A Guide to Overcoming Procrastination & Finding Focus

By Leo Babauta

We all procrastinate. The question is how (or even whether) we overcome the tendency to procrastinate, and if we can find focus.

This matters — our lives are brief and limited, and while we don’t need to be productivity robots, running in fear of difficult tasks to distractions and comfort is not the best way to spend our lives.

We can face these fears. We can learn to deal with them mindfully. And in doing so, we can develop an ability to return with courage to the work that matters the most to us, to create something important, something that helps the world at least in a small way.

Distraction and running aren’t useful habits. Let’s learn to overcome them and find focus to create.

The Procrastination Fears

Why do we run from hard tasks? Because of fears:

  • That we don’t know what we’re doing
  • That we’re gonna mess up and look bad
  • That we’ll succeed and then have to face a scarier situation
  • That the task will be difficult and uncomfortable

Basically, we fear discomfort and uncertainty. We want comfort and certainty, and distractions like email and social media and reading news and blogs are easy and we know how to do them. Very well. Distractions are always much more tempting than difficult work, much more comforting than facing fears.

We all have fears, but our habit is to run from them. Avoid even thinking about them. Our minds are very good at this.

We get distracted and then forget completely about what we were supposed to be doing. Our minds are good at forgetting and getting lost.

We try to focus, but then immediately we have an urge to switch to something else, because staying is uncomfortable. Our minds love comfort, hate discomfort, and will run to comfort every time, if we let them.

So that’s why we procrastinate … but how do we overcome this?

Overcoming Procrastination

Our minds are very good at running from discomfort, and most of the time we don’t even realize it’s happening. We just have an urge to switch, and follow the urge immediately.

The trick then, is to catch ourselves when we’re about to switch. When the urge comes up to switch, we have to notice.

Then we have to pause, and deal mindfully instead of mindlessly with the urge.

Here’s how:

  1. Create a practice space. Do an Unprocrastination Session once a day to practice. Pick an important task (any will do — one you’ve been procrastinating on is a good choice). Set a timer for 5 minutes, or 10 if you feel ambitious. Commit to doing nothing but your important task for that 5 minutes.
  2. Don’t let yourself switch. Clear distractions and have nothing that you can do except this one task. You’re single-tasking. When you get the urge to switch (when, not if), notice this! And don’t act on the urge. We can feel an urge and not act on it. How liberating!
  3. Stay with the urge. Instead of acting on the urge, instead of ignoring the urge … just stay with it. Sit still and feel how it feels. Notice the fear of this task that you’re facing. Notice discomfort. Boredom, dread, feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or confused or incompetent. Just stay with it and be curious about the physical feeling. What does the energy in your body feel like?
  4. Return to the task. After sitting for a minute with the urge and the discomfort, they’ll probably die down. Simply return your focus to your task. You didn’t scratch the itch, and the itch wasn’t that big of a deal.

By working on this once a day, you can begin to develop trust that you’ll be OK if you don’t scratch the itch, that you’ll be able to handle the urge without acting on it, that you’ll be fine if you deal with the discomfort of a difficult task. This is quite an accomplishment!

Finding Focus

Focusing on one thing is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Whether you want to focus on writing a report or a book chapter, focus on drawing or practicing music, focus on reading or meditating on your breath … your mind is in the habit of switching to something else.

Focusing, then, is a matter of practicing staying.

In the Unprocrastination Sessions I described above, we talked about how to practice staying. In addition, I’d like to offer a few more practical tips:

  1. Have a deeper motivation. The thing you are focusing on shouldn’t just be “nice to do,” but should really feel meaningful to you.
  2. Remember your motivation as you get started. This task doesn’t just have fear in it … there’s a great deal of love as well. Let the love drive you past the fear.
  3. Use external motivation if needed. While love is the best motivator, sometimes you just aren’t feeling up to it. So use external deadlines and accountability. Promise to email something to a friend or colleague by a deadline or you have to do something embarrassing. Put your reputation on the line. Join an accountability group. Don’t let yourself off the hook.
  4. Allow yourself to get into Flow. This is the state of mind where you are lost in the task. It’s easy to only be halfway into a task, with your mind flitting around and wanting to do something else. But if you can get fully into a task, you’ll truly love doing it. That means clearing all distractions, and really putting your mind into the task. I find it helpful to have a challenging task, and one that requires me to visualize. For example, if I’m writing a story, I should be imagining how the story is going, visually, not just thinking about the words.

Focus isn’t a magical quality that you can just acquire. It is a skill that takes daily practice, and you get better at it but never completely master it. You’ll slip up and get discouraged, but you can just practice some more.

In the end, all the practice will be worth it, because you’ll learn to focus on things that truly matter. And that is a life worth living, in my experience.

Need Some Help?

If you’d like to go deeper into this practice, and learn to overcome the obstacles you might face, I’m teaching a six-week course called Unprocrastination + Focus in my Sea Change program.

We’ll have twice-weekly video lessons to go deeper into motivation, distractions, dealing with urges, focusing on important tasks (and how to choose them), Flow, and more. We’ll get into some skills like interval training, pausing, resetting and more.

In addition, we’ll have:

  • Daily challenges and reminder emails
  • A forum to discuss the lessons and problems you’re having
  • A live video webinar with me where you can ask questions
  • A challenge to do a daily Unprocrastination Session for the duration of the course

I hope you’ll join me — try Sea Change for a week for free (then $ 19/month after that).

zen habits

To Those Who Are Struggling

By Leo Babauta

On Twitter I met a struggling soul who shared a lack of friends, family, motivation, self-esteem and confidence.

I feel for him because I know what it’s like to struggle, to feel down and even depressed, to have no motivation. I have suffered from confidence problems, many times.

So I’m writing this for him, and all my fellow human beings who are struggling.

You are struggling, maybe even hurting. And that is really difficult. It can feel hopeless, lonely, confining.

These feelings are very real, and really hard. How do you climb out of this when you don’t have the motivation to change? How do you make friends who can help you if you don’t feel the self-esteem and confidence?

I am sorry you’re hurting and struggling. But know that even if you feel alone, you are not alone. I, for one, am connected to you because I’m thinking of you, all of you. I’m connected to you because I too have suffered in similar ways. We have shared pain, shared hopelessness, shared loneliness.

And it’s not just me: every single human being who is alive has felt this kind of pain, hopelessness, and loneliness at one time or another. We are all connected through this shared pain and struggle. We feel alone, and in this we are connected.

The feeling of being alone, separated from the rest of the world, is an illusion. Sure, it’s an illusion that feels very very real. But it’s not true.

Consider: you are supported by millions, even billions, of people. You are using electricity that is powered by an electric company, with thousands of employees working to give you that electricity. You drink water brought to you by yet more thousands of people. You eat food raised and harvested and brought to you by thousands of people. Brought to you on roads built and maintained by thousands of people, on vehicles (ships, trucks, cars, planes) built and run by thousands of people. You wear clothes, use gadgets, sit on furniture, all built and brought by thousands of people. And all those thousands and thousands of people are themselves supported similarly by thousands more.

You are supported by millions of people, and those millions are supported by millions. The entire world supports each other. We became the people we’ve become only because we’ve had that support, we’ve connected to share ideas, learn from each other, serve each other.

I believe this is a miracle. We each are supported by a miracle of connections to every other person on the planet. We feel alone, but it is only an illusion.

The way to rise from this struggle is to turn from your own pain to the pain of others. Who else around you is struggling? How can you offer them love? How can you help them, ease their pain in some way?

By turning outwards, toward the pain of others, we can fill our hearts with love for them, wanting nothing but happiness for them. Then, by this simple turning, we have hearts filled with love. I think that, too, is a miracle.

I can’t take away your pain, but I can offer you two miracles: the love that comes from turning toward other human beings, and the connection we have to everyone on Earth. I feel connected to you, and my heart is filed with love for you.

zen habits

Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything

By Leo Babauta

When we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening … and at the center of that narrative is a single person.

Ourselves.

When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s OK to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood … I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.

I’m sure you can relate — you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.

But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:

  • We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us … giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want. But their actions aren’t really about us — their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
  • When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves … we then feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it … we could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.
  • We interpret everything else around us — from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks — by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about us.

Again, it’s natural and normal to interpret everything this way … but you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.

So what can we do?

First, become aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

Next, see that we are putting ourselves at the center.

Then see if we can remove ourselves from the center of the story.

What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:

  • Things are happening — how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
  • Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
  • There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?

When I remember to do this — and I very, very often don’t — it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shift my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.

Of course, I’m not really removed from the story. I’m still there, but just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and see that they have supported me in becoming the person I am, and that I can support them as well.

zen habits

The Love of a Long Walk

By Leo Babauta

Yesterday afternoon, I set off on a long walk.

I’d been having an off day, tired from lots of activities and unmotivated and my mind fixated on one thing … so I decided to walk.

I put some snacks, a book, and some water in a backpack, put on some running shorts, a long-sleeve running shirt, some good shoes and a hat. The weather was hot but not at peak intensity, at 5 p.m.

The start was really nice — it felt so good to be moving, to be outdoors, that I couldn’t help but feel liberated from the funk I’d been in. I passed other walkers, cyclists, kids playing in playgrounds, and loved seeing fellow human beings enjoying being outside.

I walked for about an hour before taking a snack and water break, and reading my book. By then, my left foot had developed a hot spot in the forefoot, but I ignored it, probably foolishly. The sun was going down a bit and the shadows were lengthening, but it was still warm.

After a break, I headed out again. My mind was calmed from all the walking, and my legs were getting a little tired, but not too bad.

After a couple hours, I started to feel some discomfort — I hadn’t walked like this in awhile, and my mind started to push back against my body’s discomfort. It was good for me to feel uncomfortable, though, so I just kept walking. Let my mind complain. It can handle it.

The sun became a bright pink, a dazzling neon red that reminded me of the 80s for some reason. It was breath-taking, and I stopped for a photo, though my phone’s camera couldn’t capture the beauty. Oh well, I’d just have to enjoy it without documentary evidence or the ability to share it with others.

I stopped for another break in a small batch of redwoods, and read. I had a few cookies, well-earned.

I kept walking, marveling at the purple and orange sky, and the ridiculously pink sun. No one else around seemed wowed by this sun, but I felt awe and joy.

My legs were tired now, but I was still about four miles from home, so I kept walking.

The light faded to twilight, then night, and I was walking in the dark. It was quiet, and I was alone, and I wanted company but couldn’t have any.

I finished the walk, 12 miles and about four hours later (including reading and snack breaks), and had a well-deserved beer. And slept as well as I’ve slept in a month.

A good walk can clear your head, push you into discomfort, and help you appreciate the majesty of life in a way that you rarely do while at home. I can’t wait to go on another today.

zen habits

Mental Badassery: Becoming Aware of the Stories We Tell Ourselves

By Leo Babauta

There’s a hidden mechanism that creates unhappiness, difficulty changing habits, relationship problems, frustration, anger and disappointment.

Barely anyone is aware of this hidden mechanism, even though it’s happening all the time, in all of us.

It’s the stories we tell ourselves.

We do it all day long: we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening in our lives, about other people, about ourselves. When I call them “stories” … that doesn’t mean they’re false, or that they aren’t based on the truth. It just means we’ve constructed a narrative based on our experiences, a perspective on the world around us, an interpretation of facts as we see them. Not false, but not necessarily the entire truth — just one perspective.

A different person could look at the same situation and tell a very different situation.

A few examples:

  1. You might have a story about how your boss is very supportive and praises you a lot, which means you are doing a good job and like your work environment, and this story makes you happy. Another person might look at the same situation and tell a story about how the work area is messy and people are always interrupting him and he’s tired and the clients are rude and smelly.
  2. You might be upset with your spouse because she was rude to you or didn’t clean up her messes for the last few days. Another person might have the same experience but tell themselves a story about how his spouse has been working hard at her job, has gone out of her way to cook a nice meal for you, and is tired and needs some comforting.
  3. You might have a story about how you keep procrastinating, keep failing at being disciplined, never stick to a workout routine. Another perspective might be that you have gotten some great things done despite getting distracted, you’ve been passionate about learning something and that’s taken a priority over work tasks you’re dreading, and you are tired and need some rest before you can tackle exercise with vigor.

Each of these examples have very different stories about the same situations — it’s about which details you pay attention to, and how you shape the narrative of those details.

Now, telling ourselves stories is natural — we all do it, all the time. There’s nothing wrong with it. But if we’re not aware of the stories we tell ourselves, we can’t understand how they shape our happiness, relationships, moods, and more.

Becoming Aware of Your Stories

Throughout the day, you’re telling yourself stories about what’s going on, about how wrong other people are to do what they do, about how good or bad you are at things.

My challenge to you is to start to notice what you’re telling yourself about everything.

It’s important to be aware of what those stories are, and how they’re affecting your happiness. If a story is making you happy, and you’re aware of that, then great! If you’re not aware of it, it’s not such a big problem if it’s making you happy, but what happens if the story starts to make you unhappy with your life? Then if you’re not aware, you have difficulties.

So start to become aware of your stories, good and bad. Notice them throughout the day.

Notice when you’re getting stuck in the story, spinning it around and around in your head. So and so shouldn’t have done this, and on and on, making you frustrated and unhappy with the person.

When we get hooked on a story, it’s hard to break away from it. But becoming aware of being hooked is the most important step.

What We Can Do

So what can we do if we’re hooked on a story? It can be very difficult to break out of that trap. I know, because it happens to me all the time — I see the story I’m telling myself, but it seems so solid and real that I can’t just let it go.

The first thing you can do is regard it as a dream. That doesn’t mean it’s false, it just means it’s not so solid. It’s something you’re playing out in your head, just like a dream, with very real emotional results. See it as a dream, not solid, and see if you can come out of the dream to the physical reality of the world around you in this moment. What sensations are happening right now, as opposed to in this dream?

The next thing you can do is not act on the story. Even if you’re caught up in it, that doesn’t mean you have to lash out at someone, or run away to distraction or comfort. Just sit with the story, notice how it’s making you feel, notice the physical sensations in your body. Notice that you’re caught up. But don’t act, just stay with your awareness.

There is another way of being: where you don’t cling to the stories but instead drop below them, and are just aware of the moment as it is, without interpretations, judgements, preconceptions. Stories will still come up, but you can notice them and not get caught up. Or if you do get caught up, notice that and don’t hold so tightly to it, coming back to the present moment.

However, this is a pretty advanced skill, and most of us can’t stay in this mode of being for very long. For now, just focus on awareness of your story, regarding it as a dream, and not acting on the story as much as we normally do.

In this way, you’ll be less caught up in whatever is causing unhappiness and frustration, and more present in the current moment.

zen habits

8 Experiments in Motivation

By Leo Babauta

I was talking to a 19-year-old recently and he has been struggling with motivation.

His problem goes like this: he gets excited about starting a project or plan, and is very motivated at the start … but after a few days, that feeling dies down, and he starts procrastinating.

He really does want to do the project or follow through on the plan, but the motivation inevitably drops away.

I told him this is something he should devote some effort to figuring out, because very few problems are as important to solve as this one.

I suggested experiments in motivation. Every person is motivated differently (and in fact, that can shift), so finding methods that motivate you personally is a matter of experimenting.

I’m writing this post for him, and anyone else who might want to try these experiments.

How does it work? You try each experiment for a week, and note the results. After a couple months of doing this, you know more about your personal motivation style than ever before.

Here are eight motivation methods you could try:

  1. Un-ignorable Consequences. Set a deadline for the task(s) you want to complete, and a consequence you won’t be able to ignore. It’s best to share this deadline and consequence with an accountability partner or publicly. Example: I post on Facebook I’m going to write 1,000 words in my book every day this week, or I can’t watch TV for a week. (That only works if you really care about the consequence.) Another example: if I don’t write my first chapter by Saturday at midnight, I have to donate $ 200 to Donald Trump (or whichever candidate you don’t like) and post about it publicly. The idea is that the consequence should be embarrassing and something you can’t just ignore.
  2. Completion Compulsion. Many people, myself included, have a strong desire to complete a list. For example, if you’ve watched 15 out of 20 episodes of a show, you might really want to finish watching the show. This is “completion compulsion,” and I think everyone experiences it sometime — especially if finishing the list seems doable. So the method is this: make a list of 10 small actions (10 minutes or less to complete) that you want to finish this week on a certain project, or 5 small actions you want to finish each day, and make it your goal to finish the list. You could combine this with the un-ignorable consequences method (if I don’t finish my list each day, I can’t have wine).
  3. A Powerful “Why”. Understand the deeper reasons you want to complete this goal or accomplish this task. It should be a reason that really resonates with you, that you deeply want to achieve. Now write your “Why” in a phrase (like, “compassion for myself” or “to help others in pain”), and post it somewhere visible, so you won’t forget it.
  4. Get Excited Daily. It’s easy to be excited about a project or goal when you first start, but that dies out. So renew it! Each day, start by setting a goal for the day that you can accomplish and that you care about. Find inspiration, visualize your accomplishment, find some music that motivates you, find an inspirational quote or video … anything to get you excited to accomplish your goal for the day!
  5. Focus on Being True to Your Word. One of the most important things in life is to be trusted, to have people believe that when you say you’re going to do something, you’ll do it. If people don’t trust in that, you won’t have good relationships, romantically, with friends, or at work. Imagine hiring someone and not knowing if they’re going to show up, or do the work if they do show up. So you should make it one of your priorities in life to live the motto, “Be True to Your Word.” That starts with small things: tell someone you’re going to do a small task that will only take 10-30 minutes. Then do it. Repeat this several times a day, building other people’s trust in you and your own trust in yourself. Post the motto somewhere you won’t forget it.
  6. Find a Group. Humans are social animals, and you can use that to your advantage. Create an accountability group of friends or colleagues who want to achieve a goal or finish a project. Agree to set daily or weekly targets, and check in with each other daily or weekly (form a Facebook group or subreddit, perhaps). Set rewards and/or embarrassing consequences for hitting or missing the targets. Have weekly “winners” for those who did the best at their targets. Encourage each other and help each other when someone is faltering.
  7. Focus on a Sense of Achievement. With every task you complete, pause at the end of it to savor your feeling of accomplishment. This is a great feeling! Share your victory with others. Savor the feeling of building trust in yourself. As you start a task, think about how good you’ll feel when you accomplish it.
  8. Small Starts, Quick Rewards. Create a system where you have to do short tasks (just 10 minutes) and you get a small reward at the end of it. For example, I just need to write for 10 minutes, then I get to have my first coffee of the day. Or I clear my email inbox for 10 minutes, and then I get to check my favorite sites for 5 minutes. Don’t let yourself have the reward unless you do the task! The smaller the task, the better, so you won’t delay starting.

OK, these are eight experiments, but you might think of others, like the Seinfeld Method or the Pomodoro Technique. All that matters is that you try the experiments, and note the results. At the end of each weekly experiment, write a brief review of how it went. Rate your productivity on a scale of 10. Then try another experiment.

At the end of these, you’ll have tried a bunch of great methods, and figured out what helps you most. You might combine methods, or use different ones at different times. And maybe after all of this, you’ll have a trust in yourself that’s so strong, you don’t need any methods!

zen habits

My Personal Fat-Loss Plan

By Leo Babauta

I think I’m not the only one among us who wants to lose fat. I’m embarking on a 2-month fat-loss plan, and I thought I’d share it with you in case you’re interested.

Some background: when I started this blog, almost 10 years ago, I was overweight but had already made a lot of progress in losing that weight. Changing my diet to a healthier, vegetable-based diet was a big part of it, and learning to exercise regularly was another. And learning not to overeat so much was also pretty huge.

I lost 70 lbs. at one point (almost 32 kg, for you non-Americans), and all was great. However, I wasn’t that strong, so I started lifting weights. That helped me gain some of the weight back. Lately, I decided to intentionally eat more to gain more muscle, and it worked … except I also gained some fat. That was expected, and it’s not a problem. Now I’m going to try to lose most of that fat.

Finally, I should say that I’m not anti-fat. I prefer to be lean, because it helps me run better and move better, but having some fat on my body isn’t a big problem. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about having fat on their body, though I understand that feeling. In the end, it’s about moving towards a healthier lifestyle, and figuring out what works for you.

This plan is what works for me.

Here’s the plan:

  1. I eat a calorie deficit. You can’t lose fat if you’re not in an energy deficit. So I first calculate my Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), then subtract 500 calories. I suggest you start by subtracting 250 calories, and then adjust downward if that isn’t too hard or if you’re not losing enough fat after a few weeks. For me, I know that 500 calories is a good number for me.
  2. I plan out my daily diet. Some people don’t like to eat the same thing every day, and don’t like to plan. I know I work best if I just figure out an eating plan and stick to it, without having to think about it every day. So I create a spreadsheet, and figure out how much I’m going to eat on training days and rest days (more calories on training days, though this isn’t absolutely necessary for everyone). I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, and eat the same thing for lunch and dinner. I don’t count green veggies in my spreadsheet, though I eat a lot of them. As many of you know, I also eat a completely vegan diet, and really love this way of eating.
  3. I lift weights. If you want to lose mostly fat, and not a lot of muscle, it’s essential that you do strength training. You probably won’t gain a lot of muscle on a calorie deficit (unless you’re new to strength training), but the idea is to retain the muscle you already have. For me, that means a simple plan: three full-body workouts a week, focusing on just a handful of key lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent-over barbell rows, weighted chinups). See the plan at the bottom of my spreadsheet. I try to add weight or reps to each lift every workout, so I’m progressing each week.
  4. I keep protein high. I’ve found that eating a good amount of protein helps you retain muscle while you’re on a calorie deficit. So I eat about 150g of protein a day, which isn’t as ridiculously high as bodybuilders often go, but is good enough for my purposes (it’s about 1g of protein per lb. of lean bodymass). To do this, I eat seitan, which is a good source of vegan protein, along with PlantFusion protein powder and soymilk.

I also go running, just for health and fun, and let myself eat out about once a week or so just so I’m not crazy strict on myself. If I’m hungry in between these meals, I’ll eat an apple or have some tea, and that helps tide me over.

So I eat the same thing every day, which is a caloric deficit with high protein, and lift weights three times a week. That’s about it! I didn’t invent any of this (lots of it I got from Dick Talens), but it seems to work for me. I hope this was helpful to some of you.

zen habits

A Mindful Shift of Focus

By Leo Babauta

Throughout the day, we get frustrated, irritated, angry.

We are frustrated in traffic, when a loved one doesn’t behave the way we like, when someone tells us we’re wrong, when technology doesn’t work the way we want, when dinner is ruined, among many other daily stresses.

These frustrations can build up into unhappiness, relationship problems, work problems, built up stress, blowing your top at someone when you lose your cool. Not always helpful stuff!

I’m going to suggest a mindful shift in focus to deal with frustrations.

It’s a mindfulness practice, and I highly recommend it. We’ll start by talking about where frustration comes from, then how to mindfully shift.

Mindfulness of Frustration

The next time you experience frustration, just notice it. Just be mindful that you’re unhappy with something or someone, that you’re feeling frustration in your body somehow.

Pay attention to your breathing, to tightness in your chest or shoulders, to how it feels in your body. Stay with the feeling for just a couple moments, if you have the courage to do so. Normally, we run like hell from paying attention to this feeling, and try to resolve it by fixing the situation, making people behave differently, distracting ourselves, etc. But stay with it if you can.

Now notice what it is in this moment that you wish were different. What is missing from this moment that is frustrating you? Frustration stems from what you don’t have.

What do I mean by this? There’s something you don’t have right now, that you wish you had, and that lack of what you want is frustrating you. A few examples:

  • My child isn’t behaving the way I want her to … what I don’t have is “ideal” behavior from her. (Actually, it’s my ideal, not hers.)
  • My computer keeps crashing, and I’m frustrated … what I don’t have is a computer that behaves ideally.
  • People are saying things online that irritate me … what I don’t have is a bunch of people who agree with me or behave in the way I want.
  • Traffic backed up and stressing me out … what I don’t have is a stress-free, peaceful drive home.
  • My spouse criticized me … what I don’t have is someone who thinks I’m an awesome husband right now, or their praise.

Those are just examples, but in all cases, there’s something that’s missing that I want. Usually it’s an ideal.

To start with, just be mindful that you’re frustrated, try to experience the feeling in your body, and then notice what it is you’re missing that’s frustrating you.

Mindfulness of Your Story

When we’re missing something we want, and we’re frustrated, irritated, angry … we often spin the story around in our heads for awhile. “It’s so irritating when he acts this way,” or “Why can’t she just be more …”

We get caught up in this story, stuck on it, attached to it. We wish things were different, wish other people would behave differently, wish people could see that we’re right.

It’s easy to get caught up. It’s not so easy to notice that we’re caught up, when it happens. But if you can notice it, just notice that you’re telling yourself a story about this situation. It’s a story about how you wish things were different, how things aren’t how you want them to be.

Sit and watch yourself get caught up in this story. Sit and stay with the feelings it produces.

Then see if you can notice that the story isn’t so solid. It’s not so real. It’s more of a dream that you’re in. Can things lighten up if you notice the dreamlike nature of this story?

Mindfulness of What Is Already Here

If we’re focusing on what we don’t have, and it’s frustrating us … then the opposite just might help us.

The antidote to frustration is appreciating what’s already here, in this moment.

That might not seem true when frustration arises, because the truth is, we just want things to be our way. We just want other people to act the way we think they should act, or want life to go the way we want it to go.

Unfortunately, that is usually not going to be the case. Sometimes we can force people to act the way we want, if we have power over them, but that will create a bad relationship with them, and in the end, neither person will be happy.

What I’ve found to work is focusing on what I can appreciate about this moment. Let’s take the examples from above:

  • I’m frustrated by my child’s behavior … I can breathe, and appreciate things about this moment: my child is actually a wonderful person, who might not behave perfectly all the time (who does?), who is alive! And in my life! And I love her deeply.
  • My computer keeps crashing … I can breathe, and appreciate the fact that I have a computer at all, that all my needs are met, that I have people in my life who love me. I can appreciate the break from the computer and stretch, notice the awesome things around me.
  • People say irritating things online … I can breathe, and appreciate: I get to read amazing things online! I’m alive! People are diverse and interesting and messy, and I love humanity for that precious fact.
  • Traffic is backed up … I can breathe, and appreciate the fact that I can listen to some beautiful music in the car, or that I have some transition time between work and home when I can reflect on life, or that I have a home to come back to, or that I’m driving past some beautiful scenery.
  • My spouse criticized me … I can breathe, and appreciate: she’s a great spouse, and a person with a different way of doing things, and I’m happy to have her in my life. And maybe she’s frustrated herself, and could use a hug.

This doesn’t mean we should only “think positive thoughts” … quite the contrary, noticing our negative thoughts and staying present with them is important. We can’t avoid the frustration, but we can be mindful of it, and this mindful shift to appreciation of what is can be helpful.

Frustration in the Midst of Injustice

I should note that none of this means we should accept abuse or injustice as “OK.” I know that there are incredibly frustrating things about the world today, and that violence, protests, anger, and strife are all around us.

This mindful shift I’m suggesting isn’t a solution to all of that. It isn’t a suggestion that you should just be happy with your lot, or accept the world as it is without wanting change.

No, I think if there is abuse or injustice, we should compassionately try to correct these tragedies. But learning to deal with our frustrations, in the midst of all this, can actually help the situation. If we can’t deal with our frustrations, then we’re increasingly likely to act in anger and violence, and that isn’t useful.

There’s another way: recognize the injustice, be mindful of your frustrations, appreciate life in the present moment to calm your frustrations … then compassionately engage with everyone else to work on righting the injustice. Have a love-driven dialogue with everyone else, rather than fear-based or anger-driven interactions. Stand up to abuse, but that doesn’t mean throw a brick in anger.

I don’t have the answers, and my heart goes out to all who are grieving, afraid, hurt, feeling helpless, fed up, frustrated or angry. My only hope is that in the middle of all this sorrow, we can appreciate the gift of life that we’ve been given, and find love for our fellow human beings despite all their flaws and messiness.

zen habits

The Minimalist Way to Declutter

By Leo Babauta

One of the best things I’ve done to change my life — along with meditation, exercise, and eating healthier — is to get rid of most of my clutter.

I downsized, and became a minimalist.

It helped me find space in my life, figure out what was important and focus on that, get rid of visual stress, simplify my life, get unstuck from the trap of consumerism, and get out of debt. Not bad for a simple set of habits!

Now, I know that not everyone wants to be a minimalist, but the ideas of reducing your possessions, downsizing your schedule, and finding space for the important things in your life … I think we can all give this some thought and focus.

So I’m offering a new course, as part of my Sea Change Program: The Minimalist Way to Declutter.

It’s a six-week video course, with about two video lessons a week. I ask you to do a daily 10-minute decluttering session, offer daily challenges in a forum, and a live video webinar where you get to ask me anything you want.

The course is part of the Sea Change membership, which is free to try for a week, then just $ 19 a month after that. I think it’s a great deal, for all that you get (including access to past courses on mindfulness, exercise, eating healthy).

In addition, in this course on decluttering, I’ve invited several of my favorite minimalist authors to be guest experts for a few of the lessons:

  1. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist – on the benefits of decluttering
  2. Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists – how to let go of sentimental items
  3. Courtney Carver of Be More with Less – how to pare down clothes and personal items

I’m really excited to have these guys be a part of the course!

Other lesson topics include:

  • The Declutter Session
  • How to Start
  • Why We Have Clutter
  • A Deliberate Life – Overcoming Consumerism
  • Finding Contentedness: You Already Have Enough
  • Dealing with Non-Minimalist Loved Ones
  • Digital Clutter & Email Inbox
  • Create Space for What’s Important
  • How to Have a Clean Desk & Bedroom
  • The Ongoing Editing Process

Start the course today by signing up for Sea Change.

zen habits

A Simple Declutter Habit: Leave No Trace

“When you do something you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

By Leo Babauta

Zen master Suzuki Roshi spoke about the idea of leaving no trace — doing something with complete presence, and then moving on to the next thing without holding on to previous activities.

His wonderful advice for doing any activity was to do things with “a simple, clear mind.”

One way to apply this is with a simple decluttering habit: clean up your mess when you’re done. This is a more literal way to “leave no trace” … not exactly what Suzuki Roshi was talking about, as he meant that we should leave no trace in our minds … but still a very useful practice.

For me, this means simply putting things away and cleaning up a bit when I’m done with a task:

  • Wash my dish and clean the table and counters after I’ve eaten.
  • Put my clothes in the hamper (or hang them up if they’re still clean) after I’ve showered.
  • Put away materials that I’ve used after I do a work task.
  • Make my bed after I wake up.

In practice, this means you have to be mindful of what you’re doing, and conscious that you are moving from one task to another. Most of us rush from one thing to the next without thinking about the transition, but when you’re done with one thing, this is a good time to appreciate the space between things, to breathe and notice if you’re staying present, and to clean up your mess instead of leaving a mess as you traipse through life.

The effects of this simple habit are incredible:

  1. You don’t leave a huge mess to clean up later.
  2. Things are clear, which helps give you peace of mind.
  3. Your life doesn’t become cluttered, because as you’re putting things away you decide whether it’s worth keeping in your life.
  4. You take time to pause between tasks, taking assessment of how you’ve been doing and what you really want to do next.

I truly love the “leave no trace” habit. Here’s how to form it.

How to Form the Habit

If you’d like to form this “leave no trace” habit, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Put little reminders where you’ll see them — a note on your desk, a little flower on your countertop, for example. These can serve to help you remember to clean up after yourself.
  2. For the first day, put all your focus on noticing when you’re done with a task, whether it’s a work task or personal one.
  3. When you notice you’re done with a task, pause. Take an assessment of how you’re doing with the task, whether you were mindful during the task, and what your intention is for the next task.
  4. Wrap up your previous activity by cleaning up after yourself. This might mean putting things away, wiping things down, or just filing away a document and crossing a task off your to-do list.
  5. Breathe, and smile.

You’ll forget often, probably, and that’s normal and completely fine. Just try to remember as often as possible, perhaps setting phone or computer reminders, or putting up more physical reminders, so you don’t forget.

Eventually, you’ll start remembering more, after a few days. You’ll get better and better at the habit, and in the process learn a lot about habits and mindfulness.

The Minimalist Way to Declutter

If you’d like to go deeper into clearing clutter from your life, and mindfully clearing space for what’s important … join me in my Sea Change Program as I am launching a new course: The Minimalist Way to Declutter.

It’ll be a great course, with two video lessons a week for the next six weeks. In addition, we’ll have a live video webinar, guest experts, and daily challenges.

We’ll talk about how to get clutter out of your life, how to figure out what’s important and how to make space for it, how to do a mindful declutter session every day, how to deal with clothes and sentimental items and digital clutter and your email inbox, and much more!

Join me here using a 7-day trial:

Sea Change Program

zen habits