The 5 Keys to Forming Any Habit

By Leo Babauta

We all struggle with our habits — sticking to them, staying motivated, getting started, dealing with disruptions, it can become a big struggle.

And yet, to change our habits is to change our lives. If we can’t make habit changes, we will be stuck in our current way of doing things, which might not be so helpful.

If you want to lose weight, beat procrastination, write a book, get fit, live mindfully … you have to develop habits.

Luckily, the process is simpler than most people realize. Simple, not easy: you have to be committed and really want to make the change. Otherwise you’ll just quit when things get difficult.

Here’s the first thing to keep in mind: just choose one habit for now. Yes, you’ll want to change a bunch of things. Don’t ignore my advice. Later, you can form more, but for now, focus on just one.

With that in mind, follow these simple steps:

  1. Start super small. I’ve said this a million times on this blog, so you might gloss over this one — but don’t. It’s the most important thing. Do one habit at a time, and do it super small. How small? Just meditate for 2 minutes. Just write for 5 minutes. Just do 5 pushups or 5 sun salutations. Just eat one vegetable a day. If you start small, you remove the resistance to starting, which is the hardest part. I used to tell myself, “Just put on your shoes and get out the door,” and that’s how I formed my running habit, and I ended up running several marathons and an ultramarathon because of this small habit. For meditation, I tell myself, “Just get your butt on the cushion.” For drawing, just get out your pad & pencil.
  2. Remove choice. Don’t think about it — make a decision ahead of time to do it every day at the same time for at least a month, then each day, don’t make it a decision. Just start. Have a trigger that’s already in your daily life (like waking up, or showering, brushing your teeth, starting the coffee maker, eating lunch, whatever) and use that as the trigger for an when/then statement: “When I wake up, I’ll meditate for 2 minutes.” Put written reminders near where the trigger happens. The main point is: make the decision to do it every day, and then just do it without thinking.
  3. Get some accountability. Have at least one person you report to — an accountability partner. Or a group of friends. Or a walking/running partner. It doesn’t matter how you set it up, but having someone to report to means you are much more likely to push yourself past resistance when it comes up.
  4. Make it fun, find gratitude. Don’t just do the habit as if it were a chore. See if you can enjoy it. How can you make it fun, play, joyous? Can you find gratitude in the middle of your workout? The habit is much more likely to stick if you focus on the parts you enjoy, rather than mindlessly try to check it off your to-do list.
  5. Be committed. Why are you doing this habit? Reflect on this during the first week, as you do the habit. What deeper reason do you have? Are you doing this habit to help others? As an act of self-love, so that you can be healthier or happier? If you’re just doing it because you think you should, or because it sounds cool, you won’t really push past the resistance.

You can start with just the first item above, but I would recommend adding as many of the other four as you can during your first week or two, because you’ll be increasing your odds of success with each one.

This is doable. You can change your old ways by consciously doing something new repeatedly, until it’s a habit. Take small steps to get started, remove choice so you don’t think about whether to start or not, get some accountability and understand your motivation so you push past resistance, and find gratitude in the midst of the action.

One habit, done daily. Small steps with intention, support and a smile. It can make all the difference in the world.

zen habits

The Perfect System

By Leo Babauta

Most of us are constantly looking for the Perfect System:

  • The perfect morning routine
  • The perfect system for dealing with email
  • The perfect system for productivity, to end procrastination
  • The perfect system for finances or building wealth
  • The perfect system for learning anything
  • The perfect system for being mindful, getting fit, losing weight, decluttering, building new habits, being a parent, building a new career, and on and on

Entire industries are built off of this desire to find the perfect system for anything that you have uncertainty about.

I know, because I’ve spent a good deal of my life looking for the Perfect System in so many areas. I’ve developed nearly perfect systems in many parts of my life.

But today, I’m going to share something I’ve worked years developing: my Perfect System.

Perfect System for what? For anything, my friend. Anything in life. All of it.

But first, let’s look at why other systems fail.

Why All Other Systems are Crushed

You can put your morning routine into the perfect order, but it won’t solve your problems. Why not? Because it doesn’t address your root problem. It’s only a surface solution.

The root problem is uncertainty.

Let me repeat that, because it’s the key to all of this: the root problem we’re trying to solve when we’re looking for the perfect system in any area of our life is uncertainty.

Does your day feel chaotic, overwhelming, uncontrolled? Then you try to address that chaos by finding a perfect system.

Are you entering a new, scary area in your life? Then you try to find out how others conquered the uncertainty of this area, what their perfect system was. You’d probably be willing to pay hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, for their perfect system.

Are you overwhelmed by email, social media, finances, habits, diet and exercise, clutter, and more? Then you try to deal with the chaos and uncertainty of all of that by buying a book, a program, a course that teaches you the perfect system. I have a few to sell you.

But the certainty you’re looking for doesn’t come, no matter how much you pay. No matter what system you try. It might seem like it at first, so you feel some temporary relief. But in the end, the uncertainty comes back, because you still don’t know what the hell you’re doing. The fear arises. You search some more.

Uncertainty, and the fear and discomfort that arises from uncertainty, will always be there, unless you’re doing something you absolutely know how to do (like watching TV, checking Facebook or playing games). And who wants to only do the easy stuff in life? You’ll never learn anything new, never push into greatness, always run from the fear.

Doing the easy stuff and running from the fear doesn’t work anyway. You still have uncertainty, but you try to ignore it, assuage it with the distractions.

All other systems but mine are crushed by uncertainty, fear, discomfort, and running from these difficulties.

The Perfect System to Crush All Others

OK, so now we see why the other systems are all weak, scrawny, laughable attempts at making our lives better. We scoff at them!

I have a system that will destroy all others, crush them like soft peaches. The Perfect System.

I am going to give it to you for free. Unfortunately, it won’t work for you unless you’re willing to push yourself a bit and do a bit of work. I realize that means it’s not perfect for most of you, who want something easy and certain. You are not worthy of my Perfect System, so don’t read it.

The rest of you (both of you), read on!

Here’s the system:

  1. Notice when you are looking for certainty from a system, course, book, and so on. Notice when you’re procrastinating or running to distraction because of uncertainty.
  2. Acknowledge that you are feeling uncertainty. That you are trying to find certainty.
  3. Say to yourself, “Certainty is the enemy of awesome. Uncertainty is the fuel for an amazing life.” Repeat it until you believe it. Say it with gusto, zest and verve! Yell it out loud until your neighbors look up from their phones in dismay!
  4. Resolve yourself to not run from uncertainty like a coward, but to face it like a warrior, like a goddess, like a Jedi Ninja Pirate Demigod.
  5. Stay with the feeling of fear and uncertainty. It is uncomfortable. You laugh at the discomfort in derision, laugh at its pathetic attempts at making you flee.
  6. Push further into uncertainty and fear by doing whatever you are afraid of. Feel the fear. Feel the uncertainty. Feel it transforming you into a powerful being, trembling with the discomfort of being amazing and delicious. Cry out from the pain of it all, the pain of being beautiful and alive, the pain of joining with the likes of Odysseus and Genghis Khan and Joan of Arc, the anguish of your divinity, the pangs and torment of becoming a celestial deity.

Repeat until whatever you’re doing becomes comfortable. Then push into new uncertain territory, feeling the groundlessness of growth and learning and fearlessness.

You no longer need to run. You can stay in courage and awesomeness.

You no longer need to find certainty or answers or systems. You have all you need inside you, bursting with light and goodness, shining your powers into the vast and tremulous universe.

zen habits

The Antidote to Self-Harshness & Resentment

By Leo Babauta

There are two poisons that have hurt me so much over the years:

  1. Self-harshness — I have so often been critical of myself, harsh on myself, about all my little failures, that this harshness has become one of the biggest things holding me back.
  2. Resentment – I’ve increasingly become aware of how I have a mental pattern of resentment that hurts my relationships, especially with my loved ones. They don’t behave the way I want, so I notice myself feeling resentful that they couldn’t do things differently.

The truth is, these are the biggest problems for most of us. We don’t love ourselves the way we are. We don’t love others the way they are. And the harshness that results is painful and harmful to us and the people we love most.

How do we deal with these two poisons?

There’s a simple antidote. It’s not easy, but it’s pretty simple.

It’s a habit of loving that which we normally dislike.

In fact, this small habit can transform all of our problems.

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been procrastinating (I know, a stretch, just go with it). You’re running from something that makes you uncomfortable, and you go to your favorite distraction instead. What if, instead of running from the discomfort and uncertainty — you gave them some love? You wouldn’t have to run. You’d face the uncertainty with love, and just work in the midst of it. (Btw, I have a course on reprogramming procrastination going on right now, join my Sea Change Program to practice with me.)

Imagine that you have anxiety about something coming up (let’s say a presentation). You’re afraid of the presentation, because you have uncertainty about how you’ll do. You want to get away from this uncertainty. What if you practice loving this uncertainty? You might not feel so anxious. What if you gave some of that good love to your feelings of anxiety as well? You wouldn’t be harsh on yourself about being anxious.

It’s easier said than done, of course. So how do you get better at it? Practice.

Antidote Practice

Here’s how to work with this practice:

  1. Imagine a good friend or loved one, someone who you can love whole-heartedly with ease. Send this person some love right now. Wish for them to be happy. Love them just as they are, in all their wonder. Now here’s the important part: notice where in your body you feel this love. This is your Love Muscle (it’s not dirty, get your mind out of the gutter). Practice some more, so that you can call up this feeling of love, from your Love Muscle, at will.
  2. Now turn your Love Muscle onto something about yourself. Notice something about yourself that you like. Work the Love Muscle, and love this thing about yourself.
  3. Practice on something you don’t like. Now try turning the Love Muscle onto something about yourself that you’re usually not fond of. You know how to use the Love Muscle by now, so give it a shot. How can you love this thing about yourself just as it is? Imagine a good friend who is having a hard time, who is flawed … can you love that good friend? Can you produce the same feeling of love about this part of yourself? Try it with different parts of yourself, both physical parts and mental/emotional parts of you.
  4. Practice on other people. Notice things about other people that you like. Send love to these things. Now notice things that you don’t like. Send love to these things as well. Practice on people all day long.
  5. Practice when you feel resentment. When you notice yourself resenting something about another person, or resenting their behavior … send love to this part of the person. Love them as they are. Exercise your Love Muscle. Send love to the part of you that was feeling frustration or resentment.
  6. Practice when you’re feeling harsh on yourself. Whenever you notice yourself disliking something about yourself, send love to this thing about yourself. Send love to the part of you that dislikes the other part.

Basically, you can practice all the time. Over and over, reminding yourself and practicing.

You can practice on everything:

  • When you have been lazy or procrastinated, notice the feeling of harshness or disappointment that comes up in yourself. Give this feeling your full attention, and all of your love.
  • When you eat too much, or eat junk food, notice the feeling of pleasure but also guilt. Give both these feelings your love.
  • When you are interacting with someone and they annoy you, notice the annoyance. Give some loving to this feeling of annoyance, and to the person who is annoying you.
  • When you’ve been distracted all day, maybe feeling a bit anxious … notice the feelings of being distracted, of rushing, of anxiety. Love these feelings with all your heart.
  • When you notice your heart shutting down to someone, or to some experience, notice what it feels like when your heart starts to shut down. Love this feeling of shutting down, and love the thing you’re shutting down to.
  • When you’re meditating and feeling like you’re not good at it, notice what not being good at it feels like. Turn to that experience and give it some love. Love the part of you that is attempting this at all.

And so on. Every experience, every feeling, every person, every aspect of life … you can love it as the Dalai Lama would, as Jesus would, as the biggest-hearted Goddess of Love would. You are practicing loving life itself. And that’s something worth falling in love with.

zen habits

Three Practices for the Overwhelmed, Stressed, Anxious

By Leo Babauta

Many of us feel overwhelmed by all we need to do, and it can be downright stressful.

I’d like to share three practices to take you from overwhelmed to just whelmed.

You can’t eliminate stress, anxiety or the feeling of being overwhelmed from your life, nor would you want to. However, you can see them as wonderful places to practice some amazing things that will help in all areas of your life.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious … you can do one or more of these three practices:

  1. The Practice of Training in Uncertainty. When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it comes from a feeling of uncertainty. We don’t know how things are going to go, we worry that we can’t do it all, we don’t know how we’re going to do with any of it, we’re uncertain that we’re good enough to handle all of this. Uncertainty. Our minds don’t like that feeling, and we want stable ground under our feet, something solid, certain, or reassuring. Unfortunately life never gives us that reassuring certainty. So we’re always running, always trying to cope with the uncertainty by doing as much as we can, making lists, finding the perfect software or system, running to distractions. Instead, we can train our minds to stay with the uncertainty, and gradually become more comfortable in this state. And then we can be at peace in the middle of chaos. Read more about this practice.
  2. The Practice of Letting Go. When we’re stressed out, it’s because we’re attached to something — attached to doing everything, attached to how people see us, attached to meeting a goal or deadline or reaching some outcome, attached to our self-image. What if we could let go of these attachments, and just be in the moment? Things would suddenly become easier. Luckily letting go is something that’s within our power. Read more about this practice.
  3. The Practice of Doing Just One Activity. Our minds are stressed and overwhelmed because we’re thinking about our uncertain future … but what if we learned to trust the present moment? What if, instead, we just fully immersed ourselves in the activity before us? This is actually a letting go practice, and it’s also a being-fully-present practice. Just fully be in the activity you’re doing, just one activity. Just read this post. Just answer this single email. Just wash this one dish. As if it were the only activity and the most important activity in the world. Because it is. Read more about this practice.

These are all transformative practices, and you can practice them one at a time or one after the other (in the order above, most likely).

Each only takes a moment, but they can transform your world. Try them, with love in your heart, and see a deep trust in yourself start to grow.

Join Me for a Mindfulness Retreat

Would you like to train with me in these practices? I’d love for you to join me in my Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat, from 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

Undone: How to Change Our Procrastination Patterns

By Leo Babauta

Procrastination starts from an avoidance of something from fear, then becomes a pattern that hardens into a habit.

We reinforce this procrastination habit through years of practice, and it hurts us in so many ways in our lives — not only with work tasks, but much more.

The procrastination habit affects:

  • Dealing with our finances head-on
  • Health habits (putting off exercise, for example)
  • Dealing with our health problems (putting it off makes it much worse)
  • Relationships (putting off difficult conversations)
  • Creating, art, meaningful work
  • Decluttering and simplifying
  • Being on time (and being late can cause us stress)
  • Learning new things

And much more. Those are just some of the most visible examples, but we procrastinate all day long, by checking our phones, favorite websites, email, messages, news, watching TV, playing games, and … well, you all know your favorite procrastination techniques.

So the question becomes, how do we stop hurting ourselves, after all these years? How do we start to unravel our hardened procrastination habits and create more helpful patterns?

The answer is to start thinking of these hardened patterns as grooves.

The Grooves of Our Habits

When you first procrastinated, you didn’t have a hardened pattern. You had a choice. You could do your homework (or pick up your toys, perhaps), or you could put that off until later and do something else that’s perhaps more fun.

You felt fear or resistance with one task, which made the other option more appealing. You chose the easy route, and that felt good in the moment. There was immediate reward. There was difficulty later, but that was something future you had to deal with.

All other choices like this were rewarded with immediate gratification. So by repeating this choice over and over, you start to wear a groove into the ground. After awhile, the reward isn’t even needed … the groove becomes so much easier to follow, and getting out of the groove is so much harder. The longer we keep sticking with the groove, the harder it is to change.

Habits are grooves. You stick to the old ones, until you’re willing to put in the effort to get out of the grooves and make new choices.

How do you get out of the groove you’ve made? Conscious effort.

How to Change Your Patterns, or Get Your Groove On

The steps of breaking out of a groove are simple, but they require concentrated effort:

  1. Decide that you’re tired of the old groove. The old groove isn’t serving you. It’s hurting you. When you decide you’re tired of hurting yourself with this particular patterns, you’re ready to change. Assess whether you’re ready right now.
  2. Commit to conscious change. When you’re ready to stop hurting yourself with the old pattern, make a commitment to practice and to be very conscious in changing your groove. Making the commitment to someone else, or a small group of friends or family, is a powerful way to commit.
  3. Set aside time for deliberate practice. You’re not going to change your groove haphazardly. You have to practice consciously and with deliberate effort. Set aside a small practice period each day — just 5 minutes to start with. Don’t put off the task of blocking off your practice period — remember, you’re deliberately practicing a new pattern! I recommend 5-10 minutes every day of the week, first thing in the morning before you check email or your phone or computer. Have a reminder where you will see it first thing in the morning.
  4. Set an intention for your practice. Before you start, tap into your reason by remembering why you’re practicing. In what ways is this hurting you in your life? Is it hurting your career, health, happiness, relationships, finances, meaningful work, your loved ones? Set an intention to practice in order to make these things better.
  5. Set yourself a task. Pick something you’ve been putting off (but perhaps not your hardest or most uncomfortable tasks to start with). Commit to doing that task for just 5 minutes.
  6. Let yourself do nothing else, and watch your patterns. Sit there and do nothing but that task, or do nothing at all. Notice when you have the urge to switch to something else, to get up and get away. Those are your old patterns showing themselves, which in itself is hugely valuable. But just observe the urges, without acting on them but also without judgment. They’re just urges, just feelings that arise, not anything to worry about. Just watch, don’t act, just sit and face the urges. Then return to the task. Over and over, until this is your new groove.

It’s possible to create new grooves, new patterns, that serve you better. I’ve done it dozens of times in my life, perhaps more than a hundred in the last decade. I’m no stronger than anyone else, and so if I can do it, you can too.

The Undone Course

I’m launching a new video course today in my Sea Change Program called Undone: Reprogramming the Procrastination Habit.

I invite you to join us in this 4-week course, by joining Sea Change today.

Sea Change is my monthly membership program for changing habits, learning mindfulness and changing your life. Each month, we focus on something different, and this month it’s procrastination.

What you’ll get with this course:

  1. Two video lessons per week
  2. Exercises to work with your procrastination patterns mindfully
  3. A challenge to do these exercises a short time six days a week for the whole month
  4. A weekly check-in for the challenge so you stay accountable
  5. A live video webinar (for Gold members) and the ability to submit questions for me to answer

I encourage you to join me and have your efforts to change your old patterns be supported by me and more than a thousand other Sea Change members.

Join Sea Change today and start the course.

zen habits

An Intimate Retreat to Create Mindfulness, Life Change & Magic

By Leo Babauta

One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced was opening my heart and making powerful, intimate connections with 20+ strangers in the cloud rainforest of Ecuador last year.

It was this experience of connection and vulnerability, mindfulness and reflecting on life purpose, that inspired me to create my own live, intimate experience: the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in San Francisco (April 21-23, 2017).

I learned through my cloud rainforest experience that when people come together wanting to change their lives, willing to be open and share, to open themselves to reflection and learning … magic can happen. That’s what I’d like to help create in April.

The retreat I’m creating is aimed at teaching you key mindfulness skills that can help you transform your life.

I’m limiting it to 16 spots, to keep it intimate, so I would get your spot immediately 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, putting our mindfulness practices into action in the real world, through:

  • Mindful tea tasting
  • Mindful chocolate tasting
  • Delicious vegan food
  • 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.

The Power of a Retreat

Why go on a retreat? Because in our busy lives, we don’t often have time to step back and look at the big picture.

In this retreat, we’ll be taking time for ourselves. For our happiness and for developing a more mindful life. For understanding how our minds work and how we can start to effect change.

This is something we don’t take time to do, because we’re so busy … by signing up for this retreat, you’re saying that it’s important to take time out for yourself, to work on these issues and to find a better path. You’re saying that you’re important enough to find the time to work on this.

I invite you to make the time, and work with me.

Change Your Life

A lot of us feel stuck in our lives, not able to break out of our old patterns … we have difficulty:

  • changing our habits
  • being more mindful
  • finding our passions
  • overcoming our fears and doubts
  • finding happiness with ourselves
  • connecting to others
  • dealing with anxiety and frustrations
  • being patient
  • and more

This retreat is about breaking through those patterns, understanding why they have such power over us, and finding a mindful path into new territory.

If you go through this retreat with the ability to break through those old patterns and change your life … would it be worth it to you?

Discounted Price for the Retreat

The retreat includes:

  • Accommodations (sharing an AirBnb apartment with other participants, with your own room)
  • Meals (gourmet vegan food)
  • Activities (workshops, tea tasting, chocolate tasting, hike)

It does not include your flight to San Francisco.

The investment for all of this, for changing your life, is $ 3,395 reduced to $ 2,395 until April 7, 2017:

Join My Mindfulness Retreat

I’ll be renting a couple AirBnb apartments with separate beds available (each in their own room), so you can stay in an apartment with other retreat participants … you’ll get a bed in your own bedroom (unless you choose to share a Queen bed with a friend or your spouse/partner).

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 included, where you’ll be staying in an AirBnb apartment with other participants.

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 two spots. Then email us to let us know you want to share a Queen-sized bed with your partner or friend, and I’ll refund you the cost of an extra bed.

Q: What is your refund policy?

A: No refunds after April 7, 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 April 7, you’ll lose your fee if you can’t make it. If you ask for a refund before April 7, we’ll refund 80% of your fee.

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.

Join My Mindfulness Retreat

zen habits

The Main Reason Changing Your Life is Tough

By Leo Babauta

Many of us have things we’d like to change: our exercise and diet habits, procrastination and productivity habits, patience and mindfulness habits, quitting bad habits, decluttering and finances, reading and learning and doing all the things we want to do in life.

But very often we fall short of our hopes.

What’s the problem? Why do we struggle with these changes?

There are lots of reasons, some of them external … but the main reason that it’s difficult to stick to these changes is actually internal.

The main reason changing our lives is hard: we get in our own way.

How? Our thinking is the problem. See if you’ve done any of these:

  • You mess up or procrastinate on your habit changes, and then are harsh or critical on yourself.
  • It’s time to do what you set out to do, but then you put it off and look for something easier. You go to distractions.
  • You are doing something uncomfortable but then look for a way out, tell yourself you can’t do it.
  • When you’re doing something hard, you stress out about it, setting unreasonable expectations and agonizing about whether you can do it.
  • You fantasize about how this will turn out when you meet your goal, but then worry and stress out about whether you will hit that goal.
  • You feel bad about yourself, doubt yourself, beat yourself up … and this prevents you from even taking action.

I think most of us have done these at some time or another, often without even being aware of it. We get in our own way, make things more difficult than they already are.

Why We Get in Our Own Way

Why do we do this, if we’re just making things harder? These are old patterns, built up over the years, that are coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulty.

The reasons we go to the patterns mentioned above:

  • We have lots of uncertainty or discomfort about the task or project, so we look for a way out, and start to rationalize and look for something easier.
  • We create high expectations (our goals, ideals, fantasies) and then fear not meeting those expectations (more uncertainty).
  • We don’t believe in ourselves because we doubt whether we’re good enough to do it (uncertainty about ourselves).
  • Being harsh on ourselves for procrastinating or messing up is a way to deal with the uncertainty that arises when we do these things.

So some kind of uncertainty arises: about ourselves, about how we just procrastinated, about how this project will go, about how to go about doing this task, about whether we’ll meet our goal.

Then we react to this uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty by being reactive: by being critical of ourselves, stressing out about it, procrastinating and seeking distraction, rationalizing why we should quit. These are old patterns, how we cope with the discomfort of uncertainty.

It doesn’t feel good to take these actions, but it’s a natural reaction to the scary feelings of uncertainty. There’s more comfort and certainty in our distractions, running away, self-criticism, harshness, stories about not being able to do this.

The discomfort of uncertainty is what we want to get away from. We get in our own way by trying to get away from feelings of uncertainty.

Getting Out of Our Own Way

So how do we stop getting in our own way?

By getting out of our way.

When we notice that we’re procrastinating, seeking distraction, being harsh or critical, rationalizing quitting or putting something off, stressing out about not being able to do something … we should pause. Just notice what we’re doing.

Then think about how we’re just making things harder. We can make things more effortless by not reacting to the uncertainty.

Instead, notice the feeling of uncertainty in your body. See that it’s there and that you want to get away from it or get control of it. Stay with it and see that it’s just a feeling, nothing to panic about.

In fact, by practicing the mindfulness of staying with discomfort and uncertainty, we can learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.

As we do this, we can just turn back to the task and act. Just simply be with the task, and just take action. Just do.

If we’re procrastinating with a writing task, we can just stop running and instead allow ourselves to feel the uncertainty. Then just start writing, without worrying about running from uncertainty.

If we are beating ourselves up because we haven’t done a good job sticking to a plan, we can notice that we’re being harsh, and instead allow ourselves to feel the uncertainty about ourselves. Then just start again on the plan, letting go of what happened and starting afresh without stress.

If we are stressing out about not meeting a goal or expectation, we can notice that we have uncertainty about this goal, and just stay with it. Then just take action on the goal without worrying about the expectation.

Notice the uncertainty and our desire to run. Stay with it and don’t run. Then act, with gratitude and a smile. We don’t have to get in our way, things can be no big deal.

My Dealing with Struggles Course

If you’d like help with getting out of your own way, I’ve just launched a new video course called Dealing with Struggles, and I invite you to join me for four weeks.

It’s two video lessons a week, and mindfulness exercises to practice with each lesson. You’ll also be able to ask me questions that I’ll answer in videos and articles, and discuss the lessons and your struggles with other participants in a Facebook discussion group.

In addition, 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 hope you’ll join me.

Check Out the Course

zen habits

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