Each episode of Zen Habits Favorites features a select blog post written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, read by Chris Calabro. Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
Creating the Habit of Not Being Busy
One of the most common problems among people I work with and coach is the feeling of always being busy.
And then it becomes a rationalization: I can’t honor my commitments because I’m too busy! I can’t be with my family or friends because I’m too busy. I can’t work out, meditate, shut down at night to get to sleep, or make time for solitude and disconnection … because I’m too busy.
Most of us have used this “too busy” rationalization, because it feels very true. It feels absolutely true that we’re too busy. And there’s a corollary to this: if we want to be less busy, we have to get all our work done first (and be more busy in the meantime).
Is it true? Or can we develop a habit of not being busy, even with the same workload?
Let’s get at the heart of this always-busy habit, and then reverse it.
The Always-Busy Habit
It’s a little complicated, because there are a number of components to the always-busy habit:
* The tendency to say yes, take on too much, and overcommit. I’m guilty of this, as are most of us. I’ve been working to change it, because it hurts my mission and the people around me. We do this usually because we’re overly optimistic about how much we can actually do. Sometimes it’s because we just have a hard time saying no — we’re worried what will happen if we don’t say yes. It hurts us/ Commit to less, but be more committed.
* The tendency to move around quickly, always staying busy. Even if we have a manageable amount of things to do, and haven’t overcommitted like a mad person … we are likely to keep moving all day, always keeping yourself busy. This is just a mental habit — it’s rushing to get done and move on to the next thing, wanting the current thing to be over.
* A lack of connection between the task and anything meaningful. Most of the time, we’re doing tasks just to get them done. Because there’s a deadline, because others are waiting on it, or simply because it’s on our task list and we want to get through everything. But that doesn’t feel very meaningful, and it leaves us feeling like we’re on a hamster wheel of work, spinning the wheel without getting anywhere. Instead, we can connect each task with something meaningful, and give it a measure of devotion that it deserves. This is a completely different way of working than our usual rush to check things off.
* We’re afraid you won’t pay the bills or keep your job or make others happy if you don’t get everything done. There’s some kind of fear that’s driving us to be busy. We might be worried about finances, or about losing the respect of others. And while these are understandable things to worry about, they are hurting our ability to focus. And they are driving us to do too much. It would be better, instead, if we focused on things that have a higher impact, so we could still get things done but without being so crazy busy. And to let go of the narrative in our heads that’s causing the ear
* The tendency to put off the scary tasks. We keep ourselves busy so that we don’t have to focus on the scary, high-impact tasks. They are hard! So we do busywork, and stay in the habit of always rushing, so we don’t have to feel the fear of doing hard, scary tasks. Of course, it would be better if we just focused on the scary tasks if they’re really that important.
OK, with all that going on, are we going to be intimidated and give up, or can we find a new way? I say we find a new way!
A More Focused, Meaningful Way to Work
Let’s imagine a fantasy scenario where you’re getting things done, but with a measure of focus and calm, not rushing but being fully present. With a sense of purpose and meaning. Getting the important things done even if they’re scary.
That’s what we’re looking for, with the idea that we’re not always going to hit this ideal. So how do we get there?
It’s a number of antidotes to our usual tendencies,
The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For
Our lives are spent building up to more important moments, later, the moments when we’ll be happy.
But when those moments come, we’re not happier. In fact, we’re already looking ahead to the next big moments: an upcoming trip, a big project being completed, meeting up with friends, getting that great thing you ordered online, finding your next favorite book, meal, drink, experience.
What if that wonderful moment we’ve been waiting for is this one, right now?
What if this very moment is the most important moment of our lives?
What if we stopped working for something later, and instead started paying full attention to right now?
What if we stopped thinking happiness is coming soon, and tried to see what was in front of us, and find happiness in that?
What if this were the moment we’ve been waiting for all along?
How to Appreciate This Moment We’ve Been Waiting For
If this is the most important moment of your life, some ways you could appreciate it:
* Stop right now and notice what is right in front of you. Find a way to be grateful for this particular moment.
* If you are looking forward to something in the future (or anticipating anything in the future), turn instead to what’s right here, and see this as your big moment, filled with wonder and the brilliance of life.
* If you are rushing (like I often am), instead give yourself the gift of full attention to right now.
* If you have to hurry for some reason … you can move quickly and still appreciate this moment, appreciate your motion, appreciate how your body feels in the middle of this.
* If your life seems “blah” right now, compared to how you would like it to be … take this as a beautiful opportunity to examine your ideals about life (why does it need to be exciting or entertaining?), to practice letting them go, and to see the incredible richness of the life around you, if you pay close attention and find curiosity inside you. This is a gorgeous opportunity, to be appreciated.
* If you are going through difficulty or pain … see this as a good opportunity to turn towards your pain or difficult feelings (anger, depression, frustration) … to be present with it, to stay with it, to be curious about it, to be kind towards it … maybe this moment isn’t filled with joy, but it’s still the most important moment of your life, because in this moment, you find the mindfulness and courage to open your heart to your actual experience, to see it as a path for learning, growth, and open-heartedness, to use it as a touching point into the goodness that’s inside of you.
* If this moment is filled with fear, uncertainty, immense change, or anxiety … see this as a powerfully important moment to turn towards these feelings, to see that you’re reacting to the great groundlessness of your life at the moment, and to start to learn to embrace this groundlessness, not as something to run from or push away or be reactive towards … but to get comfortable with. If you can find peace in the middle of groundlessness, you open up to the ever-changing nature of life, and can be at peace no matter what life throws at you.
* If there is someone with you right now, you can turn towards them and open up to who they are right now, and see them as a manifestation of life’s incredible beauty. How can you appreciate this human being, and see that your time with them is limited and precious?
* No matter what you’re doing, you can turn inward and see the innate goodness in your heart. This is always there, always accessible to us, and something not to be taken for granted. Also appreciate your body, your eyes that can see flowers and the sky, your ears that can hear laughter and music, your feet that can walk the Earth, your breath.
These are just a few ideas — let yourself explore a thousand other ways to appreciate this most important of moments,
The Magic of Seeing Everything as Sacred
When we wake up in the morning, many of us automatically go on our phones or computers and start reading, checking messages, responding to things, and moving through our online world on autopilot.
We go through our day like this as well, managing as best we can, dealing with stress and being overwhelmed, moving through the physical world forgetting to be mindful.
For the most part, everything is normal. We’re managing. On good days, things go pretty well. On bad days, frustration and stress get to us.
But what if we could shift everything in a magical way?
What would happen if we changed the way we saw every single thing around us, including other people, including ourselves, including every little thing we see?
Try this: view every single thing you see as sacred.
See what happens.
Now, I’ll admit that “sacred” is a loaded word for many people who are not religious. It literally means “connected with God (or the gods),” and so if you’re not religious, it might seem a bit dumb. But I don’t believe in God, and still find value in the idea that things might be sacred. Hear me out.
“Sacred” is simply elevating something to the level of divine. That might be God, if you believe in God, but it could be the divinity in the universe, the miracle of existence and every moment. If you think of how crazy it is that we exist, and think of how wonderful and miraculous this universe is … I would argue that it’s divine, no matter what you believe in.
Look outside: the trees and flowers and birds you can see are filled with divinity. They are absolutely sacred. So is the wind, the stars, the sunlight falling upon the faces of strangers, the ability to see colors and to have a conversation and connection with a fellow human being.
Think of all that changes:
* If you start to see something as sacred, it no longer becomes “ho hum,” no longer becomes something you’re taking for granted. You fully appreciate the beauty of that sacred object or being.
* If you see another person as sacred, then you treat them with respect and even love, you look deep into the loveliness of their soul and broken heart, you are grateful for your connection to them.
* If you see your possessions as sacred, you don’t toss them in the trash or put them any old place — you put it away with care.
* If you see your work as sacred, you no longer feel it’s a burden, but a gift. You do it out of devotion, with love, instead of just trying to get through it.
* If you see yourself as sacred, all of a sudden you start to see the goodness within yourself. You treat yourself better, putting healthy food inside of yourself instead of junk.
* If you see the world around you as sacred, you move through it with awe. With a sense of wanting to applaud the universe for its magical creation. With a sense of purpose, being the audience of this miracle, wanting to fully appreciate it.
Look at everything around you with awe and appreciation. Treat it with respect and care. Put things away with reverence. Treat others as if you are connecting with the divine. And treat yourself with as a manifestation of the universe that has somehow been given the gift of realizing its own sacredness.
That is true magic, and it is always available.
The Magic of Seeing Everything as Sacred was first published on Zen Habits on 6/27/18.
— NORMAL —
Mental Resiliency: Letting Go of the Guilt of Not Getting Things Done
It happens to all of us: we don’t get done what we hoped to get done, then we feel stressed or guilty about it.
It’s time to let that go, because it’s not helping us.
We can build resiliency around this, with a little mental training. And it will help us in magical ways.
Think about whether you’ve done any of these things:
* Set out to do a certain habit (exercise, eating, meditation, writing) and then didn’t do it as planned. You feel guilty, disappointed in yourself, or just stressed.
* Had a list of things you need to get done, and then didn’t get most of them done. This just added to your stress.
* Planned to work on a project, or do some writing … and then procrastinated. Again, you felt guilty, disappointed or stressed.
* Hoped to change your patterns, like eating or how you talk to others or how you practice mindfulness. Then everything goes to crap and you feel disappointed.
There are thousands of variations on these, but the main theme is that things didn’t go as you’d hoped, and that causes disappointment, guilt, stress.
Here’s the thing: there’s no problem with the failure to meet our expectations. The real problem problem is the expectations. And the stress that it causes when we don’t meet the expectations.
In all the examples above, we have this ideal in our heads about how things should be, how we want to be. There’s nothing wrong with that — we all do it, all the time — but the problem comes when we hold too tightly to the ideals/expectations. It causes difficulties: we feel let down, we feel anxiety, we feel anger or resentment at ourselves, we become unhappy.
This process of expectations and then not meeting them and then less happiness … it happens over and over, throughout the day. We are constantly doing this to ourselves.
This leads to stress, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like we can’t change, a lack of trust in ourselves. This is the real damage. It hurts everything we want to do, making it more likely that we just give up, because we don’t trust ourselves.
This is the problem.
The answer is to hold less tightly to our ideals. Become aware of our expectations (of ourselves, but also of others), and cling to them less. Toss them out, if possible, and just see what happens.
And love what actually happens. Love yourself as you are, not as you wish you’d be. Sure, endeavor to do good, out of love for yourself and others … but when you don’t meet those expectations, toss them out and love who you are, what you’ve actually done. Love reality.
Here’s the prescription, if you want one:
* Set an intention to love yourself by exercising, eating better, meditating, being kind to others, doing your work in the world. Set the intention out of love, then do the best you can.
* Whatever you do, notice your expectations, toss them into the ocean. Love what you actually do, love the moment and yourself no matter what. Let go of the useless guilt and stress and self-criticism.
* See what held you back from meeting your intention. Make an intentional change in your environment so that it won’t keep holding you back. Set another intention, out of love, but don’t cling to it. Repeat, over and over.
By letting go of these expectations, by tossing them into the ocean, we can let go of our difficulties and actually be at peace. Actually find contentment. Actually love ourselves. And this leads to a happiness with the world and ourselves that is incredible and that fills the heart up.
Mental Resiliency: Letting Go of the Guilt of Not Getting Things Done was first published on Zen Habits on 4/18/18.
— NORMAL —
Why I’m Always in a Hurry, & What I’m Doing About It
I’ve come to realize, more and more, that I’m always rushing.
I rush from one task to the next, rush through eating my food, impatient for meditation to be over, rushing through reading something, rushing to get somewhere, anxious to get a task or project finished.
What’s the deal? This coming from a guy who has written a lot about slowing down and savoring, about being present, about single-tasking?
As always, when I write these articles, they’re as much a reminder to myself about what I’ve found to work as they are a reminder to all of you. I’ve found them to work, but that doesn’t mean I always remember to practice them. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, by any means.
So what is going on? Why do I hurry so much?
I’ve been reflecting on this, and the answer seems to be that my mind has a tendency towards greed. This isn’t greed in the sense that I want a lot of wealth … but my mind finds something it likes and it wants more. Always more.
Some examples of greed:
* I like chocolate (or wine, or coffee, or cookies) and I crave it, and want more even if I just had a bite of it.
* I am doing a task but also want to do 20 more tasks, because I want to do as much as possible. Wanting to do more and more, to do everything, is a good example of the mind’s tendency to greed.
* When I learn, I want to learn everything about a topic. I’ll look up every book I can find, every blog post or article, every podcast or video, every forum post, and want to read all of it. Of course, I can’t possibly read all of it now, but I want to. I’ll buy 10 books but jump around from one to the next, not finishing any of them.
* When I travel to a new city, I want to see it all — all the best sights, all the best vegan restaurants, all the best bookstores and museums and experiences. I can’t possibly, but I’ll do my best to fit all the best stuff into the small container of my trip, and research it for weeks.
* When I’m going about my day, I try to fit as much as possible into it: not only all my tasks, but spending time with the wife, reading with the kids, working out and meditating and doing yoga and going for a walk and reading and learning online and answering all my emails, watching all the best TV shows and films, and checking all the forums and news and blogs and more and more.
I rush around, trying to fit all of that in. I’m trying to maximize every day, every trip, every event, every moment. I’m trying to get everything possible out of life.
This comes from a good heart — I appreciate the briefness of life, and I appreciate its brilliance, and I want all of it in the short time I have left here. That’s not a bad thing, wanting more of life.
But what is the result of always wanting more, always wanting to maximize? It’s rushing, grabbing onto everything, never having enough, never being satisfied, never actually stopping to enjoy, not really appreciating each moment because I’m greedy for more great moments.
Indulging in this greediness for more, this maximizing everything, doesn’t satisfy it. It just creates more wanting for more.
Indulging isn’t helpful. Staying with the feeling of wanting more, wanting to maximize, wanting to rush, wanting to do it all … that’s more helpful. Stay with the feeling, Leo, don’t indulge it.
Don’t try to do it all, but instead be here now.
Don’t rush, but appreciate the moments in between things as just as important as the next thing.
Don’t try to maximize, but instead practice letting go. Let go of greedy tendencies, let go of whatever you’re clinging to (having it all, doing it all), let go of the urge to rush.
Whenever there’s a tendency towards greed, counter it with generosity.
A Guide to Dealing with Dissatisfaction with Ourselves
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.
* 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
Ahhh such good practical mindfulness advice
Any way you can keep recording new episodes?! I love this podcast! It definitely has added value to my life. Thank you.
Great show for everyone
Leo and Chris offer up great advice for anyone who wants more simplicity in their daily lives. I can see this keeping me motivated to unplug more and enjoy the simple things in life. Great show!