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Free Training: 5 Myths About Finding Purpose

A lot of people I work with struggle to dive into their meaningful work because they get stopped up by beliefs they have about finding a purpose.

I can’t find my purpose because I don’t have the time, I am not good enough, I don’t have any clarity, I’m not ready, I don’t have the money to create it powerfully.

Anything that’s stopping us are myths! They are beliefs we’ve created that are getting in our way.

What I’ve found powerful is admitting to ourselves that we want a purpose, a mission, something meaningful in our lives.

What I’ve found powerful is taking ownership of creating that, moving all the false beliefs out of the way so that we can finally have what we truly desire.

I’m going to conduct a free training this Sunday (May 30) on this:

Free Training: 5 Myths About Finding Purpose & a Method for Creating Purpose

The training starts at 9am Pacific / 12pm ET / 8pm London on Sunday (May 30), please register above if you’re interested. I will send out a recording to those who register.

In this training, I will share:

  • The 5 myths about finding purpose & why they’re wrong
  • New empowering beliefs that you can use to replace these false beliefs
  • A simple method for creating purpose in your life
  • How to practice with this method

If you find the training to be powerful, I will also invite some of you to stay for an extra 30-minute coaching session around your purpose.

I hope to see you soon!

A lot of people I work with struggle to dive into their meaningful work because they get stopped up by beliefs they have about finding a purpose. I can’t find my purpose because I don’t have the time, I am not good enough, I don’t have any clarity, I’m not ready, I don’t have the […]

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about 1 year ago
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The High Bar of Expectations Can Crush Our Creativity - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

I have clients who really set high standards for themselves: they want to write amazing blog posts, create inspiring music, profound works of art, a thriving business that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

These are beautiful aspirations, and I love what we are aiming for. It’s amazing!

And yet, if you are setting out to create a masterpiece … what does that do to you when you show up at the blank page or canvas? It can bring immense fear of not being able to produce that masterpiece, or worries of falling short of our hopes and dreams.

These kind of expectations can often crush any creativity we start out with.

So should we have zero goals or expectations, have no standards, and no hopes and dreams? Or should we just not even try?

I say let yourself show up and create, from a place of aliveness. Of play, adventure, creativity, joy. From a place of dance, music, and delight in the chaos of life. From abundance and inspiration.

In the place of creation, we don’t need to burden ourselves with high expectations. See what flows from your heart, imagination, and joyful being.

At some point, we’ll need to bring in our craft, and refine. Edit, toss out, and discern. But not when we’re creating — let that be free and abundant and open!

By Leo Babauta I have clients who really set high standards for themselves: they want to write amazing blog posts, create inspiring music, profound works of art, a thriving business that reaches hundreds of thousands of people. These are beautiful aspirations, and I love what we are aiming for. It’s amazing! And yet, if you […]

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about 1 year ago
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A Well Lived Life of Purpose - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Most of the people I know and work with want a life of meaning and purpose, not a life where we just get by …

A well lived life, that feels meaningful.

But this isn’t taught in schools, and most of us feel completely unsure of how to move towards this.

I’m not going to fully answer how to live a life of purpose in this article … but I’d love to talk about how to move in that direction.

Commitment

The first thing you might consider is committing yourself to finding a life of purpose. How important is that to you? Are you willing to move into uncertainty for this, or is comfort and safety more important to you at the moment?

To commit, you have to commit in the gut. To tell yourself that this is important enough to devote yourself to, to dedicate time, to practice with the uncdertainty. Commit to yourself, on paper. Then to others.

Exploration

The second thing to consder is embarking on an adventure of exploring your purpose, if you don’t already have a good sense of it. It’s not as simple as asking, “What would I like to do?” or doing a web search for the answer. You have to explore it, and bringing a sense of adventure might be just the right approach.

Here’s how I usually recommend exploring purpose:

  1. Make a list of things that you think might be meaningful to you — helping children in need, helping people reduce stress, traveling to help communities in need, etc. Put anything on the list that’s even remotely possible or interesting, don’t limit yourself here. Hint: I’ve found that the most meaningful things are when you’re helping other people with something you care about.
  2. Ask yourself which 3-5 of these would be most meaningful. If one really stands out — maybe it’s the thing you’ve been wanting to do for years — then that’s where to start. But maybe you’re not sure, so pick 3-5. This is your short list.
  3. Of those, let your gut choose the top one. If you absolutely don’t know, either choose randomly, or ask a friend. This isn’t your final answer, but just the one you’re going to start with.
  4. Choose a 2-week version of this top possibility. For example, if you want to help people with stress, could you help 1 person over video calls and email for 2 weeks? This is the mini-version of your possible purpose. Explore this for 2 weeks, really pouring yourself into it.
  5. If this really resonates, make a one-month version of it and continue to explore. If it doesn’t, pick the next thing on your short list. Do a 2-week version of that. Repeat until you find something to explore for a month or longer.

This is the iterative method of purpose exploration. You try a mini-version of something for a couple weeks. Maybe longer. And keep doing this until you hit on something.

Notice if you feel like avoiding this process, or a part of the process. This is your uncertainty showing up as fear. That’s completely OK, but you might ask whether you’d like to get support with that uncertainty, so you don’t have to be stopped.

A Well Lived Life

There are an infinite number of possibilities for living a well lived life. You might meditate on a mountain for years, or enjoy the simple things. You might enjoy time with loved ones, or explore culinary pleasures. You might read all day, or listen to music. You might get your work done, and come home satisfied from a job well done.

For me, one of the biggest components of a well lived life — other than loved ones and a profound appreciation of life — is doing something that feels meaningful. And that has usually been helping others with something that’s meaningful to them.

If you can serve others, make their lives better in some small way (or a big way) … it feels incredibly meaningful. Much more than simply traveling or building up wealth or enjoying good food or having fun. Those are all great, but they don’t feel as meaningful to me.

If you can hit on something like that, that feels meaningful … then a well lived life becomes simple:

Spend quality time with loved ones.

Take care of yourself.

Find profound appreciation for the joy of life.

And serve others in a meaningful way.

It’s simple, but not always easy. And that makes it even richer.

By Leo Babauta Most of the people I know and work with want a life of meaning and purpose, not a life where we just get by … A well lived life, that feels meaningful. But this isn’t taught in schools, and most of us feel completely unsure of how to move towards this. I’m […]

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about 1 year ago
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Wanting More Time for Your Meaningful Work - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

A member of my Fearless Training Program has a full-time business that she loves, but isn’t the meaningful work she’d like to do in the world. She struggles with finding enough time for that meaningful work.

Can you relate to this? The rest of our life fills up all the space — how can we find enough time to focus on what’s really important?

This is a common problem for anyone who wants to launch a new venture, volunteer, create art, write a book, build an audience or a brand … how do we create the time when we’re already busy and overloaded?

I’m going to share some ideas in this article:

  1. Create structure for all the stuff in your life
  2. Create even more space
  3. Really pour yourself into it
  4. Bring some Zen to disruptions & frustrations
  5. Replenish yourself
  6. Bring freedom, joy & lit-upness to any activity

These are all meant to address various problems that we face when we’re making time for our meaningful work. You can decide which ones might apply to your life.

Let’s take a look!

Create Structure in Your Life

Our lives can feel overwhelming, with too many things to do! We have chores and small tasks and messages to answer, bills to pay, dishes to wash, people to contact, and much more. So how do we handle all of this?

First, it can feel overwhelming when it’s a huge pile of stuff and seemingly not enough time.

Second, the small stuff will overwhelm all the available space, because it always feels urgent when we’re feeling behind and overwhelmed.

So one good answer is to create structure. Create spaces to deal with all the things in your life:

  • Bill Pay Mondays
  • Inbox Zero Tuesdays
  • Admin Fridays
  • House Chore Party Saturdays
  • Email and messages Sacred Hour – daily at 4pm
  • Morning planning & intentions
  • Monthly taxes day
  • Meaningful Work Play Time at 10am daily
  • And so on

Not these specific spaces — your structure will be different than these. But if you have a space for all the stuff, you can relax and know that it will be taken care of.

What structure can you create to take care of everything important, while creating structured and intentional space for your meaningful work?

Create Even More Space

Let’s say you’re so busy that you can only find 30 minutes a week for your meaningful work — it’s a great start! But take it as a starting point.

Maybe you can create more time by bundling your emails and messages into a certain hour each day. Maybe you can free up some time by hiring a babysitter, a house cleaner, someone on Craigslist to haul away your junk for you. Someone to answer your customer service emails, or an admin asssitant to take care of routine tasks.

Or maybe you can eliminate or simplify some things to create more space. Get out of commitments. Tell people No. Ask for postponements.

Sometimes we can cut out distractions, like social media or video watching or news/website reading. If we’re honest, there’s a lot of wasted time in our days that can be streamlined for the sake of what’s truly important.

Get creative! Sometimes it takes a little time investment to simplify, but then it pays off in space in a week or two.

Really Pour Yourself Into It

Once you have the space, it can be hard to focus. All the other stuff is calling to you! Maybe you spend the first 20 minutes of the 40 minutes you’ve carved out just getting ready. Maybe the whole focus block gets pushed back until later because you feel something else is more urgent.

Create the structure to make the meaningful work happen. Sometimes it means doing it on a video call with someone else — each of you do your meaningful work on mute for an hour.

But when you’re in the focus block — pour yourself into it. Give it your full being. Be all in.

Don’t half ass it. Whole ass it.

Bring Some Zen to Disruptions

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get disrupted. Our kid interrupts wanting a snack. Our spouse interrupts with their latest frustration. A message comes in that sidetracks us.

And then we can get frustrated or angry. That’s normal! Give yourself a breath or two, and some compassion.

Then let it go. Relax, breathe, and accept the interruption as just a natural part of the chaos of life. It doesn’t have to derail you completely. See the gift in the interruption. Find the gratitude for having this person in your life.

Then simply return to the meaningful task, with your whole self.

Replenish Yourself

It can be hard to find focus when we’re drained, anxious, exhausted, feeling resigned & resentful. We just don’t have the focus or capacity to face anything.

So it can be a great act of leadership to recognize this, and take care of it. A great act of generosity to yourself and your meaningful work.

Recharge your batteries, give yourself nurturing and nourishment, replenish yourself so that you can return with full life force.

Some ideas:

  • Get more sleep — shut down earlier and let yourself relax into deep, nourishing sleep.
  • Get outdoors daily. Go for a walk or run, enjoy the quiet beauty of nature.
  • Take a hot bath. Drink some tea while doing nothing else. Take some space.
  • Any kind of self-care is helpful: a nap, yoga, a workout, therapy, talk with a friend, get a massage, meditate.

More space, more relaxing, more nourishing.

Bring Freedom, Joy & Lit-upness to Every Activity

We can feel trapped because we’re craving freedom, but our day job isn’t allowing for it. We can feel drained and discouraged because our day job feels draining, stressful, dull.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! We can bring joy and freedom to any activity, including our routine work.

What would it be like to do the activity you normally experience as suffocating … with a sense of freedom and joy?

What if you could do the dull routine activities with vitality? What if you could be lit up in any moment you liked?

This is a possibility few people allow themselves. I encourage you to explore it.

What could your life be like, bringing freedom and joy to anything you liked?

By Leo Babauta A member of my Fearless Training Program has a full-time business that she loves, but isn’t the meaningful work she’d like to do in the world. She struggles with finding enough time for that meaningful work. Can you relate to this? The rest of our life fills up all the space — […]

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about 1 year ago
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Getting Good at Just Starting a Difficult Task - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

The tendency to put off difficult tasks that we don’t want to face is almost universal.

And it turns out, the moment of starting a task is often so much harder than actually doing the task.

Once we get started, there can be challenges (and we will want to switch to something else) … but if we can just start, then half the battle is already won.

So getting good at starting something tough can be a powerful skill to master.

Let’s talk about how to master it.

What Gets in the Way & How to Shift It

Why is it so hard to start? We feel uncertainty, fear, stress, overwhelm about the task. Or it makes us feel bad about ourselves, inadequate in some way.

It’s like opening a box that you know is goig to cause you pain — of course you’d put off opening the box! We want to protect ourselves from that kind of stress.

We can force ourselves to touch the electric fence, but that can only last for so long. We only want to put ourselves through so much pain before we start to question why we’re making ourselves suffer.

The opportunity is in finding a new way of seeing these tasks — instead of filled with overwhelm, stress and inadequacy … can we find a more powerful way of seeing the uncertainty of this task? Can it be an opportunity, an adventure, a playground, an expression of our art? Can it be a dance of joy, a powerful way to serve others with love?

Find that for yourself. What is the opportunity of this task? What would make it meaningful and joyful?

Connect to that before you start, and things will get easier.

How to Start

Once you’ve taken a look at how you’re viewing the task, and find a new way to view it … you’re ready to train yourself at starting!

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Pick a task that’s important/meaningful, but that you’ve been putting off . Usually it’s easy to find one. Look at your list, think about what you’ve been avoiding. Pick one, even if it’s a fairly random choice, it doesn’t matter.
  2. Find a way to make it meaningful & joyful . How can you view this task so that it serves others, that it’s an adventure or play, that it feels powerful opportunity? Even just a little bit is good. Connect to that.
  3. Shrink down the task . YOu don’t have to do the whole thing. Just a bit of it. For example, instead of having to write this whole blog post, I can focus on just writing the first few paragraphs. This will help lower resistance, because
  4. Clear everything away . Close your browser, disconnect your phone, close applications. Remove distractions. Give yourself the gift of simplicity.
  5. Dive in joyfully . You only need to start. You can work on staying with the task later. Just start! See it as a dance, a way to serve, a way to bring the full vitality of your being! Pour yourself in.

Appreciate this act of starting. It’s delicious and profound.

How to Practice the Art of the Start

An amazing way to practice this is to set yourself a challenge to do this once a day, 5 days a week, for a month.

By doing it just once a day, you’ll relieve yourself of the pressure of trying to do it all day long. You can be deliberate about it and find a way of viewing the task that feels powerful and joyful.

By doing it most days in the week, for a month, you will get better at it quickly.

Here are some additional tips:

  1. Keep a simple journal . Write down things that help and things that don’t help. Use it as a learning log.
  2. Do a short review every week . I recommend having people you report to, so that you’re sharing it with others, like an accountability group.
  3. Do it with others if it helps . That means you might meet someone on Zoom once a day where you each tackle the things that you’ve been putting off. It gives you the little push you need to start.
  4. Enjoy the practice ! Don’t make this a sacrifice, another burden in your life. Make it a playful, joyful adventure. Something that feels meaningful and delicious.

I also highly recommend my Fearless Training Program , where we work on this together.

By Leo Babauta The tendency to put off difficult tasks that we don’t want to face is almost universal. And it turns out, the moment of starting a task is often so much harder than actually doing the task. Once we get started, there can be challenges (and we will want to switch to something […]

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about 1 year ago
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Becoming Trustable - zen habits

By Leo Babauta

As a husband, a father, a man … one of the things I crave most is for my loved ones to trust me. It’s something I want with my team, my readers, my coaching clients, the members of my Sea Change and Fearless Training programs.

And I’ve worked hard over the years to become more trustable.

It’s really a magical thing, when people start trusting you. When your wife and kids trust you, it can melt your heart. They can relax, and feel taken care of. When your clients trust you, you can go deeper with them. When you trust yourself, you can relax more in any activity.

There’s magic in becoming trustable.

In this article, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned. To be clear: I am not perfect, and I don’t always do everything perfectly. This isn’t about perfection, but about being someone that people can count on — including taking responsibility when you’ve fallen short of what they were expecting.

An Example: What Happens in a Marriage When You’re Trustable

A marriage is a great example of where the magic of trustability can transform things. In a marriage, one partner will crave the radiant love (not necessarily sexual love) of the other partner — a husband craving the abundant feminine love of his wife, for example. (Note: This can apply to any gendered relationship — I’m going to use man/woman because that’s the one I know best.)

But she can’t fully give her radiant love and affection if she can’t relax. And she can’t relax if she’s always worried about whether things are going to be taken care of, anxious about whether her life is safe, whether you’re going to follow through on what you said you’d do. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve worked with who said this is one of their wives’ main complaint!

When our partner doesn’t trust us and complains that we don’t do what we say we’re going to do … we can take that as criticism. We can say, “Why does she always have to complain about me??” But what we’re missing is truly getting her experience, of having to worry about things she doesn’t want to worry about. She feels tense, and she can’t relax enough to give her radiant love.

When they can relax, and know that things are taken care of … they can give their love more easily and abundantly. Which is what we crave.

And so the magic comes when we become trustable — all of a sudden, they can relax more. And their love flows more easily and abundantly. It’s a wonderful magic!

It turns out, this is how all relationships often work, including professional relationships — when they can trust us and relax, a deeper relationship can form. Magic happens.

How to Become More Trustable

When we understand how all of the above works … then the question becomes, “How do I become more trustable?”

And my answer is that it doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s a never-ending process, like any kind of mastery. You’re never done growing in this area.

But it is possible to grow tremendously here!

I’m going to give some of the key learnings here:

  • Do your best to practice keeping your word . That means when you say you’re going to do something, really commit to making that happen. Sometimes that means sacrificing some comfort to make it happen. But make it a top priority, and take it seriously.
  • When you can’t keep your word, own up to it . Let them know ahead of time if you’re not able to do it. If you messed up, take responsibility and apologize, and let them know what you’ll do going forward to avoid the same mistake repeating. Do what you need to do to fix things.
  • Breathe deeply and slow down . When we’re jumpy and anxious, they will feel it. When we stand solidly, breathe deeply, and go slower … they feel this as solidity and trustability. As with all of this, it’s a learning process — you’ll have moments of anxiety, but you can learn to breathe deeply even here. You’ll have moments of fidgetyness and jumpiness … but you can learn to slow down even here, with practice.
  • Create structure for yourself and them . When you are committed to making certain things happen (taking care of the car, getting the groceries, paying the bills) … it will help greatly to have structure, like a schedule with reminders. When will this get taken care of? You might alter the structure, but having a structure for you and those around you helps them to know that things are in order and will be taken care of. Practice creating structure for others when it would serve them (without forcing it on them) — offer a plan, a schedule, a clear decision, an agreement.
  • When they complain about something you haven’t done … listen . Hold space for their complaint, and instead of taking it personally, see if there’s some way you can help them. But listen first, and get them. Then see what you can do to make it right, to create structure so they can trust it will get done, to clean up any mess you’ve accidentally made. You don’t need to feel blame or shame, but just get them.
  • Take things seriously . But not too seriously! OK, it’s good to have a sense of humor … but if you dismiss their concerns, or say, “Yeah yeah don’t worry” … they will worry. They can’t trust that you’re going to do your best. Give it your all. Hear their concerns. Make it clear that you’re going to take care of it.
  • Take full responsibility . Especially when you want to blame them. Instead of pointing the finger … look at what you might have done to contribute to this, or to allow this situation to happen. Have you not been clear? Have you not created an agreement around this? Have you not been acknowledging them for how great they are? Have you not been taking care of things? When you think you shouldn’t have to take on responsibility — that’s when you can take on more.
  • Take care of yourself . If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you be trusted to take care of them? This means clean up your messes, put things in order, do some basic personal hygiene, take care of your emotions, give yourself rest when you’re feeling stressed or burned out. Being trustable doesn’t mean you have to take on so much that you’re overworked.
  • Always look for ways to be more trustable . Where have you dropped the ball? Is there something you could do to feel more solid to them? Where have you avoided taking on responsibility? Where have you let things lapse into a mess? This is a continual area of growth. You don’t have to be perfect, but you can continue to grow. For life.

If you take some of this on, a little at a time, I would be willing to bet that things will magically start to change for you in all of your relationships. And it just feels freaking good to be trusted!

By Leo Babauta As a husband, a father, a man … one of the things I crave most is for my loved ones to trust me. It’s something I want with my team, my readers, my coaching clients, the members of my Sea Change and Fearless Training programs. And I’ve worked hard over the years to […]

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Allowing Ourselves to Feel Joy During the Day - zen habits

By Leo Babauta

I’ve come to the realization that most of us don’t allow ourselves to feel joy most days. Sure, maybe on some kind of big occasion, we’ll let ourselves run around whooping with joy … but mostly not.

Think about you past week: have they been joyful and wondrous? Or routine, full of busyness and stress and doing doing doing?

If you felt a daily amount of joy and wonder, you’re likely the exception. Most people don’t seem to feel joy regularly, or even realize that that’s the case.

Let’s change that.

Joy and wonder are two emotions we shut down, for so many reasons: it’s safe, it’s not allowed, we’re worried about ourselves, we’re stressed. But wouldn’t we like to live a life that has joy every day? That feels wonder at the incredibleness of this world and the richness of humanity?

We can still get shit done, still function in society, while having a greater degree of joy and wonder. In fact, I’d argue that the people around us will benefit, our work will benefit, the world will benefit, if we allow joy into our lives. If we start seeing everything with wonder, at least some of the time. Not to mention the personal benefits of this as well — life can start to come alive again. It’s like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when things go from black and white to color!

So how do we allow this into our lives? It starts by simply recognizing that we want this. That it’s allowed. Give ourselves some freaking permisison to feel alive and joyous!

Then we can make it a daily practice. Not a daily chore to add to our task lists, another thing that we should do. NO! This is something we GET to do!

OK, I’ll stop yelling now. I’m just excited dammit! OK now I’ll stop. :)

Here are two practices you might try:

  1. Go outside and see the wonder of the world around you. Let yourself feel alive! Feel the joy that you get to be alive in this freaking amazing world. Run or dance or skip around like a kid, in joy. See the open and vibrant nature of the universe. When you see other people, delight in their humanity! If you feel like it, whoop around joyously, climb a tree, do handstands. Whatever you feel like, whatever would be joyful.
  2. Every day, ask yourself a simple question: “Where did I see God today?” If you don’t believe in God, as I don’t, you can take that to mean, “Where did I see the divine or sacred today?” or “Where did I see the wonder in the world?” This practice is simply thinking back to the parts of your day when you allowed yourself to see wonder and the divine. It could be in the face of a loved one, or a wonderful person outside. It could be in the joy you felt in winning a game or watching an incredible creation online.

These can be daily practices. They can be anytime practices! Would you like to feel joy and wonder today?

By Leo Babauta I’ve come to the realization that most of us don’t allow ourselves to feel joy most days. Sure, maybe on some kind of big occasion, we’ll let ourselves run around whooping with joy … but mostly not. Think about you past week: have they been joyful and wondrous? Or routine, full of […]

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about 1 year ago
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Staying at the Edge of Uncertainty - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

When we get into a situation that feels uncertain, most of us will immediately try to get to a place of certainty.

Instead of writing a blog post, I’ll find myself wanting to check emails or my favorite websites.

Instead of having a difficult conversation, we’ll stay in a crappy situation for longer than we need to.

Instead of putting our art out into the world, we’ll hide it in the safety of obscurity.

When things feel chaotic and overwhelming, we look for a system that will feel ordered and simple.

All of us do this in most areas of our lives. Sometimes, we are able to voluntarily stay in uncertainty, but those times are relatively rare, and usually we don’t like it so much.

Here’s the thing: the edge of uncertainty and chaos is where we learn, grow, create, lead, make incredible art and new inventions.

The edge of uncertainty is where we explore, go on adventures, get curious, and reinvent ourselves.

The edge of uncertainty is where we can find unexpected beauty, love, intimacy, vulnerability, meaning.

Everything we truly crave is at the edge of uncertainty, but we run from it.

The trick is to stay in it.

The Edge, Not Deep in the Pit

I say the “edge of uncertainty” because most of us are unprepared to be fully in uncertainty without some kind of ground under our feet. We need some certainty, some safety. Without it, we feel like we’re spinning out of control.

When our lives become untethered, we need some kind of ground to stand on. When we’re lost in depression or trauma, we need to feel the ground of our basic goodness, of knowing that there are others here with us.

So I don’t recommend letting go of all certainty. Let your life be mostly stable.

But once you have a little stability, let yourself get to the edge of uncertainty.

It’s the place where you’re learning, but not completely lost. Where you are exploring, but not freefalling. Where you’re creating something new, but not without some grasp of what came before you.

Stay at the edge, and then let yourself rest in some kind of comfort. Go to the edge, then come back and take a breather.

How to Train at the Edge

If you’d like to get good at staying in uncertainty, I highly recommend daily training.

And no, it’s not enough to say, “My life is all uncertainty, I’m already doing it!” I mean, that’s probably true, but it’s not deliberate practice. It’s what’s happening to you, but you’re not deliberately training to stay at your edge.

So I recommend daily deliberate practice:

  1. Set aside a time . It’s not usually helpful to say that you’ll do it sometime. You already have enough of those things in your life, adding one more won’t be helpful. So pick a time and set multiple reminders.
  2. Pick something you’re avoiding or feel overwhelmed/afraid of . Writing that book or report, marketing, giving honest feedback, dealing with new technology, making calls, recording videos, etc. It should make you feel somewhere around a 7 out of 10 resistance. Have a good reason to do this task, not just because it’s hard. Are you doing it for something meaningful to you? For someone you care about?
  3. Do it for a short time . Just 10 minutes is fine, or 15. Work up to 30 minutes a day. You just need to stay there a little while, not forever.
  4. Learn to embrace the uncertainty . Notice how you feel like doing something else. Let yourself feel the uncertainty, as a physical sensation in your body. Let yourself stay there, but bring curiosity instead of complaint to the uncertainty. See if there can be any kind of openness, gratitude, even joy in the middle of the uncertainty.
  5. Be kind to yourself . Notice if you’re beating yourself up about not doing more or doing better, and let go of some of that. Be kind. If you’re trying to force yourself to do something you hate, give yourself encouragement. Cultivate a friendly attitude toward yourself in this training.

It also helps to have accountability, or to do it with others (on a video call, for example).

I highly recommend training with others who are trying to do their meaningful work, in my Fearless Training Program .

By Leo Babauta When we get into a situation that feels uncertain, most of us will immediately try to get to a place of certainty. Instead of writing a blog post, I’ll find myself wanting to check emails or my favorite websites. Instead of having a difficult conversation, we’ll stay in a crappy situation for […]

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First Two Steps to Creating Resilience - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

When life is shaking us up and we’re feeling stressed … it can be tough to feel resilient.

Resilience helps us to deal with the chaos and overwhelm … but how to we create it when we feel like we’re underwater?

The first step is to remove things that are adding unnecessary stress. The second step is to do things that help us feel replenished.

Those two steps won’t get us all the way to full resilience, but they’re a huge huge start.

Some stress is inevitable — wishing for a life where we feel zero stress is just going to add more stress.

But if we are flooded with stress, removing some of it can help us to clear the space to create even more resilience. If we don’t remove the extra stress, we’ll never do the things we need to take care of ourselves, or to train our minds to be more resilient.

So removing unnecessary stress is the first step.

Some examples:

  • If you’re drinking a lot, reduce down to 1-2 glasses of wine a night. Zero might be even better for some, but it’s useless to ask someone to quit alcohol when they’re flooded with stress.
  • Similarly, reducing smoking or other narcotics or drugs would be a big help.
  • If you’re working late into the night, creating a stopping point earlier would be a big help, if possible.
  • Cut back on your workload a bit, if you’re able to.
  • Stop saying yes to everything, and take fewer meetings.
  • If you’re fighting a lot with someone, refrain for a bit. Take a breather and let yourself settle.
  • If you’re watching things or playing games late into the night and getting little sleep, cut back on that.
  • If you’re watching news or reading things online that really get you angry, stop that for awhile.
  • Cut out social media if that gets you anxious.

And so on.

Removing these stressors will help you catch your breath.

Then Replenish Yourself

I don’t mean that you have to take a spa weekend (though that would be great!) … I mean doing little things that help you feel more recharged and settled.

These things fill you up, so that you can better take on the world.

For example:

  • Go for walks out in nature.
  • Create space for reading, having tea, taking a bath, journaling.
  • Talk with someone regularly, in person or over the phone.
  • Take naps.
  • Get better sleep.
  • Take a weekend off.
  • Get some sunshine, if there’s any where you are.
  • Take moments of stillness and deep breathing during your day.

These little things can make a huge difference.

You won’t get all the way to resilience with these two steps — but you’ll have given yourself what you need to take the further steps of shifting your thinking patterns and practicing resilience.

By Leo Babauta When life is shaking us up and we’re feeling stressed … it can be tough to feel resilient. Resilience helps us to deal with the chaos and overwhelm … but how to we create it when we feel like we’re underwater? The first step is to remove things that are adding unnecessary […]

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Creating Impact When You’re Overwhelmed - zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Our lives can be chaotic and overwhelming, and we can feel like we’re struggling to stay afloat. We feel behind, stressed, distracted, undisciplined, unworthy.

And in the middle of all of this, we want to do our meaningful work.

We want to create an impact.

How can we find focus and create some kind of meaningful impact in the face of this chaos and overwhelm?

I’m not here to claim it’s easy. I face it every day. But what I am here to say is that it’s possible . In fact, not only is it possible, it’s amazing — it feels even more meaningful because of the difficulty of doing it in chaos and uncertainty.

I manage to do it almost every day (some days I take a rest!) — and more than that, there are people in my programs that inspire me with what they’re able to accomplish in lives that can feel like they’re falling apart.

Let’s talk about how that might look, and some key principles.

Finding Focus in Chaos

I start my day feeling stressed, because it always feels like I’m already behind — I have a thousand things to do, and none of them were getting done when I was asleep!

I’ve come to accept this feeling, and even to recognize it as a sign that I’ve put myself intentionally into something meaningful and uncertain. This feeling means I’m not staying safe.

I try to start with meditation. Sometimes I have an additional practice or two. I feel the chaos and need to take care of all my tasks and emails pulling at me when I meditate. That’s perfect: I sit with the feeling of uncertainty and overwhelm as I meditate, and use it in my meditation.

Then I start working. I notice myself wanting to clear out emails and messages before I start on the meaningful task I’ve chosen for myself (usually chosen the night before). Often I’ll give in to that urge, and clear out a bunch of emails and messages. That’s OK — sometimes the uncertainty overtakes us. I call it “clearing the deck,” and it can feel restorative to clear things out.

Then I set myself to do the meaningful task. It can feel difficult, because I still feel chaotic. Why should I focus on this one thing when there are thousands of others calling for my attention?

Because I care about making an impact. I remind myself of why this is important. I get clear in my heart, and strengthen my intention in my mind.

Then I clear everything out, and create a space for focus.

Then I get started.

Creating an Impact

When there are thousands of things to do, how can we make an impact? Any one of those things can feel meaningless, because they’ll barely move the needle. Sometimes the feeling is that we’re just spinning our wheels, or treading water, and not making any progress. And at the same time, so many things are coming at you.

Look, I get that. Things can feel like a struggle, feel chaotic, feel scattered. I feel that way too.

But there’s an open secret to creating an impact: line up your stuff. Line up at least one task today with your mission, and things will happen.

For me, the lining up goes something like this: today’s task -> week’s targets -> month’s targets -> quarterly targets -> yearly vision -> my mission. That means today’s top task is lined up with the week’s targets (1-3 targets), which are lined up with the 3-5 targets for the month, etc. If I can line things up (roughly) this way … things start to happen!

Of course, you’ll still feel scattered, you’ll still feel like you’re treading water, you’ll still feel like you’re being hit by a deluge. That doesn’t go away — it’s the feeling of chaos. The secret of creating an impact is that you can still move mountains, still create something meaningful, while feeling this way. If you line your stuff up.

It’s not magic, but it can sometimes feel like magic. I’ll have a month that feels so chaotic, so much like treading water … and then at the end of the month, I’ll do a monthly review … and I’m shocked at how much I moved the needle. Flabbergasted.

Key Principles

So with that in mind … here are some key principles to take away for creating impact when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Accept the chaos . It’s not a problem, just a sensation that we normally don’t like. Learn to see it as a condition of doing something meaningful. Or for living.
  2. It’s OK to clear the decks — a little . Before you start with your meaningful task for today, you’ll get the urge to get a bunch of emails and messages out of the way. That’s OK, go ahead and get the most urgent ones answered, if you can do it in 15-20 minutes. Clearing a few things out so you can feel a little more settled isn’t a bad thing. Just don’t let it occupy all your free time.
  3. Line up your stuff . Have a target at least for this month, but maybe for the year as well. Or beyond. If you’ve set targets for the month, then set up weekly targets to move you in that direction, and then a daily task to hit that weekly target.
  4. Then focus . Clear everything away. Put your full focus on that one task that will win the day for you. You only have to do this once a day, but if you can do it 2-3 times, take a bow, because you are a god.
  5. Watch the magic happen . At the end of each week, see if you hit your targets. At the end of the month, look at what got done. It can still feel like not much is happening, but it can also be surprising how much you’re moving towards the impact you want to make.

Simple stuff, but we need to be reminded of this when things feel like they’re constantly falling apart.

Train with me: we’re doing an Impactful Focus Challenge in my Fearless Training Program in March!

By Leo Babauta Our lives can be chaotic and overwhelming, and we can feel like we’re struggling to stay afloat. We feel behind, stressed, distracted, undisciplined, unworthy. And in the middle of all of this, we want to do our meaningful work. We want to create an impact. How can we find focus and create […]

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Positive Feedback Loops - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Let’s say you want to be more disciplined about your day … you might tell yourself, “I’m going to wake every morning, meditate for 15 minutes, plan my Most Important Tasks, and then get started and follow the plan. No doubts about it.”

And then your plan gets hit by distraction or interruption, and you feel bad about it.

You try again the next day, start out well, but then at some point, you get off track and feel discouraged.

Three days into this attempt, and you feel like you are completely undisciplined, and you give up the effort.

What went wrong?

The problem is that the plan was set up to fail at some point, and then you’d feel failure, feel bad about it, feel discouraged. You might be able to withstand this discouragement and negative feedback for a little while, but no one withstands it forever.

Negative feedback loops will cause us to not do the activity.

Positive feedback loops will cause us to stay with it for much longer.

Think about the design of your plan to change your behavior: is it designed to give you positive feedback or negative feedback? Most people ignore this component entirely.

What Positive Feedback Looks Like

What we want is to design a plan that gives us some kind of reward or positive feeling, some kind of encouragement. And we want it to give us this encouragement regularly.

Some examples of positive feedback:

  • I do the habit and get a check mark and a ding! from my habit app
  • I exercise and get to tell my friends about it
  • I successfully complete a language lesson and feel a sense of accomplishment
  • I have a coach who gives me encouragement
  • I get a positive grade for a quiz
  • I feel gratitude towards myself for meditating
  • I get a high five from my friend after our hard run together
  • My team gets praise for our accomplishment in the company
  • I check off something from my task list

Notice also that many of these examples will have negative feedback built into them as well: I get a bad grade, my habit app streak ends, I feel embarrassed that my friends know I haven’t exercised for a week, my task list is neverending and makes me feel overwhelmed, my coach might criticize what I did today, I forgot to do the language lesson and feel bad about it.

So if most systems have both positive and negative feedback built in … what can we do?

We have to design a better system.

A More Positive Design

We need a system that will always encourage us to go in the right direction.

When we go in the right direction, we feel accomplishment!

When we go in the wrong direction, we get encouraged to turn it around.

A key principle: There is zero wrongness and judgment associated with this — when we judge ourselves or beat ourselves up, it’s discouragement or negative feedback. Instead, we never make ourselves wrong. We always have compassion.

Here’s an example … let’s say I want to write every day. I might design a plan like this:

  • I only have to write 1 sentence a day for the first 3 days. It’s so easy I can’t say no. I am practically guaranteed success.
  • After I write my 1 sentence for the day, I acknowledge myself for the effort and give myself gratitude for showing up and practicing.
  • When that becomes super easy, I change it to 2 sentences a day. If I feel like writing more, I can. Same thing: acknowledgement and gratitude.
  • I focus on small victories — encourage myself for any possible positive action! I am also encouraged to share any victory at all with others who might be encouraging (like my Sea Change Program or Fearless Training Program ).
  • If I get off track — my plan is to catch myself after a “slip-up” and give myself compassion for whatever resistance or discouragement I felt (compassion is a kind feeling), and then to pick a small victory to get the next day (any possible small victory will do, maybe just opening my doc and writing one word). I can acknowledge myself and give myself gratitude for catching this and choosing a small victory to aim for. Find something to learn, and get back on track.

This system is designed to give my encouragement no matter what. Victories, gratitude, acknowledgement, learning, practicing getting back on track.

Principles of Positive Feedback Design

As you can see above, there are some simple principles we can incorporate into our design:

  1. Try to not make yourself wrong, judge yourself, discourage yourself. You probably will (most of us do), but catch yourself and give yourself compassion, and see if you can remove this wrong-making.
  2. Aim for small victories. As small as possible.
  3. Encourage, acknowledge, give gratitude.
  4. Scale as needed: scale up if you’re really feeling it, scale down by doing less if you’re feeling too busy or tired.
  5. Have a way to encourage yourself if you start to get off track. Compassion, learning, finding the smallest possible victory to start getting back on track.
  6. Use others for positive encouragement if it’s helpful.

I encourage you to redesign your habit changes, your attempts to get more disciplined and focused, or any kind of change you’d like to make. Encourage, encourage, encourage!

By Leo Babauta Let’s say you want to be more disciplined about your day … you might tell yourself, “I’m going to wake every morning, meditate for 15 minutes, plan my Most Important Tasks, and then get started and follow the plan. No doubts about it.” And then your plan gets hit by distraction or […]

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What I Learned About Facing Fear from Cold Swimming - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

For the first 40 days of this year, I jumped in a cold swimming pool with two of my sons, as a practice in facing discomfort and fear .

We never looked forward to it, but it taught me a lot about facing things I don’t want to face.

The things we don’t want to face can look like a top hits list:

  • Overwhelming piles of work
  • Our unhealthy habits
  • Our addictions to social media or online browsing
  • Finances or taxes
  • Difficult conversations
  • Projects I’ve been putting off
  • Putting my work out into the world
  • Piles of stuff in my garage

Does any of that sound familiar? Turns out, facing difficult stuff is huge!

In this article, I’ll share what cold swimming taught me about facing difficult stuff.

What Avoidance Feels Like

Every day, I noticed myself not wanting to jump in the cold water. Luckily, I had two other people I’d committed to, and they helped me to stick to the commitment!

I would pause and notice how my resistance felt. It is a tightness in the chest, an urge to go do something easier or more comfortable, and urge to not even think about the hard thing. An urge to turn away, to go to the busywork.

Imagine having to dive in a pool of icy water right now — OK, some of you masochists would probably enjoy it (Canadians and Finnish!) — but most of us would quickly think of a few other things that need doing. We’d feel that bodily resistance, and maybe a little feeling of dread as well.

That’s the same thing we feel when it comes to tackling an overwhelming project or having a difficult conversation. We would rather scrub the kitchen.

Taking the Plunge

For 40 days, we faced this resistance. And here’s what I learned that helped:

  1. Do it with others . Not only did it help keep me accountable, doing this challenge with my sons made it more fun. More meaningful. We were in it together. I highly recommend finding others to do it with.
  2. Make it meaningful . Have a reason to do it that feels really meaningful to you. For me, it was not just doing it with my sons (though that would have been enough) — it was being a model for doing scary stuff in the world, for all of you. That is by far greater than my fear of discomfort.
  3. Don’t overthink it . I wouldn’t think about the discomfort too much. There’s a way where we can psyche ourselves out, and argue why we shouldn’t do something. I didn’t think about it, I just stayed in the moment, and didn’t even anticipate the cold until I’d leaped into the air and was headed down into the water. The anticipation is often much worse than the actual difficulty.
  4. Find the joy, find the fun . Every day, we experimented with different ways to find fun in the act of diving in the water. We’d dance or yell, laugh or howl. In the water, when the shock of the cold water hit me, I’d find a way to bring joy to that moment. It doesn’t have to be miserable just because it’s uncomfortable.
  5. No big deal . The thing that helped us the most was the phrase “No Big Deal.” We would act nonchalant, like it wasn’t going to be anything to worry about. In the beginning we’d do a lot of preparation, but towards the end, we adopted the No Big Deal attitude and would just jump in. It was just as uncomfortable, but we found that acting nonchalant about it was very helpful.
  6. Fall in love with the moment . There is always something to love. I would find wonder in the blue sky above us, in the intensity of the cold, in the aliveness I felt, in the yells and laughter of my sons. The discomfort is only a part of the moment — the actual moment is much bigger, and it is awe inspiring.

These were beautiful lessons for us. I hope to carry it through to my other challenges this year !

By Leo Babauta For the first 40 days of this year, I jumped in a cold swimming pool with two of my sons, as a practice in facing discomfort and fear. We never looked forward to it, but it taught me a lot about facing things I don’t want to face. The things we don’t […]

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Relaxing with Chaos - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

There’s a big part of us that doesn’t like chaos: we want order and simplicity and feeling like we’re on top of things and doing things the “right” way.

And so when things feel chaotic, we scramble for some kind of stability:

  • When we feel overwhelmed and behwend, we might beat ourselves up and try to look for a system to get things under control.
  • When someone is upset with us, we might not like the feeling of being judged and the uncertainty about how people see us, and so we might lash out at them or spin around a story for days about how terrible that person is.
  • When plans don’t go how we hoped they would, we feel like we’re on unsteady ground, and we start criticizing ourselves or feeling like we’re doing things wrong and things are out of control, and it might bring a lot of stress in our lives.
  • When we think about putting our work out there into the world (by writing a book or putting out an album, for example) … we worry about the shakiness of putting ourselves out to be judged, and might decide that we won’t be OK if that happens, because it just feels too scary, and so we put off putting my work out there, for years.

Do you relate to any of these examples? In fact, the uncertainty of our chaotic lives is perhaps the main cause of our anxiety, stress, frustration, self-doubt, fears, procrastination, distraction and more.

We know when we’re feeling this chaos when we’re reaching for a new tool, system, method, tactic, plan, expert, book on a topic … or our phones.

There is nothing wrong with any of these things. It’s just how we normally respond to chaos.

But if we could relax in the middle of that chaos, it could do so much for us:

  • We would be OK with the feeling of overwhelm, and not need to panic or feel bad.
  • We would simply take the next step.
  • We could focus on one thing at a time.
  • We could put our work out in to the world, letting ourselves be with the shakiness of being judged.
  • We could be with someone’s upsetness, giving them compassion rather than worrying about whether we’ll be OK.
  • We could simply meditate, go for a walk, exercise, eat healthy food, deal with our finances, and do all kinds of other simple, helpful actions that we put off when we feel stressed about chaos.
  • And much, much more.

The training is to learn to relax with chaos. And from that place, decide on the next simple step.

Training with the Chaos

The training is to notice when we’re feeling chaos … and then use it as a kind of meditation, to breathe and then relax.

Notice when you’re feeling chaos. You don’t have to look for it — you’re probably feeling it right now. The world will always give us enough chaos to practice with. It’s a gift.

Notice it, and then pause.

Breathe. Deep into your belly, slowly, letting yourself relax with each breath.

Then learn to relax with this feeling of chaos, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, shakiness, groundlessness.

Breathe, and with each breath, relax into the feeling of uncertainty and chaos.

Repeat.

If you’d like to train with me, join my Fearless Training Program .

By Leo Babauta There’s a big part of us that doesn’t like chaos: we want order and simplicity and feeling like we’re on top of things and doing things the “right” way. And so when things feel chaotic, we scramble for some kind of stability: When we feel overwhelmed and behwend, we might beat ourselves […]

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The Quest for Impact, Not Productivity - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

There once was a young man named Brabu, who discovered at a young age he had a superpower: he could make things move just by waving his hands.

Brabu found delight in this at first, making sticks and leaves float in the air, playing wildly in the forests and ocean, the world was his playground.

Then he grew up, and found that his superpower meant that people expected him to use his powers to move things for a living. So he learned to move rocks from this pile to that, boulders stacked high for days on end, trenches got dug, day after day until he was exhausted. This felt meaningless.

So he decided to use his powers for good, to help others in a meaningful way.

The Ways We Limit Our Powers

Brabu looked around at others. A friend of his, Mara, used her similar powers to move a lot of things around, but in the end, the world was the same. No matter how much stuff she moved, not much changed.

Another superpower friend, Llewyn, found at an early age that people would judge the stuff you moved —either you did it right, or you did it wrong. Llewyn was so terrified of doing it the wrong way that he agonized for days about every possible choice, and in the end barely ever moved anything, crippled with fear and self-loathing.

Another friend named Akongo decided he didn’t want to care about what she moved or how much she moved, and so he just moved whatever he felt like moving, whenever he felt like it. He would sometimes lift a leaf into the air, flick it across a field, and then take a nap. He lived a simple, happy life. But not many people were helped.

Yet another friend, Nuwa, would constantly be frustrated with his neighbors, who were always doing frustrating things. Nuwa complained a lot, and used his superpowers to hurl sticks and rocks at his neighbors, with great ferocity. The neighbors happened to feel exactly the same ways as Nuwa … toward Nuwa. What a jerk, to be hurling things their way! They hurled things back. Lots of people got hurt.

Mara, Llewyn, Akongo, Nuwa. Lots of powers amongst them, not many people helped.

The Quest for Impact

So Brabu learned from each of them, and decided he wanted to make an actual difference, help people, make an impact on the world.

Moving lots of random things around tired out his arms, and he would end up exhausted, frustrated, burnt out. And not much had changed. So he committed to doing less — burnout didn’t help anyone.

He focused his powers on moving the rocks that made up one particular hill. Doing less, he was able to actually make an impact. But it was the wrong hill — there wasn’t much meaningful accomplished from moving that hill.

Through trial and error, talking to people, and sitting in contemplation … he decided he know what impact he wanted to make on the world. Move this one particular mountain, to help millions of people who were suffering.

Moving the mountain seemed impossible, so he almost just gave up at the beginning. But he decided to completely commit himself to this mission, out of love for those suffering people. He got up every morning, and focused his powers on moving what he could in this mountain.

Day after day, he focused on this impact. Productivity wasn’t the point — he wasn’t just trying to move a lot of rock. The impact was the point — less rock moved, but with purpose and focus.

After a year of making steady progress, Brabu decided he couldn’t do it alone. He enlisted others in his vision: Mara, Llewyn, Akongo, Nuwa. They became lit up by his vision for helping these suffering people, and poured themselves into the work of moving this mountain. Brabu’s job became not moving rocks, but moving people into this vision.

The story isn’t over yet. The mountain is still being moved. The ending still being written.

I’m curious: are you on a productivity quest, or on a quest for impact?

By Leo Babauta There once was a young man named Brabu, who discovered at a young age he had a superpower: he could make things move just by waving his hands.  Brabu found delight in this at first, making sticks and leaves float in the air, playing wildly in the forests and ocean, the world […]

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Unstuck: Create a New Path for Yourself - zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Sometimes it can feel like we’re stuck in life, doing the same things we’re unhappy with, over and over again.

Maybe you’ve been procrastinating on your meaningful work, or getting stuck in indecision or perfectionism. Maybe you’ve been putting off exercise or meditation, getting your finances in good shape, or making some other important change in your life.

We get stuck.

I’m a living testament to the truth that we can get unstuck.

In my life, I’ve been stuck many times — and it turns out there’s always a way through the stuckness. It’s not turning away from the stuckness, but turning towards it. Going through it. Embracing the stuckness, and letting it unstick itself.

I’m going to talk about a few principles of getting unstuck, and creating a new path for yourself. And then talk about recommendations for changing your habits this year, or getting good at doing your meaningful work.

Ways to Get Unstuck

There’s no one way to do this, but I’ve found some things are incredibly helpful:

  1. Turn towards the difficulty . If you’ve been avoiding thinking about a difficult project, or your messy finances or messy clutter, or your exercise or diet or other health issues … not much will change until you turn towards it and face it. A willingness to turn towards the difficulty and work with it is one of the most important requirements to change.
  2. Make a decision & set an intention . If we want something different to happen, we have to decide to make a change. It’s as simple as that, and yet what happens is we get stuck in an in-between state, where we want to change but we haven’t made a clear decision to do so. A clear decision means we let go of all of the “should I do this or maybe not?” kind of self-talk, and just commit to the decision fully. And then we set an intention: what would we like to do?
  3. Be compassionate with yourself . When we keep doing the same things over and over again, we can get really down on ourselves. We get disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, and form a negative self-image. Trust me, I know this well! And yet, none of that helps us get unstuck — it only adds to the stuckness. So what would it be like to be kind to ourselves instead? That doesn’t mean we don’t try to change … it just means we stop adding self-discouragement to our list of challenges. Or at least, if we do, we start adding encouragement and compassion.
  4. Do it with others . Most people try to get unstuck and make a change by themselves. This feels safer. But it means you’re doing something tough on your own — which can work sometimes, but often doesn’t work. I’ve found it incredibly powerful and effective to do it with others. Find a group, do a challenge, get accountability, find a wolf pack to run with. You will find that it helps to not be alone, and to get support when you feel like giving up.
  5. Set a time to practice with it, and keep up the practice . It’s funny how often we say we’re going to do something, but then don’t commit to a time. Make a date with yourself to do it. Or make a date with someone else to do it with them! Keep practicing with it, daily if possible, and you’ll see gradual change.
  6. Small victories, slow change, amazing progress . Focus on small victories at first. I told myself I just had to lace up my shoes and get out the door. I increase very gradually. In a year, I went from not being able to run 10 minutes, to running my first marathon. Gradual change equals huge progress over time.
  7. Progress, not perfection . You’re not trying to be perfect at this. You’re trying to trend in the right direction. Missed 4 days of meditation last week? Focus on the 3 days you did do! Keep making progress, and let go of small misses.

These are some of the most helpful things you can bring to any changes you want to make. Now let’s talk about two ways to change your life I’m offering.

Change Your Habits This Year

In my Sea Change Program , I’m committed to helping people get good at changing habits this year. If you get good at the skills of changing habits, you can eventually change your entire life.

We’re spending this year practicing habit skills and changing a range of different habits.

This month, we’re doing a course in Habit Fundamentals. It’s a great place to practice the ideas I shared above. I highly recommend you join us:

Join Sea Change today and change your life.

Get Good at Doing Meaningful Work

If you’ve been wanting to get good at doing your meaningful work, but feel stuck … I offer a training in getting unstuck and actually taking action.

It’s called Fearless Training , and the idea is to practice turning towards the uncertainty that triggers our procastination, distraction, overwhelm, avoidance, indecision and perfectionism. If we get good at turning towards this uncertainty, we can take on anything.

Join Fearless Training today and start your training.

By Leo Babauta Sometimes it can feel like we’re stuck in life, doing the same things we’re unhappy with, over and over again. Maybe you’ve been procrastinating on your meaningful work, or getting stuck in indecision or perfectionism. Maybe you’ve been putting off exercise or meditation, getting your finances in good shape, or making some […]

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The Practice of Trust - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

In this chaotic world, we worry, we avoid, we try so hard to “do it right.”

At the heart of it, all of that worry and anxiety is because we cannot trust.

We don’t trust others: we judge them and try to tell them how to live their lives, we get frustrated with them when they don’t do things the way we think they should.

We don’t trust ourselves: we avoid saying things because we don’t think we can handle it if they get upset, we try to get things just right because we don’t think we can handle failure or being judged.

We don’t trust the world, so we’re constantly anxious about it all.

There’s nothing wrong with that — we’re human. We’re wired to see threats everywhere.

But what would it be like to practice trust?

Trust others to live their lives. When we’re frustrated with them or judging them, we can remind ourselves to practice trusting them, remind ourselves that we can’t control everyone’s behavior nor do we really know for sure how anyone else should act. Heck, I don’t even know for sure how I should act!

Trust myself to deal with whatever happens. Pandemic, lockdowns, political strife, all kinds of difficulty has come our way, and we are surviving. Trust myself to handle whatever chaos arrives, whatever failure might happen, whatever difficulty comes.

What would it be like, to practice this kind of surrender and trust?

By Leo Babauta In this chaotic world, we worry, we avoid, we try so hard to “do it right.” At the heart of it, all of that worry and anxiety is because we cannot trust. We don’t trust others: we judge them and try to tell them how to live their lives, we get frustrated […]

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Savor What You Dread

By Leo Babauta

Today my sons & I were standing at the edge of the pool, on a cold day, knowing that the water we were about to jump into was freezing.

It was Day 27 of my first 40-day discomfort challenge … and we were dreading the cold water.

We knew it would be shockingly cold, because we’ve jumped into it for the past 26 days. We really didn’t want to do it, but we’re committed to this.

And then I invited myself to a mindset shift: can I bring curiosity to this moment?

This moment I have already judged as bad, this experience I’ve already put into a fixed box of “hell no” … could I instead let go of my fixed ideas, and just bring curiosity?

What is this moment like, when I’ve dropped my judgments, fixed views, preconceived notions?

It becomes much more open. Much more filled with possibility.

From this place of possibility … I wondered if there was something to savor right now. Is there anything I can enjoy, appreciate, find sacred and beautiful?

I found a lot to savor: the chilly air, the intensely blue sky and low-lying soft clouds, the quiet neighborhood with planes flying overhead and birds calling out to us. I savored this moment of challenge with my sons, this day of being fully alive and able to do meaningful work with others, this day of having loved ones here and scattered elsewhere who I care deeply about.

I found a lot to savor, and suddenly this become a moment of freedom and love. I jumped in, and found the divine.

By Leo Babauta Today my sons & I were standing at the edge of the pool, on a cold day, knowing that the water we were about to jump into was freezing. It was Day 27 of my first 40-day discomfort challenge … and we were dreading the cold water. We knew it would be […]

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The Challenge of Doing Hard Challenges - zen habits

By Leo Babauta

This year, I’m doing a series of 40-day discomfort challenges, as a way to continue my training in falling in love with discomfort and uncertainty.

It’s a training I’ve been doing for 1 1/2 decades now, but I’ve been deepening into it even more in the last 5 years. And now I train others in it, in my Fearless Training Program — the uncertainty & discomfort of doing your meaningful work.

This year is going to be a further deepening into that training. I’m going to swim in the deep waters, out of love for life and those who I serve.

I’ll tell you more about my challenges, but first, let’s talk about what hard challenges can do for us.

The Benefits of Hard Challenges

Why do this at all? Someone asked me that on Twitter yesterday: “What are you trying to prove, and who are you trying to prove it to?” I love that question!

With these hard challenges, I’m trying to prove that difficulty, discomfort, uncertainty, resistance and fear are nothing to fear. That we don’t have to run from things because they are hard or scary, or because we feel resistance.

Even further, I’m trying to prove that we can fall in love with discomfort and challenge, bring play and curiosity in the middle of uncertainty and fear, find joy in the middle of chaos and groundlessness.

Who am I trying to prove it to? Myself. And all of you. In service of doing something meaningful in the world.

Imagine that you have some meaningful work you’d like to do — write a book, grow a community, give a voice to others, support those in need, inspire, teach, serve. But with meaningful work comes uncertainty and discomfort, and these can hold us back, because we run from them. Why not just enjoy life and forget about my meaningful work? You can do that, and it would be great, but you can also do your meaningful work, and it can be awesome as well.

In addition to that … hard challenges are incredible! They can:

  • Teach us that we can adapt to discomfort
  • Show us the beauty of uncertainty and not knowing
  • Help us find growth in failure and loss
  • Prove that we have the courage to do what we fear
  • Give ourselves evidence of our resilience, grit, determination, commitment
  • Help us to grow in new and unexpected ways
  • Show us what our patterns are when we feel discomfort & uncertainty — if we don’t challenge ourselves to do hard things, it’s almost impossible to see what our patterns are, except of course the avoidance of doing hard things

Each of you has done something hard, maybe many hard things: run a marathon, given birth, raised kids, completed hard projects, dealt with relationship or health difficulties, and much more. These are some of the most meaningful things we can do, and they teach us so much!

Our growth and learning is greatest when the comfort zone ends, and it can also be the most meaningful and joyful parts of our lives as well.

My Year of Hard Challenges

So I’m going to prove all of that with a series of 40-day challenges where I face my own discomfort and fear.

The first challenge, which I started January 1, is jumping into a cold pool everyday with two of my sons. We do some Wim Hof-style breathing before we dive in, then count 3-2-1 and jump into the air! It has shown us that we can do hard things every day, and has been a meaningful bonding experience for us.

I’m still forming the other challenges (vote for what I should do in this quick survey ) … but here are some others I have in mind, 40 days each:

  • Zen sewing (sew a rakusu)
  • Write a book in 40 days (in public)
  • Record a podcast a day for 40 days
  • Meditation retreat in silence
  • Learn a language (probably Chamoru)
  • Launch something every day for 40 days
  • Sleep outside
  • Martial arts
  • Fasting
  • Ego eradicator (hold a difficult pose)
  • Eat only lentils & kale
  • No Internet except creation & calls
  • Public speaking
  • Navy SEAL-style physical training

I’m going to pick 8 of these to do after my cold swimming challenge — again, you can help me pick with this quick survey .

I’ll keep a log of how these go, and post about it periodically here on Zen Habits!

The Challenges of Hard Challenges

Of course, we have to acknowledge that these don’t come without a cost. All of the following challenges can be overcome — and I’ll be sharing how to do that — but there are difficulties that we should be aware of:

  • We’ll come up with reasons not to do it
  • Resistance is real, and can be hard to work with!
  • The ego will get in the way — not wanting to look bad in public, for example, or not wanting to not know how to do something
  • We can get tired and want to give up after awhile
  • We can white knuckle it and force our way through it, but not enjoy it
  • Completing it can be about the ego as well, wanting to look good is a real danger
  • On the other hand, the feeling of not being good enough can also be triggered
  • When we get hit in the face by discomfort, we’ll get a strong urge to collapse
  • We’ll find a lot of other activity to do instead
  • Perfectionism can often come up and get in the way
  • Our minds will complain a lot about it!
  • We can also get to overwork, exhaustion, overdoing it

These are some of the main challenges. And they are real. And they are wonderful teachers.

An Invitation to You

This year, I invite you to do your own version of hard challenges. That can be whatever it means for you — training for a 5K or half marathon, meditating every day for 5 minutes, learning something, doing the meaningful work you’ve been avoiding.

Do these challenges in small doses — don’t try to overdo it. Give yourself compassion with whatever comes up. Get support, do it with others, and have fun with it.

I invite you also to encourage me along the way — I’ll post to my log regularly , and post updates here on Zen Habits. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you’d like to see photos or vids once in awhile.

And if you’d like to train in the uncertainty and discomfort of your meaningful work, join me more than 100 others in the Fearless Training Program !

By Leo Babauta This year, I’m doing a series of 40-day discomfort challenges, as a way to continue my training in falling in love with discomfort and uncertainty. It’s a training I’ve been doing for 1 1/2 decades now, but I’ve been deepening into it even more in the last 5 years. And now I […]

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How to Do the Thing You're Avoiding - zen habits zen habits

By Leo Babauta

Most of us have something on our task list we’re avoiding. Or a project we’ve been putting off.

Think for a moment: what’s the task or project you’ve been avoiding lately?

Some possibilities:

  • That report you don’t want to write
  • Your book or blog you’ve been meaning to write
  • The business you’ve been wanting to create for years
  • Your garage you’ve been meaning to declutter
  • That email that’s been sitting in your inbox for a month
  • Going for a run

So what is it you’ve been avoiding? Identify it now before you move on.

In this article, we’ll look at why you’re avoiding it, and how to actually do the thing.

Why We Avoid the Thing

We often spend our days doing everything but the hard thing we don’t want to do.

We’ll research something to death instead of actually just doing the thing. We’ll talk about it, read about it, buy all the equipment for it, but not actually do the thing. We’ll do our email, messages, small tasks, and check social media or the news — just real quick! — instead of doing the thing.

Why? We’re protecting ourselves from uncertainty. We don’t want to feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t want to look stupid. We don’t want to feel overwhelmed, we don’t want to feel like we’re not good enough, we don’t want to feel like a failure or disappointment.

We’re protecting ourselves from feeling that. So we do everything else, out of protection.

And of course, it doesn’t work. Avoiding doing the thing actually just makes us feel more overwhelmed, more like a failure or disappointment, more stupid or not good enough.

Avoidance doesn’t actually work.

So how can we stop avoiding, and actually do the thing?

How to Actually Do the Thing

We do the thing by deciding to do the thing. Like, deciding decisively to do it.

We have to pause for a moment and actually consider that we’re avoiding something – which is what I asked you to do at the beginning. Did you do it then? We usually don’t want to face that fact, so it can help to have someone else to talk to about it, to report to, to commit to. Every day, tell someone what hard thing you’re going to do, and by when. Then report to them the next day, right before you tell them what you’re going to do that day.

Decide to do it, and then don’t waver. Don’t let yourself argue about it. When you decide to do it, just commit and do it.

Do it at a certain time: tell your accountability buddy you’re going to do it at 10am, or whatever works best. Set a reminder. Do it when the reminder goes off.

Psyche yourself up, if it helps. Play some pump-up music, get some tea, clear distractions, and then pour yourself into it. Do a countdown: 5-4-3-2-1 and then do it!

Do it with someone else. Meet someone for a focus session on a video call at a certain time, and tell them what you’re going to do for the next hour, while they tell you when they’re going to do. Set a timer, don’t talk, just work. When the timer goes off, report to each other how it went. Repeat daily. Save these focus sessions for the thing you’re avoiding.

Get into the action habit. The habit of recognizing what you’re avoiding, turning towards it (instead of away from it), and then just starting.

Get small victories. Small victories are incredibly powerful. Avoiding doing a big task? Do 5 minutes of it. Do 10 minutes. Eventually, doing an hour of it will be much easier, but do the smallest possible chunk, and get a victory. Celebrate it! Do a dance, acknowledge yourself. Then get another victory.

With practice, the habit of doing the thing you’re avoiding can become so much easier. Use these techniques to get there.

If you’d like to train in doing the hard thing, I highly encourage you to join my Fearless Training Program , where that’s exactly what we do together.

By Leo Babauta Most of us have something on our task list we’re avoiding. Or a project we’ve been putting off. Think for a moment: what’s the task or project you’ve been avoiding lately? Some possibilities: That report you don’t want to write Your book or blog you’ve been meaning to write The business you’ve […]

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Staying Focused with a Simple Method - zen habits zen habits

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”

Hagakure

By Leo Babauta

If you’re in a job where you could be doing a thousand things, staying focused for most of the day can become a big problem. We want to do too much.

Today I’d like to talk about this hard problem faced by anyone doing meaningful work.

If you don’t tackle this challenge, you’ll be left feeling scattered and unfocused, overwhelmed and disconnected.

If you can take it on … you can create an experience of getting meaningful things done.

How does that sound? Let’s dive in.

Staying Focused on Meaningful Tasks

I don’t think I need to go too much into the problem of feeling scattered and unfocused during the day — most of us are pretty damn familiar with that.

So how do we tackle it?

The method is fairly simple, though of course it’s so easy to be led astray from it (I lose this thread all the time). I’ve been advocating this for almost 14 years now:

  1. Make a short list . I recommend 3-5 important, meaningful tasks. And then a few more smaller tasks you’ll take on later in the day when you don’t have as much focus power. These are the tasks you’ll take on today (ideally make the list the evening before).
  2. Order the list, and pick the top one . If you spend time the evening before, or just a few minutes first thing in the morning, prioritizing your short list … you won’t have to think about it when the time comes to execute. This is really important. Don’t let yourself negotiate — pick the top thing on your list and don’t question it at execution time.
  3. Execute your ass off on this one thing . Focus on this and nothing else. Close off distractions. Don’t worry about everything else that needs to be done. This is the only thing in the universe. If you get interrupted, take care of the interruption (or put it on your list for later), and then get back to focusing. Pour yourself into it, with as much meaning as you can (more on this below).
  4. Repeat . When you’re done with the task or can’t work on it because you’re waiting on something, pick the next one on the list. When you don’t have focus power anymore (late afternoon for me), take care of the smaller, easy tasks that need to get done.

I keep one long list of tasks that I need (or would like) to do sometime (my backlog), and pick from that each day.

It’s important to keep the list short — you don’t want to have everything you could possibly do on the short list.

Let’s talk about the common problems you’ll face — especially the biggest problem of all.

The Common Problems (Including the Big One)

There are some key problems to know about and take on.

If you finish your short list tasks early, you could get more from your long list … or take the rest of the day off!

If you don’t get them all done (very common), just put them back on the long list or carry them forward to tomorrow’s short list. You only need two text documents (or Google docs) to do this method.

This method solves the very very common problem of trying to do too much — it asks you to only do a few things, and really only one thing at a time. You always know what that one thing is, so there’s no overwhelming number of choices.

The biggest problem, if you’re doing this method, is feeling like you don’t want to do a task , and avoiding by going to easy tasks or distractions. This is so common that there are a thousand books written about it. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s a human trait — just notice. It’s easy to notice with this method, because you always know what you should be focused on.

When you notice yourself avoiding something hard or uncertain … the method is to turn towards it . Turn towards what you’re avoiding. Open to the discomfort, embrace it as training and growth. Bring curiosity. Do it even when you don’t feel like it.

This is the training. The simple method makes it easier. Take it on, and see what happens.

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.” Hagakure By […]

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