflicted by someone else’s actions.
  • Objection: But then we don’t make the world a better place. If people behave in less-than-ideal ways, you can agonize about it while trying to change them, or you can accept that the world is not ideal … but calmly and compassionately work to help others. In both cases, you’re trying to do good … but in the second case, you’re not agonizing about how things are.

So these objections are all about wanting to change people’s bad behavior. This article is about inner acceptance of “bad” behavior (or what I think of as “not ideal”) … but once you have inner acceptance, you can take appropriate external action. That might be helping, being compassionate, getting to safety, talking calmly and lovingly to someone, reporting abusive behavior, getting counseling, or many more appropriate actions that come from a place of love, compassion and understanding rather than frustration and anger.

Letting Go of Ideals

So how do you let go of wanting people to be a certain way?

First, reflect on how these ideals are harming you and others. This wanting your way, this wanting a specific version of reality … is making you frustrated, unhappy, angry. It’s harming your relationship. It’s likely making the other person unhappy as well. This is all caused by an attachment to expectations and ideals.

Next, reflect on wanting yourself and others to be happy. If the ideals and expectations are harming yourself and others … wouldn’t it be nice to stop harming yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice to be happy instead of frustrated? Think about the desire to have a better relationship with other people as well, and for them to be happier in their relationship with you. This is your intention, and it is one of love.

Third, notice the ideals and frustrations as they arise. See when someone else is frustrating you, and reflect on what ideal you’re holding for them. How do you want them to behave instead? Don’t get caught up in your story of why they should behave that way, but instead just take note of the ideal. See that this ideal is harming you. Decide that it’s not useful to you.

Also notice your mental pattern of resentment when someone doesn’t meet your expectations, and decide to try to catch it early. It’s a pattern you can be aware of and catch early, and decide to change your pattern.

Next, mindfully observe the tightness. Turn your attention to your body, the tightness that comes from holding on to this ideal. Pay attention to how it feels, the quality of the energy in your body, where it’s located, how it changes. In this moment of observing, you are awake, rather than being stuck in the daydream of your story about why this person should be behaving differently.

At this point, you can decide to try a different pattern.

A Different Way

So now, you can practice a different way of being.

Here are some ideas I’ve found useful:

  • Instead of fixing on one way this person (or situation) should be, be open to other possibilities. Open yourself to lots of different ways this person or situation can be.
  • Try to understand the person, rather than judging them based on limited information. Try to understand why they’d act this way — perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps they’re suffering in some way. Perhaps this is their strategy for protecting themselves.
  • Try to see the good-hearted nature of their actions, rather than one where they are a bad person. For example, you might see that they are tender-hearted and afraid, and so are acting out of fear. Or they just want to be happy, and this is their strategy for being happy. Or maybe they have good intentions and want to help, but are misguided. We all have a good heart deep down inside, but it might take several layers to see that. Anger can stem from jealousy which stems from insecurities and fear, which stems from a tender-hearted worry that we’re not good enough. The angry action isn’t justified, but there is still a good heart at the core.
  • See their suffering that causes their actions and know that you have suffered in the same way. Remember how that suffering feels, so you can see what they’re going through. Compassionately wish for an end to their suffering.
  • Tell yourself that you don’t know how people should act. Honestly, I don’t always know how I should act … I am fooling myself if I think I know how other people should act. Instead, I might be curious about their actions.
  • See the other person as a teacher. They are helping you practice mindfulness, and let go of your old patterns. They are teaching you about reality vs. ideals, about how humans act.
  • Relax. Seriously, see the tightness you’re holding, and just relax. Smile. Be happy in this present moment.
  • Practice see the goodness in the other person, in yourself, and in the present moment. There is always an underlying goodness in this moment, if you choose to notice. Trust in this goodness, and you’ll be afraid less and happier more.

These are some practices. Try them, practice them over and over. I think you’ll be happier for it, and every relationship will be better.

zen habits

A Guide to Dealing with Dissatisfaction with Ourselves

By Leo Babauta

The more I talk to people about their struggles, the more I realize that we all have some sense of dissatisfaction with ourselves.

I have it, and I’d be willing to bet everyone reading this does too. Consider some of the ways we’re dissatisfied with ourselves:

  • We constantly have a feeling that we should be better, doing more, more productive, more mindful, and so on.
  • We doubt ourselves when we have to speak in a group or in public, and feel that we’re not good enough to contribute.
  • We are unhappy with certain aspects of ourselves, like our bodies, the way our faces look, the way we procrastinate or get angry or lose patience as a partner or parent.
  • We think we need to improve.

This is a constant condition, and even if we get a compliment from someone, we find a way to undercut it in our minds because we think we’re not good enough for that compliment.

It affects our lives in so many ways: we might not be good at making friends, speaking in public or in a group, finding a partner, doing the work we’re passionate about, finding contentment with ourselves and our lives.

And we don’t like feeling this way, so we run. We find distraction, comfort in food or alcohol or drugs or shopping, lash out at other people when we’re feeling defensive about ourselves. It’s at the heart of nearly all of our problems.

So how do we deal with this underlying problem? The answer is profoundly simple, yet not easy.

Before I go into dealing with the problem, we should discuss something first — the idea that we need to be dissatisfied with ourselves to make life improvements.

Unhappiness with Self as a Motivator

I used to think, as many people do, that if we’re unhappy with ourselves, we’ll be driven to get better. And if we were all of a sudden content with ourselves, we’d stop doing anything.

I no longer believe this. I do think we’re often driven to make improvements because we’re dissatisfied with ourselves, and that’s not a bad thing. We have hope for something better.

But consider:

  • When we are unhappy with ourselves, it’s hard to be happy when we do something good. We’re still dissatisfied. So doing something good, then, isn’t the reward it could be.
  • We have habits of running from this bad feeling about ourselves, so procrastination and distraction become the default mode, and this gets in the way of our efforts. In fact, we’ll never solve the problems of distraction and procrastination until we can learn to deal with this problem of unhappiness with self.
  • Unhappiness with self can get in the way of connecting with others (because we think we’re not good enough, and so can feel anxiety about meeting others). We can’t solve this, no matter how much we want to improve, until we address the underlying issue.
  • Even when we make an improvement, the feeling of dissatisfaction with self doesn’t go away. So we try to improve some more, and it still doesn’t go away. In my experience, it never does, until you’re ready to face it head on.
  • During this awesome period of self improvement driven by dissatisfaction, we don’t love ourselves. Which is a sad thing.

So is it possible to get things done and make improvements without dissatisfaction with self? I’ve discovered that the answer is a definite “yes.”

You can exercise and eat healthy not because you dislike your body and want to make it better … but because you love yourself and want to inspire your family. You can do work out of love for the people it will help. You can declutter, get out of debt, read more, and meditate not because you’re dissatisfied with yourself … but because you love yourself and others.

In fact, I would argue that you’re more likely to do all of those things if you love yourself, and less likely if you dislike yourself.

Dealing with Dissatisfaction

What can we do about our continual dissatisfaction with ourselves? How do we deal with self-doubt, feeling like we’re not good enough, unhappiness with certain parts of ourselves?

It turns out that these feelings are perfect opportunities — to learn about ourselves and how to be friends with ourselves.

Here’s how:

  1. Each time we have these feelings, we can pause and just notice.
  2. Turn towards the feeling, seeing how it feels in your body. Be curious about how it feels, physically.
  3. Instead of running from this feeling, stay with it. Instead of rejecting it, try opening up to it and accepting it.
  4. Open yourself up to the pain of this feeling, and see it as a path to opening up your heart. In this way, getting in touch with the pain is a liberating act.
  5. See this difficult feeling as a sign of a good heart, soft and tender and loving. You wouldn’t care about being a good person, or a “good enough” person, if you didn’t have a good heart. There is a basic goodness beneath all of our difficulties, and we just need to stay and notice this goodness.
  6. Smile at yourself, and cultivate an unconditional friendliness to all that you see.

Now, I’m not claiming that this is an easy method, nor that it will cure our difficulties in one fell swoop. But it can start to form a trusting relationship with yourself, which can make an amazing difference.

I recommend that you practice this each time you notice self-criticism, self-doubt, unhappiness with yourself, harshness towards what you see in yourself. It only has to take a minute, as you face what you feel and stay with it, with unconditional friendliness.

If you really want to focus on this powerful change, reflect on it once a day by journaling at the end of the day, reviewing how you did and what you can do to remember to practice.

In the end, I think you’ll find that love is a more powerful motivator than unhappiness with yourself. And I hope you’ll find a friendship with yourself that will radiate out into your relationships with everyone else you know and meet.

zen habits

Zen of Busy: Continual Letting Go When You’re Overwhelmed

By Leo Babauta

These past two weeks have been hectic and exhausting for me. My wife’s father passed away, and I’ve been in non-stop planning, coordinating, cooking, cleaning, driving around mode.

Yesterday was the funeral, and it was a long, tiring and busy day. Incredibly sad, but busy.

In the midst of this busyness, I’ve been trying to remember the practice of “continual letting go.”

I see it as a Zen practice: whatever you think you know, let go of it. Whatever you are sure of, let go of it. My mantra is: You know nothing. The result is that when I remind myself of this, I try to see things from a fresh perspective. I realize that I think I know something but I don’t really, and so I try to see it as if I don’t know.

What’s the point of this? By continually letting go, we don’t have to be so stressed out. When we realize we don’t know:

  • We don’t have to be mad when someone is acting in a way we don’t like.
  • We don’t have to have anxiety when we don’t know if things will go as planned or hoped.
  • We don’t have to have all the answers. We can have questions and curiosity instead.
  • We don’t have to get into a tense “No I’m right” battle with anyone else.
  • We don’t judge other people as much, so we can be open to who they are and have a good relationship with them.
  • We don’t have to control things, but can instead just try to be helpful without controlling the outcome.

The benefit of this is that by continually letting go of what I think things should be, of what I think I know, of needing to have control or certainty … I can just let go and relax. I can do my best, but not stress out about it when things don’t go my way.

I don’t have to be afflicted by anything. I can be busy, but not afflicted by that busyness. I can be tired, but not afflicted by the fact of my tiredness. I can have things go differently than I planned, but not be afflicted by that fact. The first conditions (busy, tired, things not going as planned) are not always in my control. But I can let go of knowing, and so not be afflicted by any of these conditions. Being afflicted by the conditions of life is what causes our real problems.

So in the midst of tiredness, busyness, chaos … I try to remember to let go, continually.

When someone comes to me with something unexpected, I try to let go of what I thought the situation was. Then I open up to this new situation, with fresh eyes.

When someone is cross with me or grumpy, I try to let go of how I think they should be acting. And then be curious about why they’re acting that way, and love them in the midst of their suffering.

When I’m tired and have a lot to do, I try to let go of the idea that I shouldn’t be tired or busy. Then I look at the situation with fresh eyes and realize that I can do these tasks despite the discomfort, out of love for my family.

When things are messy or disorderly, not the way I like them, I try to let go of the way I think things should be. Then I try to see the situation with fresh eyes, understanding that there will always be chaos and mess, and that this too can be loved.

I see that I’m stressed and holding onto the way I want things to be, and so I tell myself I know nothing. And I let go. Then something else comes up and tightness comes up in my body, and I notice this and try to let go. I breathe, smile, and open up. I see things as a beginner. It happens again and again, often from one moment to the next, and I try to continuously let go, let go, let go.

And by letting go of what I know, I’m opening myself up to what’s in front of me. This unfolding moment of unexpectedness.

And it is truly magnificent.

zen habits

In Memory of Juan “Brand” Cruz, a Man Who Inspired Me to Be Better

By Leo Babauta

About 10 days ago, my wife Eva’s father Juan “Brand” Salas Cruz passed away, and he left an immense legacy.

He also changed me in ways I am only now beginning to realize.

He was a man of fierce and immense love for his family and anyone whose life he touched — and he touched a lot of lives, for many years. My father-in-law Juan was a man who was there for anyone, whether you were one of his beloved grandchildren, nephews or nieces … or a friend of his at the Guam Legislature … or a fellow rancher who was in need. He was there, always.

He was the guy who was called when someone was in trouble. The guy who made huge amounts of foods for weddings, graduation parties, funerals, birthday celebrations. The man who would fight for his loved ones, would be a second father to nieces and nephews, would do anything at all for his brothers and sisters, who poured out love for his grandchildren.

He changed me, because I saw him live that message of love every day that I knew him. He changed me, because he inspired me to be a better man. And I love him for that.

A Life of Contribution

Juan Salas Cruz was born in 1948 in Santa Rita, Guam, when the village was still newly built in the red-dirt hills of southern Guam. It was shortly after World War II, and Guam was in ruins from war, when the Japanese occupied the island until 1944.

He was born to his parents Juan Camacho and Luisa Salas Cruz, the “Brand” family, and he was one of 14 brothers and sisters. So a huge family, one that is incredibly loyal to each other.

He served in the Navy in the Vietnam War, worked at the Guam Telephone Authority, and then he met his wife, Lourdes Santos, who he loved for 40 years. They had three children together: my wife Eva, along with Amy and Juan Jr. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for these three kids.

Juan worked for many years in the Guam Legislature, as chief of staff and key administrative staffer for several Guam senators. He was the man behind the scenes for many people in the government, the problem solver, the mover of worlds.

He was also the first person in his family to get a college degree, and he had a strong intelligence that he didn’t often show off but that you could see in his eyes and actions.

But he was more than an academic: in his heart, he was a fisherman and a rancher. He loved fishing with a “talaya” (the Chamorro word for fishing net) and would take his nephews and nieces with him to remote beaches to catch fish that he loved to barbecue. He absolutely loved his ranch in Dededo (in northern Guam) and raised pigs that he would roast for people’s special occasions, along with vegetables for his delicious soups. He was often found with red dirt smeared all over his clothes and cowboy boots after a long day at the ranch, and some of his best friends were his ranch neighbors.

How I Knew Him

Some of my favorite memories of him were when I would help him cook. He had a huge outdoor kitchen with massive pots and pans that he got from Navy surplus, and it seemed like every week there was a big event he was cooking for.

I would help him make red rice (a Guam specialty), or make incredible amounts of fried rice, eggs, bacon, pancakes and more for family breakfasts on New Year. We would barbecue, smoke beef, fry fish, bake hams, roast pigs. And then after all that, we would clean those massive pots with a big spray nozzle and hose down the kitchen.

I remember helping him after a typhoon had devastated the island and we had no power or running water. He would drive his big red 4×4 truck around getting water for family members and friends, helping them fix their houses, cleaning up debris of torn-up houses and trees, getting equipment to whoever needed them.

I remember him with his grandchildren, my kids … and how they were the world to him. He threw big birthday parties for them, took them to the ranch to ride tractors and help feed the pigs, brought them donuts on random mornings just because he was thinking of them, made them their favorite dishes and desserts, was always looking for toys for them, and would kiss them as if it were the last kiss he’d ever get.

I know how much he loved his home island of Guam. There was no other place like it, and he would say, “Guam is good,” with a pride and love in his eyes. He loved the backcountry ranches but also the people in the villages, and he had friends everywhere. Everywhere. He would listen to island music (and also country music) and he talked to me about his pride in the Chamorro people.

His Love Lives On

It’s an understatement to say that he loved his brothers and sisters and their kids — including his brothers and sisters on his wife’s side, and their kids, they were no different in his eyes, all family, all deep inside his heart. Love is a tremendous word, but it’s inadequate to express how he felt. He would do anything for them, and often did.

He had nephews who were sons to him, on both sides of the family. He had nieces who were daughters to him. And their kids were his grandchildren. He raised not only his own kids but many others, and they are so broken up about the loss of this father figure in their lives. He went to any length to help them, and taught them so much about life.

He is not dead, because he lives on in their hearts, in their actions, everything they do reflecting some part of him, from how they treat each other and others in the community, to how they made a huge fiesta spread with several dozen dishes last night to honor him.

He lives on in me, my wife, my kids. In his daughter Amy, in Juan Jr. and his wife Jenny, in every relative who loved him and wants to express that love in some way. He lives on in his wife, Lourdes, who now has to go on without her partner. I’m so sorry for your loss, mom. I’m sorry for everyone’s loss, because his cowboy boots can never be filled, nor can the place he holds in our hearts.

All we can do is live by his example, and be better people, out of love for him.

zen habits

Compassion in the Midst of Madness

By Leo Babauta

Whether you’re in the U.S. or not, the results of yesterday’s election can bring up some strong feelings — maybe outrage or depression, maybe elation and shock, maybe contempt for others.

In this crazy emotional time, I urge you to try a compassion practice.

Perhaps, like some people I know, you are angry about the outcome, and can’t believe your fellow Americans would elect the person they elected. Perhaps you’re feeling vindicated, and are unhappy with the way your fellow Americans have steered this country for the last eight years. Perhaps you’re not from the U.S., and you’re feeling scorn for Americans, or confusion, after the results of this election.

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely to come from a place of non-understanding. That’s not likely to help our community, locally or globally, nor will it help our own happiness. It can be a transformative practice to practice compassion right now.

The truth is, we each have personally experienced what the other side is going through. The results of the election represent the feelings of millions of other people — they speak in some way for our fellow human beings. We have each felt these emotions: feeling left behind, feeling frustrated, distrusting, powerless, angry, hopeful for change, disliking the change that we see.

Imagine yourself feeling those feelings, one at a time. Feel how difficult they are. Now imagine that someone from the other side is feeling those things.

See if you can feel compassion for a fellow human being for feeling them. Feel a connection to them, because you too have suffered through this difficulty. Feel a connection to all your fellow humans who are going through their difficulties right now, in the U.S. and around the world.

We are connected, even if we have immense differences. We live and work together, we feed each other and depend on each other, we support each other and share ideas, we all are going through immense change and struggle, we have struggles in our lives and feel helpless to change the world at large.

The other “side” might have a different worldview that causes them to vote a different way than you, to want different policies … but underneath, we all have the same tender hearts. And by finding this common ground, we can reconnect to each other in a compassionate way.

zen habits