I’m really excited to tell you guys about my new video course, Dealing with Struggles, which I’m launching today.
It’s for anyone who is struggling with:
- Changing their habits
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Stress and anxiety
- Feeling down or unmotivated
- Relationship problems
- Unhappy with their direction in life
- Feeling bad about themselves
In short, this is all of us, to some extent.
It can seem like there’s no way out of our difficulties, but there is. It just takes some practice and a bit of courage.
This course helps us to get to the root of these common struggles.
What’s beneath all of our anxieties about ourselves, our struggles with habits and procrastination?
How can we develop the tools and the mindfulness to work with the root of all of these problems?
We’ll dive into these ideas in this course.What You Get
In this course, you will:
- Get two video lessons a week
- Get a mindfulness exercise for each lesson
- Be able to submit questions that I’ll answer
- Work with very powerful tools to unravel our old problems
- Learn to deal with difficulties and the resistance we often face
- Learn how to break old patterns and form new ones, to create the life we want
- Deal with each moment with mindfulness, equanimity & compassion
These tools have helped me to change my entire life — from changing all my habits, helping me to be more mindful and compassionate. I offer them to anyone who is struggling.
I’m opening my heart to anyone who joins this course.
It won’t necessarily be easy — you’ll have to put in some work — but it can be life-changing. And I’ll be there with you.Bonus Ebooks
In addition to the course, which I believe is already very valuable … I’m offering five bonus ebooks that I’ve written:
- Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness
- Essential Zen Habits
- Little Book of Contentment
- The One Skill – How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life
- Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction
I’ll also be answer questions submitted by course participants in articles and videos that I’ll publish during the course. And we’ll have a Facebook group for discussion of the course by participants.
I hope you’ll join me.
We’re constantly struggling with the past, in so many ways:
- Mistakes we’ve made that we regret or that make us feel bad about ourselves
- Anger about something someone did to us
- Frustration about how things have progressed up until now
- A wish that things turned out differently
- Stories about what happened that make us sad, depressed, angry, hurt
- An argument that we had that keeps spinning around in our heads
- Something someone just did (a minute ago) that we’re still stuck on
What if we could just let go of things have have happened, and be present with the unfolding moment instead?
What if we could let the past remain in the past, and unburden ourselves?
What is we could see that our holding onto the past is actually hurting us right now … and look at letting go as a loving act of not hurting ourselves anymore?
It can be done, though it isn’t always easy. Here’s the practice I recommend, in four steps.Step 1: See the Story That’s Hurting You
In the present moment, you have some kind of pain or difficulty: anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness, hurt.
Notice this difficulty, and see that it’s all caused by whatever story you have in your head about what happened (either recently or in the more distant past). You might insist that the difficulty or pain is caused by what happened (not by the story in your head), but what happened isn’t happening right now. It’s gone. The pain is still happening right now, and it’s caused by whatever story you have about the situation.
Note that “story” doesn’t mean “false story.” It also doesn’t mean “true story.” The word “story” in this context doesn’t imply good or bad, false or true, or any other kind of judgment. It’s simply a process that’s happening inside your head:
- You’re remembering what happened.
- You have a perspective about what happened, a judgment, a way of seeing it that has you as the injured party.
- This causes an emotion in you.
So just notice what story you have, without judgment of the story or of yourself. It’s natural to have a story, but just see that it’s there. And see that it’s causing you difficulty, frustration or pain.Step 2: Stay with the Physical Feeling
Next, you want to turn from the story in your head … to the feeling that’s in your body. This is the physical feeling: it could be tightness in your chest, a hollowness, a shooting pain, an energy that radiates in all directions from your solar plexus, an ache in your heart, or many more variations.
The practice is to turn and face this physical feeling, dropping your attention out of the story your head and into your body.
Stay and face this feeling with courage — we usually try to avoid the feeling.
Stay and explore it with curiosity: what does it feel like? Where is it located? Does it change?
If this becomes unbearable, do it in small doses, in a way that feels manageable for you. It can get intense if the feelings have been intense.
But for most feelings, we see that it is not the end of the world, that we can bear it. In fact, it’s just a bit of unpleasantness, not all-consuming or anything to panic about.
Stay with it and be gentle, friendly, welcoming. Embrace the feeling like you would a good friend. You’re becoming comfortable with discomfort, and it is the path of bravery.Step 3: Breathe Out, Letting Go
Breathe in your difficulty, and breathe out compassion.
It’s a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen: breathe in whatever difficult feeling you’re feeling, and breathe out the feeling of relief from that difficulty.
You breathe in not only your own pain, but the pain of others.
- If you’re feeling frustration, breathe in all the frustration of the world … then breathe out peace.
- If you’re feeling sadness, breathe in all the sadness of the world … then breathe out happiness.
- If you’re feeling regret, breathe in all the regret of the world … then breathe out joy and gratitude.
Do this for a minute or so, imagining all the frustration of those around you coming in with each breath, and then a feeling of peace radiating out to all of those who are frustrated as you breathe out.
You can practice this every day, and it is amazing. Instead of running from your difficult feeling, you’re embracing it, letting yourself absorb it. And you’re doing it for others as well, which gets us out of a self-centered mode and into an other-focused mode.
As you do this, you’re starting to let go of your pain or difficulty.Step 4: Turn with Gratitude Toward the Present
As you feel that you’ve let go, instead of getting caught up in your story again, turn and see what’s right here, right now.
What do you see?
Can you appreciate all or some of it? Can you be grateful for something in front of you right now?
Why is this step important? Because when we’re stuck on something that happened in the past, we’re not paying attention to right now. We’re not appreciating the moment in front of us. We can’t — our minds are filled up with the past.
So when we start to let go of the past, we have emptied our cups and allowed them to be filled up with the present.
We should then turn to the present and find gratitude for what’s here, instead of worrying about what isn’t.
As we do that, we’ve transformed our struggle into a moment of joy.My Upcoming Course: Dealing with Struggles
I wanted to let you guys know about an upcoming video course that I’m launching next week — it’s called Dealing with Struggles, and I’m very excited about it!
This course is aimed at anyone who has struggles:
- Anxiety about life or social situations
- Frustrations with themselves or other people
- Difficulty with procrastination
- Trouble forming new habits or quitting old habits
- A feeling of unhappiness with ourselves
- Struggles with finances, clutter, productivity, health issues
- Stress about work, life, relationships
As it turns out, we all have struggles.
This video course will aim to get to the root of our struggles, and learn how to apply mindfulness practices to work with them.
It’s a four-week course, with two video lessons and two mindfulness practices a week … and it will start in April. More next week!
There’s a Japanese term, “ichigyo-zammai,” that basically means full concentration on a single act.
Sunryu Suzuki described this practice in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and said this practice of being fully in the moment with the activity is enlightened activity.
“So instead of having some object of worship, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” Suzuki Roshi wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”
He said when we just do that one activity, we express our true nature.
What a beautiful idea, that when we aren’t present, our true nature cannot fully express itself … but when we are truly just doing whatever we’re doing, we start to express our true selves.
But it’s easier said than done. How often are we not in the moment?
Think about times when we are:
- Jumping between tasks in a browser
- Checking our phones while doing other things throughout the day
- In a rush to do the next thing while still doing the current thing
- Thinking about other things when someone is talking to us
- Irritated by someone when they interrupt whatever we’re doing
- Taking whatever we’re doing for granted, because it’s dull or routine
It turns out, we are very rarely fully in the moment with any single activity. How can we try this enlightened activity of full concentration on one act?How to Do One Thing at a Time
These are as much reminders to myself as they are reminders for you, but here’s what I’ve been practicing with:
- When you start an activity, turn to it with your full attention and set an intention to be present with the act, to do nothing but this activity. You might think, “Just walk” or “Just read” or “Just drink tea.”
- You might open up a wide-open, sky-like panoramic awareness as you do the activity, being fully engaged with the entire moment.
- When you notice yourself thinking about something else, or getting your attention pulled elsewhere, or starting down a pattern of judgment, resentment, etc. … just notice. Then return to being fully present with the activity.
- Empty your mind of preconceived ideas about the activity, and just be curious about what the activity is actually like, right now, as it unfolds. Allow yourself to be surprised.
- Treat every object with reverence, as if it were your own eyesight.
- See the brilliance of each moment, of each activity, that underlies everything around us.
Just write. Just shower. Just give someone your full attention.
As we give each activity our full loving attention, we start to appreciate each person, each object, everything around us as something worthy of respect, love, and gratitude.
We start to take life up on the opportunity to fully engage with it, with a smile and a bow.
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, in the most loving way you can — with your full attention.
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.
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.The Practice of Generosity
What does generosity have to do with hurrying and trying to maximize every day? In one sense, generosity might be giving money or possessions to people who need it, or giving help wherever needed, when possible. But that’s just one sense of generosity.
Generosity is any way that we turn away from our self-centered view and start turning towards others. It could be as simple as turning towards another person in our life and trying to see what they need, rather than focusing on what we want to get out of life.
Or it could be turning towards that person and giving them the gift of our full attention. Really try to be present, with an open heart, trying to understand and hear the person. This is the spirit of generosity.
When doing something alone, the spirit of generosity can be turned to each moment — giving that moment the full gift of our attention, seeing it fully and opening our heart to it. This is a salve to the usual spirit of needing more, more, more, of wanting to satisfy me, me, me.
I’m trying to practice the spirit of generosity, whenever I notice my greedy mind wanting everything, wanting more, wanting to get the most out of every day. Instead, I turn to this moment, each person, each activity, and give it the loving gift of my wholehearted attention.
Many of us are trapped in our old, hardened eating patterns.
In fact, we might not even be aware of the patterns, but we do know that 1) we’d like to get healthier or leaner; 2) we have a hard time making eating changes; 3) we don’t always know how to change.
Those are good realizations! It means we have to humble ourselves, and find a way to put ourselves into an area of uncertainty and discomfort in order to change.
Some common eating patterns that are difficult to change:
- Snacking on junk food
- Sugary drinks like sodas or Starbuck sugary coffee drinks
- Bingeing in the evening
- Eating out a lot and making unhealthy choices, then regretting it
- Needing comfort foods when you’re stressed or feeling down
- You start drinking and then you eat like crap
And more, of course. These are just some common examples. Do you have any of these? Are there others you aren’t aware of but that keep you locked into a less-than-healthy lifestyle?
If you’re ready to make a change, let’s look at how to change our eating patterns.What Gets in the Way
Before we look at how to change the patterns, let’s take a look at the common obstacles. Don’t get discouraged by this list! Changing is definitely possible, as my own life shows. I’ve changed my entire diet completely, and while I’m not perfect by any means, I have confidence in my ability to change my patterns if I want to.
Some common obstacles:
- Being motivated by guilt, fear, regret: Studies show that these motivations are very common, and they don’t work well. Instead, change that sticks is motivated by a positive outlook and self-motivation.
- Vague or too many goals: If you have a specific plan, rather than “eating healthier,” that’s more likely to succeed. If you try to change too many things at once (exercise, diet, meditation, decluttering, procrastination!), you’ll use up your limited energy and discipline.
- Depriving ourselves: If you are on a diet, and it feels like a sacrifice and deprivation, you won’t be able to stick to that for long. Instead, eat high-volume foods like vegetables and beans that fill you up and don’t leave you hungry, and eat indulgent but healthy foods like a few squares of dark chocolate, berries, relaxing tea, a glass of red wine. Make it feel like a wonderful lifestyle rather than self-flagellation.
- Not having practical ways to get there: It’s great to have a goal to lose weight, but how will you do it? Most people only have a vague idea of what to do, and it can be confusing. It’s best to have a practical plan. More in the next section.
- Too much choice & variety: If you go to a buffet and there’s a hundred delicious-looking foods there, you’ll probably overeat. The same is true at home or wherever we normally eat — if you always have lots of choices, with tempting varieties, you’ll probably overeat. But if you went somewhere where there was just one choice, and it was healthy, you’d probably do much better.
- Social eating: Eating out with friends or going to parties can make it difficult — mostly because of the above reason of too much choice and variety. But also because we’re not mindful of our choices when we’re talking to people, and also we might feel pressure to eat like everyone else instead of making healthy choices.
- Resistance to healthy foods: Lots of people don’t like vegetables. Or beans, raw nuts, whole grains. I know people who would rather die than eat brown rice, oats, kale or drink soymilk. This is a barrier to changing eating patterns.
- Not realizing your patterns: Many people aren’t really aware of what their eating patterns are. It can be hard to figure it out unless you’re forced to see it in the cold harsh light of day.
- Healthy eating is confusing: There’s a lot of advice out there, so many things to learn about. To combat that, pick a simple, whole-foods diet and just stick to a simple plan. Veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains. Drink water, tea, maybe a bit of red wine. Simple!
- Depending on willpower: If you have to stare donuts in the face, then French fries, then sumptuous dessert … you will run out of willpower. Instead, change your environment, and make things easy on yourself.
- It’s not convenient: When you’re hungry, tired, stress, or lonely … you’ll reach for what’s easy. Instead, get rid of the junk and have convenient snacks (I like hummus and carrots, and apples and raw nuts).
- You think it’s expensive: Healthy eating can be seen as super expensive. Actually, it can be even cheaper: try lentils! A lentil soup with potatoes or some brown rice is super cheap. Add some frozen green veggies and you have an incredibly healthy, simple meal for very little.
OK, that might seem like a lot of obstacles. But being aware of them is key, and now that we’ve looked at them, let’s talk about some solutions, and how to shake up our eating patterns.Shaking Up the Patterns
I’m usually a fan of slow changes, but lately I’ve been realizing that it can be helpful to really give our patterns a good shakeup.
How do we do that? By giving ourselves a line to stick to.
Here’s what I mean: when we meditate, by trying to focus our attention on our breath … it becomes very obvious once our attention wanders to a chain of thoughts. Without the line drawn in the sand — trying to stick to watching the breath — it’s hard to notice the mental patterns of impatience, frustration, harshness, retreating into our stories, rationalizing, etc. The breath is the line that we try to stick to, and the line helps us see what’s going on.
So create a line to stick to for eating patterns.
I recommend that your line be a meal plan, that you try to stick to for one month.
By trying to stick to a meal plan, it becomes very obvious when you binge, or eat a bunch of afternoon snacks, or breakfast on pastries and a latte. Your patterns start to become obvious.
And when you learn that you can actually stick to the meal plan, the patterns start to fall apart. You’re aware of them, but no longer beholden to them. You start to free yourself.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Make a simple, healthy meal plan: Pick a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch, a healthy dinner, a healthy snack or two. Enter it into an online food tracker to see how the calories add up (I shoot for 250-500 calories below my maintenance level to lose weight). Keep it simple to prepare, based almost entirely on healthy whole foods, not processed foods. Again, veggies, beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits. Btw, I pick one healthy meal and eat it for both lunch and dinner, every night of the week, to keep things simple.
- Plan for indulgences: Don’t make it a sacrifice — include delicious nutritious foods, include indulgences like dark chocolate, red wine, coffee, berries, tea. And include a couple free meals each week (don’t pig out, just eat moderately but whatever you want).
- Stick to it for a month, give your habit time to change: Challenge yourself to stick to the meal plan (with two free meals per week) for a month. This will give your mind and body time to adjust to new habits.
- Clean up your environment: Keep junk out of your house. Have healthy alternatives to your usual comforts — fruits instead of sweets, air-popped popcorn or carrots and hummus instead of chips.
- Prep to make it easy: If you eat the same lunch every day, and the same dinner every day, prepare them in advance so that it’s easy to eat when it’s mealtime.
- Have strategies for restaurants & social eating: If you have to go out, either make it one of your free meals (and remember to eat moderately) or plan what meal you’ll be eating. For example, you can look at the menu online and know that you’ll have lentil soup with a salad, or black bean tacos with guac. If you’re going to a party, prepare your healthy food and bring it to the party.
- Give yourself time to adjust to new foods: If you don’t like the taste of vegetables at first, let yourself eat them every day for a week. You’ll start to like them.
So that’s the plan: make a simple, healthy meal plan and stick to it every day for a month (with two free meals a day). Clean up your food environment, don’t make it a super sacrifice. Yes, this is a bit boring. But if you rebel against that, it shows you a pattern — you need excitement in your food! But actually that’s not something we need to get from food — it’s not entertainment, it’s sustenance.
You’ll start to see your patterns if you try this plan. You’ll become very aware of what you’re rebelling against, what your failures are (and why), and you’ll be able to focus on those and get better at them.Finding a Fresh Alternative
What happens when the month is over? Must we stick to a meal plan forever? No, but we can now step outside our old patterns and choose a fresh alternative.
Like what? Some ideas for alternatives to our old patterns:
- Plan healthy meals for the week.
- Eat healthier alternatives to our old comfort foods and snacks.
- Change our food environment to be more conducive to health.
- Change our social eating to be a bit healthier.
- Find other ways to cope with stress (meditation!), comfort ourselves (a walk, a bath, tea), socialize (go for a hike).
- Adjust to new healthy foods and find joy in the deliciousness of nutritiousness.
- Letting go of shame around food, and instead just seeing it as nourishment.
I’m not going to tell you what alternatives you should choose, but only recommend that you allow yourself some time to contemplate how you’d like to live.
Fresh alternatives are available once we shine a light on our old patterns, and break away from them.Course: How to Stick to a Lean-Out Diet
If you’d like to go deeper into these topics, and challenge yourself to stick to a meal plan this month … I’m offering a course for my Sea Change members called “How to Stick to a Lean-Out Diet“. It’s just a way to create a healthy meal plan and stick to it for the month, but it’ll be a good exploration of all the topics above.
Join us now to get access to the course (and a challenge with weekly reporting): Sea Change Program.
In this monthly membership program, you get access to:
- Video lessons
- Monthly challenges
- A forum for supporting each other and accountability
- A webinar (for Gold level members)
- Lots of great content in the course library
I recently did a challenge with my friend Jesse of Samovar Tea: check email just twice a day (at 10am and 4pm) for 30 minutes a session.
In addition, we couldn’t check email in the morning unless we did an hour on a specific project that morning. It ended up that on most mornings, I couldn’t do an hour of that project, so I only checked email in the afternoons.
What amazed me is that I only needed about 20 minutes a day to process email, if I focused and worked efficiently. I’d like to share how to do that, if you’re interested. (I’m continuing the challenge for at least another week, btw.)
To start with, this isn’t about being hyper-efficient. It’s not about optimizing our life or becoming productivity masters. It’s not about rushing through things.
It’s about limiting our distractions (for me, email is one of my go-to distractions) and when we do allow them, it is purposefully. And with focus and mindfulness.
Email is necessary in my life, so I don’t want to cut it out. I do want to keep it to a minimum, so it doesn’t expand to fill my day, or become something I run to.
OK, with that clear, let’s dive into the “how to.”How to Limit Email Checking
It used to be that I would check email first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. But I realized that this was a procrastination method that felt productive, that was a way for me to postpone meditating and important work.
Email also was something I’d check whenever I was bored, didn’t want to work on something hard (but still wanted to feel productive), or just had an itch to see what people were writing to me about.
But Jesse asked me a good question: What would happen if you didn’t check email for a week? (My projects would fall behind and customers would think I’m unresponsive.) What would happen if you just checked once a day? (Nothing bad, probably.)
So we made a challenge: just check twice a day, at specific times. If you messed up, you’d have to pay the other person $1,000 (!). That was a ridiculous amount for such a trivial thing, so it was guaranteed that we wouldn’t check email.
There was a small caveat: if you needed to send an email (to get a report to someone, for example), you could send the email only, but would have to pay $1,000 if you checked any other emails.
So I recommend a similar challenge. Try it for a week. Find an accountability partner, promise to pay a really big amount, set specific terms, and see if you can limit your email checking. This won’t work for people in customer service, for example, who need to check email all day long to do their job, but for most of us, email just seems like something we need to check often, but nothing bad happens if we don’t.
Try it, see if you can limit yourself to twice a day. Or be bold, and do once a day!How to Process Email in 20 Minutes
The “20 minutes” is actually relative to whatever volume of email you need to process, of course. Some people will need 30 minutes. But most people can do it in less, and if you find yourself going beyond 30 minutes, it’s possible you need to do a couple things:
- Unsubscribe from as many newsletters, promotional emails, notifications and other fluff as you can (if it has an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email, use it). Get those out of your inbox, so you can just focus on the important stuff.
- Decide that you’re not going to get to everything today, just the important ones that you can do in 20-30 minutes. Let go of the rest — getting to empty isn’t more important than other things you need to do.
OK, with those two key ideas in mind, here’s how to process your email in 20 minutes:
- Set a timer for 20 minutes. Set your container, and work within it.
- Process email top down, and completely deal with each email. One email at a time. Deal with it completely (see next two items) before you allow yourself to move on to the next. Don’t put it off, don’t say, “I’ll deal with that later.”
- Take one of three actions. You only have three choices: a) delete (or archive), b) reply right now (and/or take care of the task it requires right now) if it will take 2 minutes or less, c) put it on your to-do list or calendar if it will take longer (see next item) and file in a “to-do” email folder. Basically, do what it takes to get the email out of your inbox. And again, unsubscribe whenever you can.
- Put longer tasks on your to-do list. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, put the item on your to-do list. Or if it’s a link that you need to read, put it on a read-later list. Sometimes I’ll reply to the person to let them know I’ll try to work on it today (or by a certain date), and then put it on my to-do list or calendar.
- Be mindful as you work. It’s easy to get into the “do this as quickly as I can” mode. But there’s also a mindfulness you can bring to the activity. As you send this email, are you being helpful, kind, clear, truthful, compassionate? How is your body feeling? Are you sitting upright? Can you smile and appreciate this beautiful moment?
When the timer goes off, find gratitude that you had that time to communicate and take care of important tasks. Let go of the rest (for now), close your email, and resist the urge to check it again later. Refocus yourself on something important.
Breathe, and meet the rest of your day with joy.Questions & Answers
A reader asked some great questions, here are my answers:
Question: When you talk about processing email in 20-30 minutes – do you mean just going through your inbox?
Leo: Yes, that means actually dealing with the emails — archiving, replying, doing quick tasks. Longer tasks or replies get put on to-do list and can be done outside that 20-30 minutes.
Question: What about writing emails? It can take me that long to write 1 email!
Leo: I try to just do quick replies, under 2 minutes. Longer ones I’ll put in a text document to write outside of the 20-30 minutes, and send later.
Question: How do you store links you need to read?
Leo: Instapaper. But there are a few other good services too.
Question: How do you stop your to-do email folder building up? When do you process your to-do emails? Are they excluded from the 20-30mins?
Leo: I try to do the to-do items with my inbox closed (not included in the 20-30 mins). So if I have to get a bunch of information and reply, I’ll put it on my to-do list, and when I close my inbox I’ll get al the information later, write a reply, then send it (either when I check email next or I’ll allow myself to send it anytime but not check email).
How do I stop it from building up? I don’t have a trick for this, just try to do what I can each day. Sometimes emails and to-dos build up, because I’m focusing on more important things, so at least once a week I try to set aside time to catch up with the smaller, administrative items.
Question: Aside from the obvious “fluff” ones, how do you decide who to unsubscribe from?
Leo: If I feel I didn’t need to read that email, I’ll unsubscribe. Newsletters, updates, notifications, promotional emails, ads.
Underlying much of what we do is an uncertainty, an anxiety, a fear, doubts, dissatisfaction …
And we react to these anxieties, dissatisfaction and uncertainty in so many unhelpful ways: we seek distraction, we eat unhealthy food, we procrastinate, we get caught in a cycle of anxiety and unhappiness, we lash out at others, we dwell in our loneliness, and then we get in denial about it all.
If we could learn to deal with the basic anxiety of life, we would have much more ease and less struggle.The Anxiety Underneath Our Problems
On Twitter, I asked people to share a problem they’d like me to write about … the problems were all very difficult, but the basic anxiety of life was the undercurrent to all of them.
Each one has an external problem, with the undercurrent of anxiety, fears or uncertainty underneath the external problem. Let’s take a look at a few:
- Feeling of being left out, lack of belonging: We can all relate to this feeling of not belonging. Externally, the problem is not finding people you connect with, not having that connection in your daily life. But on top of that, we add the anxiety/dissatisfaction of feeling like we’re left out and don’t belong. This is normal, but it’s good to notice.
- Finding your passion, optimizing potential: The external problem is that you are in a job you’re not passionate about. On top of that is the anxiety/dissatisfaction of not finding that passion, of feeling like we’re not optimizing our potential. We can all relate to this too!
- Headaches cyclicly prevent me building a career and paying my way properly, affects my self worth hugely: The external problem (bad headaches, leading to career and financial problems) is very real, and not easy to deal with. But on top of that, we have anxiety about it all, and we add self-criticism (most of us do this, right?), self-doubt, and a downgrading of our self-image.
- That phase of anxiety before big changes occur: The external issue is that we’re facing a big change, and then because it’s a situation filled with great uncertainty, we feel anxiety about it.
- Beginning/purchasing self improvement books/classes/plans and not using them: The external problem is not finding the time or energy to use materials you’ve bought, but we add to that an anxiety about ourselves not living up to our potential, not taking advantage of opportunities, not doing what we hoped we’d do. I think we can all relate to this.
- Addiction to social media, videos and cell phone: The external problem is the distractions that keep pulling our attention. But the anxiety is that we feel addicted and feel something is wrong with us for not being less distracted. In addition, the addiction is probably a coping mechanism for dissatisfaction with the moment in front of us, or anxieties in other parts of life.
- PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder: A lot of people are coping from dissatisfaction with the political scene right now, no matter what your views on the president might be. There’s the external situation of what’s going on, and then we add our dissatisfaction, anxieties about uncertainty, frustration and anger.
- Sometimes feel helpless & empty for a reason I can’t identify. Only time makes that go away but I feel that time was wasted: There’s probably an external situation that’s causing a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or helplessness. But the real problem is the feelings about it all, the uncertainty and anxiety about it all, and the anxiety about wasting the time it takes to get over it.
- Getting over breakups: The external problem (end of a relationship) is overshadowed by the pain, dissatisfaction, anxiety that follow the breakup. We might have frustration and anxiety about wanting it not to have ended, about not wanting to be alone, about how we feel about ourselves after being dumped, about how the other person acted.
I think we can all relate to these problems, to not only the external situation but the reactions that we have.
There’s a fundamental anxiety and dissatisfaction that runs through the human condition, about whatever we’re experiencing in life, about other people and about ourselves.
So how do we deal with it all?Where Does Basic Anxiety Come From?
It’s good to start by recognizing why we have this basic anxiety. It’s caused by:
- Uncertainty about life, about the current situation, about people
- Wanting certainty, stability when life isn’t stable or certain
- Dissatisfaction with the above facts — which is also dissatisfaction with our situation, ourselves, and others
If you sit right now for 5-10 minutes and just pay attention to your breath, you’ll likely notice the fundamental anxiety … it results in wanting to stop paying attention to the breath, wanting the meditation to be over, wanting to get on with the tasks of life, wanting distraction, thinking that the exercise is stupid, wanting to think about problems you have.
But instead of running from this anxiety, instead of getting away from it into thinking about problems or getting out of the meditation … what if we just stayed with it and paid attention to it?
If we can get in touch with this fundamental anxiety that we suffer through in life … we can start to work with it.Learning to Deal with This Basic Anxiety
Instead of running from the anxiety, instead of trying to cope by using distractions, food, shopping, alcohol, drugs … we’re going to find the courage to face it, with a smile.
Here’s how to work with it:
- Face the physical feeling. Drop out of the story that’s spinning around in your head, that’s causing the anxiety. Instead, just be mindful of how your body feels. What does the anxiety feel like, and where in your body is it located?
- Stay with it & be curious about it. Don’t run, just stay with the physical feeling. Instead of rejecting it and wanting it to stop, just open up to it and see it with curiosity. What does it feel like? Does it change? What kind of reaction does your mind have to the feeling?
- Smile at it. Develop a feeling of friendliness towards the physical sensation of this anxiety. See it as one of the fundamental realities of your existence, and learn to be friends with it. See this as a chance to work with something that will be with you for your entire life, an opportunity to get comfortable with this discomfort. If you can do that, you’ll need your coping mechanisms a lot less.
- Open to a bigger space. Our normal way of relating to this feeling is wanting to reject it, because we’re stuck in a small-minded, self-centered way of seeing it (I say this without judgment, it’s just something we do). Instead, we can start to touch the wide-open space of our minds, like a big blue sky, not a small space but expansive. In this open space, we can hold the anxiety like a cloud against the backdrop of the blue sky, but not be lost in the cloud. We can see the anxiety but also see that like a cloud, it’s temporary, it’s not that solid, it’s not all-encompassing, and it’s just floating by. This wide-open space of our mind is always available to us.
It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. Sometimes the anxiety we feel is small, just a bit of tightness in our chest once we investigate it. But sometimes it’s quite big, a looming depression or a manic energy that we just can’t tolerate. So face it in small doses, just for a minute, just for a moment. Then let yourself run. Continue to work with it in small, tolerable doses until you start to trust that you’ll be OK if you face it and smile at it.
Once we start to touch on this anxiety, face it with courage, stay with it like a good friend would … we start to realize it’s not so bad. It’s just something that comes up, like a ripple in a pond, like a breeze in a field, and it will go away. We don’t need to panic, we don’t need to run, we can relax, invite it to tea, and see that nothing else is required. Instead, we stay, we give it love, and see that this place of uncertainty we’re in is absolutely perfect as it is.Join Me for a Mindfulness Retreat
I’d like to let you know that I’ve put the limited spots in my Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat on sale until April 1, 2017 …
The retreat will be held April 21-23, 2017 in San Francisco. It’s going to be amazing, and I’m really excited about it.
I’m excited to announce my first retreat: the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat in San Francisco!
The urban retreat will be held over a weekend, on April 21-23, 2017. It’s aimed at teaching you key mindfulness skills that can help you transform your life.
There are limited spots (at 3 different levels), so I would get your spot soon if you’d like to attend.What This Retreat is About
It’s a 2.5-day retreat that focuses on:
- Mindfulness practices
- Using mindfulness to deal with our struggles and old patterns
- Finding joy and gratitude in life
- Seeing the underlying goodness in ourselves & overcome dissatisfaction with ourselves
- Dealing with uncertainty, developing trust in the process
- Finding what happens when you have no escape
Through these practices, we’ll help you develop tools that can lead to the changes you’ve been hoping for.
We will learn different types of meditations and practice exercises that help us work with our struggles.
We will also explore San Francisco a bit:
- Mindful tea tasting
- Mindful chocolate tasting
- Delicious vegan food will be provided
- We’ll go on an easy hike
- We’ll form connections with each other to support our life changes
I’m so excited to have you join me in one of my favorite cities in the world, working on things that have changed my life completely and that I hope will change yours as well.Change Your Life
A lot of us feel stuck in our lives, not able to break out of our old patterns …
We have difficulty:
- changing our habits
- being more mindful
- finding our passions
- overcoming our fears and doubts
- finding happiness with ourselves
- connecting to others
- dealing with anxiety and frustrations
- being patient
- and more
This retreat is about breaking through those patterns, understanding why they have such power over us, and finding a mindful path into new territory.
If you go through this retreat with the ability to break through those old patterns and change your life … would it be worth it to you?The Power of a Retreat
Why go on this retreat, which isn’t even in a remote tropical location? Because in our busy lives, we don’t often have time to step back and look at the big picture.
In this retreat, we’ll be taking time for ourselves. For our happiness and for developing a more mindful life. For understanding how our minds work and how we can start to effect change.
This is something we don’t take time to do, because we’re so busy … by signing up for this retreat, you’re saying that it’s important to take time out for yourself, to work on these issues and to find a better path. You’re saying that you’re important enough to find the time to work on this.
I invite you to make the time, and work with me.Three Options for the Retreat
The basic retreat described above includes accommodations (sharing an AirBnb apartment with other participants) or but doesn’t include your flight toSan Francisco.
It does include vegan meals, activities described above, and the talks and group exercises with Leo.
Main option: The basic retreat comes at a price of $3,395 reduced to $2,395 until April 1, 2017:
I’ll be renting a couple AirBnb apartments with about separate beds available (each in their own room), so you can stay in an apartment with other retreat participants … you’ll get a bed in your own bedroom (unless you choose to share a Queen bed with a friend or your spouse/partner).The Premium Package
In addition, I’ve created a few bonuses if you’d like to purchase the “premium” package …
This package includes:
- An extra lunch with Leo on Friday April 21 before the retreat starts
- A 1-on-1 coaching session with Leo during the retreat
- A follow-up coaching call with Leo about 3-4 weeks after the retreat
There are 5 premium spots available, at a price of $4,395 reduced to $3,395 until April 1, 2017.
I am really excited about this retreat and I hope you’ll join me!Questions & Answers
You might have some questions … here are a few answers:
Q: Who is this retreat for?
A: It’s for someone who is willing to take a weekend to change their life. Someone who has been struggling and is open to practicing mindfulness and changing mental patterns. Someone who is ready to let go of old patterns and embrace new ones. Someone who is willing to put in the work for better habits and a transformed life.
Q: Are airfare or accommodations included?
A: Airfare is not included, you’ll need to book tickets on your own. Accommodations for the two nights are only included if you choose either the “With a Bed” or “Premium” options, where you’ll be staying in an AirBnb apartment with other participants. If you choose the “Basic” option, you’ll need to find your own hotel or AirBnb apartment in San Francisco, and this is not included in the price.
Q: What if I don’t like vegan food?
A: I’d suggest bringing an open and flexible mind to the retreat, and the food we’ll be eating is pretty delicious, and it’s included in the cost … however, you are free to go off and explore on your own, and buy your own food. In that case, you’ll be missing out on group meals, unfortunately.
Q: Can I book two retreat spots with a shared bed with my partner or friend?
A: Sure! In this case, book one spot at the “With a Bed” or “Premium” level (to get a bed) and then a second spot at the Basic level. Then email us to let us know you want to share a Queen-sized bed with your partner or friend.
Q: What is your refund policy?
A: No refunds after March 1, 2017. If you buy a spot, you’re preventing others from buying them, as spots are limited. So if you don’t ask for a refund by March 1, you’ll lose your fee if you can’t make it. If you ask for a refund before March 1, we’ll refund 80% of your fee.
Q: I can’t pay right now, can I pay later?
A: No, the spots will only be reserved by those who pay. If you want to wait until you can pay, it will mean there might not be any spots left.
Q: I just bought a spot, now what?
A: There is a PDF download that came with your purchase, please download and read that for more info. We’ll also be sending you a few emails over the next month, please read these and reply with your info!
Q: What do I need for this retreat?
A: A notebook and pen for notes, layered clothing for San Francisco’s fluctuating weather, and an open and flexible mind. A willingness to change and practice. An open heart. Toiletries.
Lots of us would like a better body, an amazing workout habit, and a diet that celebrities would die for.
OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but most of us definitely have an ideal when it comes to fitness. We want to be super healthy, and we strive for it. Maybe we strive and then fail and feel bad about it, but we strive.
What would it be like to not strive for these fitness goals?
What would it be like if we removed the striving, and found compassion instead?The Problem with Striving
When we strive for a fitness ideal (which is usually what we do), there are a few fundamental problems to be aware of:
- The ideal is one we will never meet. Even if we do great at our goal, it won’t be what we pictured. For example, I ran several marathons and an ultramarathon because of ideals I had in my head, and completed them … and they weren’t at all what I pictured. They were still worthwhile, but not at all what my fantasy was.
- You have a good likelihood of failing at some point, not meeting your ideal, and then feeling bad about yourself for failing.
- You don’t hit the ideal right away — most ideals are several months, if not years, in the future. So for the first few days, first few weeks … you will just do the activity but not hit any ideal. This is likely not fun. You might set ideals for each day (“go for a run today!”) but even then, you’ll go for the run and it won’t be what you fantasized it would be.
- Once you reach the goal you’re striving for, you’re not content. You just find another goal to strive for. And another. Until you’re dead, having never been satisfied.
What we don’t realize is that there’s nothing to strive for. We’re already in the perfect place: a moment that is filled with beauty and wonder, a life that is filled with untapped love and compassion, a goodness in ourselves underlying everything we do. We’re already in the ideal moment, but we take it for granted and fantasize about something else instead.
We can just stop striving. Just find joy in this present moment, without needing the crutch of our fantasies.The Compassionate Way
So if we stop striving for health and fitness ideals, does that mean we just lie on the couch, stuffing our faces with potato chips and slurping soda all day? Umm, yuck. And no.
What we can do is 1) realize joy in who we are, where we are, and our intricate connection to the wonderful people all around us, and find contentment right now; and 2) in that moment of joy and contentment, we can act out of love.
What are some acts of love that we can do, in this moment of joy and appreciation for what is right here in front of us?
- Appreciating the gift of our bodies, we take care of them. The bodies we have are incredible, wonders of nature, and we take them for granted. We abuse them by being sedentary, taking drugs, eating junk food, not taking care of them. Instead, an act of appreciation for our bodies is to care for them. Exercise, walk, eat well, floss, meditate.
- Appreciating the gift of life, we explore the outdoors. There is so much to notice and explore, to behold with absolute wonder, that it’s a waste to be online or on our phones all day. Instead, it’s an act of love to get outside and move our beautiful bodies.
- Appreciating the gift of food, we nourish our bodies. Instead of abusing ourselves by putting junk in our bodies (just to satisfy cravings of comfort), we can find joy in the nourishment of our bodies with gorgeous, healthy, delicious food. And appreciate that the fresh food we’re feeding ourselves with is a gift, grown from the earth by people we don’t know who support our lives, a miracle not to be taken for granted.
- Appreciating this moment, we meditate. This moment is filled with brilliance, and yet we often ignore it. Instead, we can sit and meditate, to practice paying full and loving attention. We can do yoga, moving while we meditate. We can meditate as we go for a run, lift a barbell, ride a bike, swim in the ocean, walk in a sunny park.
There is no need for striving for fitness and health ideals. Instead, we can let go of those ideals and appreciate what’s right in front of us. And in gratitude, act with love and compassion to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the moment we’re in.
I’m writing this guide for my kids as they grow up and go out into the world — but it’s for anyone who wants to connect with others.
I’m writing it for my teenage self, who was shy and awkward and self-conscious. I’m writing it as a reminder to my current self, who is still those things.
But I’ve been lucky enough to make a handful of good friends, awesome people who are sucking the juice out of life, who wake up every day with gratitude and energy. I’m lucky to have them, and it makes me reflect on what I’ve done right, and what they do all the time when making connections with people.
Here’s what I’ve learned. It’s not a comprehensive guide, nor will it work for everyone. I still hope it’s useful.Guidelines for Making Friends
In my experience, people (generally) want to be friends with other people who follow these general guidelines:
- Be positive, not negative. While it’s OK to share your struggles with people (I recommend it), if you’re complaining all the time, and are generally negative about other people and life in general, then people get tired of the complaining and negativity. We have enough trouble in life without having friends who are negative all the time. That said, a good friend will always listen when you’re in need, so don’t take this as “never complain.” Instead, just generally try to be a positive person, and if you have struggles, also try to show how you’re tackling those struggles with a positive outlook.
- Be interested & a good listener. Be interested in other people! Don’t make the mistake of only wanting to talk about your stuff, and being bored and unimpressed with what other people are doing. I try to find the interesting in everyone, even if they lead a relatively uneventful life, there’s something fascinating about them. When someone wants to talk, listen. If they only talk about themselves all day and don’t want to hear your stuff, then they probably aren’t going to be a great friend, but still give them a chance and be interested for as long as you can.
- Be excited about life, have energy. We generally don’t want a friend who is bored all the time. Someone who is excited about life, interested in things, has good energy … that’s someone you’d by hyped to be around. Not super hyper, necessarily, but just containing a positive energy.
- Do interesting things. If you’re excited about life, you manifest that by doing new things, learning, creating, exploring, trying out new experiences, meeting new people. If you are this kind of person, you’ll be interesting. If you shut out life, people might not be as interested.
- Tell good stories. No one wants to listen to someone who tells long boring stories. After the first two such stories, people generally start tuning you out. So try to keep your stories shorter, unless you can tell people are interested. Find something interesting to hook their curiosity, and then draw them in with that curiosity until you satisfy it with a good ending. Practice your storytelling when you meet people, and try to get better at it. It’s not one of my strong points, to be honest, but I recognize that and am trying to be better.
- Smile. I’m not saying you should have a fake smile, but a smile puts you in a friendly mood, versus frowning at someone. Don’t smile all the time, or at inappropriate times. Just generally have a smiling disposition, as it signals that you like the person (also try to genuinely like the person, moving away from tendencies to judge them or complain about them).
- Put yourself out there, be willing to try things. Sing in public even if that scares you. Try new food, new experiences, new ideas. This open-mindedness attracts others who are looking to get the most out of life.
- Be calm, not overly dramatic. While it’s great to have a lot of energy, people who are overly dramatic about little things can be a turn-off. So learn to react to most problems as if they’re not a big deal (because they usually aren’t), and handle them with calmness instead of overreacting.
- Be authentic, don’t try to show off. All of the above recommendations might seem like I’m recommending that you be someone you’re not. I’m not recommending that at all. Instead, I want you to be an authentic version of yourself (there are lots of versions of ourselves) — but choose the version that is more in the directions recommended above, in general. If there is a positive and negative version of you, generally choose the positive version. But most importantly, don’t try to impress people all the time — if you’re confident in yourself, you don’t need to impress. Instead, be a genuine person, not just the “best you.” When this recommendation is in conflict with any of the above recommendations, choose this one.
- Be happy with yourself & confident. This is just something that’s good to do for yourself. Be happy with who you are, even the flaws. If you are, you can be confident that you’re good enough when you meet someone else. People generally don’t respect someone who is constantly harsh on themselves. How can you learn to be happy with yourself? That’s a whole other post, but in general, become aware of any tendency to be harsh and critical of yourself, and don’t let yourself stew in those kinds of thoughts. Start to see the good in yourself, the genuine heart and caring nature, and let that be the story you tell yourself about yourself.
I hope this helps, and if you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, see it not as confirmation that you suck, but as an exciting new area for you to explore.
A loved one has decided to go vegetarian and has struggled in a couple areas, so I thought I’d write this guide for her.
I’m writing it for those who want to go vegan, because that’s what I am, but the ideas apply to those going vegetarian as well.
This is for those who are considering it, or who are just getting started and have questions or struggles.
Let’s dive in!Understand the Why
If you come across struggles while becoming vegan, it’s easy to give up if you’re not really motivated. So figure out why you’re doing this.
My top recommendation: do it for the animals.
Health: Yes, you can do it for your health, but in truth, being vegan is not a panacea. You can become healthier as a vegan if your previous diet was crap and you start eating vegetables and whole foods. But you can also eat crap as a vegan (French fries, fried vegan “chicken” and Coke, for example), or you could do your best but not get some nutrients and your health could suffer. Also, it’s completely possible to eat healthy as a non-vegan — my sister is a pescatarian who doesn’t eat grains or processed foods, and eats lots of veggies. So health isn’t always the best reason, though I personally transformed my health by going vegetarian and then vegan.
Environment: As a vegan, your carbon footprint will drop greatly — the carbon emissions of animal agriculture is greater than the transportation industry, and is probably the biggest sources of carbon emissions in most people’s lives. It’s said that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and on some level, I agree.
However, I’ve found that for most people, the environmental reason for veganism is just a bonus, not the main driving reason they stay vegan.
Don’t hurt animals (ethics): This is the top reason people stay vegan over the long run, in my experience. It’s emotional: most people love animals, and the idea of killing them for pleasure can be distressful for many of us. It’s logical: there’s no good reason to eat animals other than pleasure, as we can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet (I am and many others are). And it’s consistent: why do we love and protect dogs and cats (we wouldn’t tolerate their abuse or horrible killings) and not pigs and cows?
For those wondering, milk and eggs actually do harm animals — for one thing, dairy cows and egg hens are often abused and live in horrible conditions their entire lives, but no matter what farm they’re on, they’re killed when they’re no longer productive. And the male chicks of egg hens are crushed alive, and the male calves of dairy cows are raised in heartbreaking conditions and killed for veal.
For me, I started down the path for health reasons, but the ethics of harming other sentient beings is what has remained meaningful to me, and is the reason I’ll never go back to eating animal products. It’s good to keep that motivation in mind as you take this journey.Getting Started
There’s no need to become vegetarian or vegan overnight. Like many others, I started by cutting out red meat and only eating poultry. Then I cut out poultry and became vegetarian (I’m not a big fan of fish). My wife cut out red meat, then poultry, then was pescatarian (only fish, no meat or poultry) for awhile before going vegetarian. This is a common pattern, and it makes the transition easier.
For me, I slowly transitioned from vegetarian to veganism, first cutting out eggs and then drinking soymilk instead of milk (I actually love the taste of soymilk, and no, soy is not bad for you). But I held out on cheese for the longest time, as I didn’t think I could give it up. I finally did when my wife decided to go vegan in 2012, and surprisingly, it was not hard at all to give up cheese!
The point is, there’s no one right path, and it doesn’t have to be sudden at all. Some people go vegetarian or vegan all at once and do great, but others find a slow transition to be a great way to adjust your tastebuds, discover new recipes, and figure out the logistics of the new lifestyle.
Get started however you want, but just start somewhere!Going Out to Eat
The loved one I mentioned has had a hard time going to lunch with friends and finding almost nothing vegetarian on the menu. This can be tough. Here are some recommendations:
- Do a few minutes of research before you go anywhere. Yelp or Happy Cow are your friends, as you can find veg-friendly restaurants that will cater to you and your non-veg friends. I like to look up the menus online of places I want to go to. Honestly, I probably spend about 5-10 minutes doing this research, so it’s not hard.
- If you’re too lazy to do research, some places that are delicious and typically have veg food: Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican (Chipotle is great!), and lots of Asian places. In other words, almost any cuisine other than American steakhouses or barbecue joints.
- If you didn’t do research, then look for menu items that can either be vegan/vegetarian, or can be made vegan/vegetarian. For example, a big salad with lots of veggies, beans, nuts can be made vegetarian if you ask them to leave out the chicken (and cheese and egg if you’re vegan). Sometimes you’ll find a veggie burger on the menu of burger places. In a Thai restaurant, you can ask them to make tofu curry or pad thai without the fish sauce, and without egg.
- A good restaurant will often have a chef who likes to be challenged, so feel free to ask the server to ask the chef if they can make something vegan for you. Often they’ll be able to make something simple, and once in awhile they’ll delight you.
In the end, you’ll slowly develop a mental list of the places in your town where you can go to enjoy a good vegan dish or three, and also the mental habit of doing a few minutes’ research before agreeing to a lunch place with someone.Cooking Delicious Food
Personally, I end up cooking my own food most of the time, and only eat out about once a week. It’s cheaper, healthier, and you get the food you love rather than whatever they have to offer.
It’s not hard either. You can usually find a vegan version of that meal online — I started with vegan versions of chili, spaghetti, curries, tacos, burgers, pizzas, other pastas (like pesto) and other things that my family and I already liked.
Eventually I branched out and tried new recipes, and explored a whole world of vegan cooking. It was a lot of fun.
These days, I have simplified. I go for simple bowls that I find delicious:
- Black beans, shredded kale, brown rice, and grateful tahini sauce
- Sweet potato chickpea bowl
- Tofu baked with barbecue sauce, quinoa, steamed broccoli
There are a thousand variations on these bowls. Basically combine a whole grain (like brown rice or quinoa, or potatoes if you like) with a protein (black beans, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, lentils), veggies (spinach, kale, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, edamame) and a sauce or spices. Healthy, easy to make, delicious. As a family, we’ve made versions of this bowl with a Mexican, Thai, Japanese or Indian theme, for example.
It can be awkward at first when you go to someone else’s house to eat (for a party or family gathering, for example) and all they have is non-veg food. But you learn a couple good strategies for dealing with this:
- Offer to bring a dish or two. I pretty much always bring a vegan dish or two whenever I go to eat at someone’s house. I just say, “I’ll bring a vegan dish!” and they say, “Cool!” If I feel like a vegan dessert, I’ll make one and bring it too. No one objects — if they don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to. More for me. Bonus: when people taste my delicious vegan dishes and desserts, it shows them how wonderful being a vegan can be.
- Talk to the person. It was a bit awkward at first when I would get invited somewhere and I had to tell them that I was a vegetarian (and later vegan). Most people don’t know much about it, they can get offended by the very idea, and there can be lots of questions (and bad jokes). But I learned the best policy was just to tell people I’ve become vegan, and not make a big deal about it. If they have questions, I’m happy to answer, but I’m not here to preach. I’m just enjoying life as a vegan. And yes, there are the bad jokes that you get tired of … I just see it as their attempt to lighten their own tension, and laugh with them.
Now that people know I’m vegan, there aren’t any awkward conversations, and it’s not a big deal.Adjusting Tastes
The strange thing is that if you are just starting out as a vegan, you might not like a bunch of vegan food. That’s normal. But here’s the interesting part: your tastebuds change!
For example, I didn’t like vegan ice cream or “fake meats” but now I’ll happy have ice cream made from coconut milk, cashew cream, almond milk, soymilk — as an occasional treat. And while I don’t eat vegan “meats” every day, I think some of them are quite good.
A couple more examples: I didn’t like soymilk before. And hated kale. Now I happily drink soymilk every day. And kale is one of my favorite foods evah (I even own a kale T-shirt).
In the beginning, I stuck with familiar tastes, and just altered them as little as necessary to make them vegetarian. But slowly I tried new recipes, new vegan ingredients, changing things just a little at a time. I found that my mind opened to the new tastes and soon they became normal.
I thought I would really miss meat, but I don’t, and haven’t ever. Now I can’t stand the thought of eating meat. I used to think I could never give up cheese, but it turned out to be the easiest thing ever, when I decided I really wanted to be vegan.
Tastebuds are wonderful things, in that they can change if you let them.Understand the Nutrition
Vegans have a few things to understand if they want to be healthy on a vegan diet. It’s not hard at all, but you should educate yourself. One of the biggest problems when people go vegan and fail is that they don’t get proper nutrition because they didn’t care enough to read a few articles. Don’t make that mistake.
There are only a few nutrients you really need to know about — the biggest ones probably being B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3s. If you’re eating lots of veggies, lots of other whole foods, you’ll probably do better than most on the rest of the nutrients.
B12 is something every vegan should supplement — I take a simple B12 pill once or twice a week, and fortified soymilk is a good option. Don’t believe the myth that you can get it sufficiently from the dirt in vegetables.
Vitamin D is usually easy to get from sunlight, but if you don’t go outdoors much or it’s winter and there’s no sun outside, then take a Vitamin D supplement. I take this one made from mushrooms grown in sunlight.
Being low on Omega 3s isn’t something that will cause any noticeable problems, but it seems to be good for the heart and brain. Omnis can get it from fish oil. Vegans can get them from flaxseeds and walnuts and canola oil and other similar foods, but I additionally take a daily tablet called Ovega-3 that has a good blend of EPA and DHA.
There’s more you can learn — read all about it at VeganHealth.org.Dealing with Family & Friends
Tell all your family and friends you’re going veg, so they can share in your joy! Actually, most likely they’ll tease you about it, debate you, and not understand. That’s OK, not everyone gets it.
I have a few recommendations:
- Don’t be preachy. No one likes to be preached to, and in fact they’ll start to resent you and even be defensive about their way of eating.
- Be patient. Not everyone gets it, but generally the people you love will come to accept this new part of you. Just not right away, perhaps. They need time to adjust.
- Be loving. When you share your new lifestyle, do so out of love, not criticism. Do so with kindness in your heart and voice. Share what you think the person is ready to learn about, but don’t push.
- Laugh at their jokes. Don’t take jokes about vegans in a personal way. People can feel a lot of tension about this stuff, so jokes are their way to overcome that.
- Don’t debate. If someone wants to debate the ethics of veganism, it probably won’t be productive, because they have an entrenched stance and aren’t likely to change. Instead, offer to send them some links that address their concerns, but say a debate won’t be productive. If someone is genuinely interested and open-minded, then share what you think is appropriate.
- Don’t talk about murder while people are eating. I’ve found that people don’t like you to talk about the incredibly inhumane way that animals are treated … while they’re eating the animals. It makes them feel pretty bad, defensive, even angry. That’s not a way to open people’s minds. If they ask while they’re eating, just give them the bare minimum, smile, and enjoy your vegan food.
In the end, love and patience and understanding are the way to go.Getting Super Healthy
Veganism doesn’t just have to be for the beautiful animals. You can use it to become super bad-ass healthy too.
- Eat a crapload of vegetables. Greens of all kinds are king. Then expand into reds, yellows and oranges. Whites and browns. Be the god or goddess of vegetables, and let amazing health be your dominion.
- Move to whole foods. There’s actually no good definition of “whole foods” (good!) or “processed foods” (baaad!), it’s just a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. But try for foods that are closer to their natural state. For example, beans look like they could have just been picked from their pod. A bagel doesn’t. That said, no one has to be perfect about eating only whole foods — just eat in that direction.
- Cut down on junk. Pop Tarts, soda, too much beer, white breads and pastries, chips, sweets, most cereals, frozen prepared foods, fast food, most things you can get at chain restaurants. I’m not saying never eat this stuff again, but as you move away from it, you’ll get healthier.
- Exercise. Bodyweight exercises, yoga, biking, swimming, hiking, running, rowing, weights, climbing, sports.
It’s pretty much that simple. If you want to lose weight, I would do the above, and eat as many green vegetables with your meals as you can. If you want to gain weight, just eat more, and add nuts and nut butters and oils to your meals when you can.A Few Myths to Debunk
It’s inevitable that you’ll run up against some common myths. It’s good to do a little research, because they simply aren’t true.
Here are a few:
- Protein is hard to get (it’s easy)
- Plants feel pain (no, they don’t have a central nervous system or brain)
- We’re doing these animals a favor by giving them a life (their lives are short, brutish and filled with cruelty)
- Our canine teeth mean we’re evolved to be carnivores (we can’t survive on a carnivorous diet; we can survive on a vegan or omnivorous diet)
- It’s expensive to be vegan (beans and rice are cheaper than meat)
- Vegan diets make you weak (I’m healthy & strong, and so are many other vegans)
Being vegan isn’t hard, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s not extreme, and it’s not boring. It can be, if that’s how you see it.
But I see it differently:
It’s a joy.
It’s healthy, humane, kind. Good for the Earth. Wonderful to share.
I wish you best on this journey, my friends, as you explore a world of compassion and love. Do it with your arms wide open and your hearts full.
A few additional resources: No Meat Athlete, Plant Shift, Minimalist Vegan.
Hey guys … in other news, I’m hiring! I’m looking for someone to be an admin assistant, a creator of smiles in my customers, a producer of live retreats, a herder of cats, and mover and an action-taker. Basically, you’ll keep things in shape and make things happen.
Today I deleted several apps from my phone: Twitter, Reddit, Feedly, Snapchat, the N.Y. Times app, and more.
I’m letting go of distractions, or at least learning to.
In fact, I made a list of things I’m letting go of:
- Twitter (except to post my latest articles)
- Favorite blogs & websites
- News websites (most of the time)
- YouTube (or other video sites, unless needed)
- Shopping, buying crap
- Reading more than one book at a time
- Additional projects
- Checking my phone often
- Checking email/messages more than 3x per day
- More than one or two tabs open (unless absolutely necessary)
- Reading while eating
- Extra clothes, books, equipment
- Needing to do something all the time
That’s not to say I’m going to be able to let go of these all at once, or perfectly. I’m sure it’ll be messy, a journey. And these aren’t going to be strict restrictions, but guidelines to help me be mindful. But in general, I have the intention of learning to let go.
Why? Because distractions are a crutch, a mental habit, a refuge for the mind.
We procrastinate through distractions, of course, but we also use it to hide.
Distractions help us hide from:
- Difficult emotions
- Being present
- Things about ourselves we don’t like
- Other people
- Discomfort and fear
- Our mental patterns
- The fear of not being busy
- Our worry that we aren’t content, that we aren’t enough
You might be thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with having a place to rest from all of that? Who wants to face those horrible things?” I’ve found that hiding from these difficulties doesn’t make them go away, nor does it help the problem. The only thing that has helped me is to face difficulties with openness, courage, curiosity, and honesty. Giving a difficulty our loving attention actually helps the situation.
So hiding isn’t what I want to do anymore. I’m being honest with myself and admitting that I’ve been using distractions to run, to hide. I have the intention of not hiding, but facing.
You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with a little distraction, a little mental break?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting our minds rest — I’m not trying to be productive all the time. I want to just notice why I’m trying to run to distractions, and get in touch with those fears instead. I plan to rest, to exercise, to get outside, to meditate, to be present — not to work all the time. Rest is important, but distractions aren’t the only way we can rest. Distractions aren’t the only way to have fun. Distractions are a crutch, if we’re honest with ourselves.
I have no prescription for life here, nor am I judging others for their distraction habits — obviously I have my own to deal with, and I’m not in a position to judge. I thought only that I’d share my current intention and practice with the people I love. And let you know that I’m doing it with love.
This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky – that’s called liberation. ~Pema ChodronBy Leo Babauta
It’s human nature to desire comfort and security. Unfortunately, that tendency is what causes most of our problems.
We humans tend not to like uncertainty, discomfort, fear, instability, drastic change or chaos. That’s natural and understandable, but our habit of running to the secure and comfortable leads to difficulties:
- Procrastination is running from the uncertainty, discomfort and fear of a difficult task to the comfort of distractions.
- We put off exercise, eating healthy, meditation, decluttering and other habits because they push into discomfort, and we go to comfortable things instead.
- Addictions result from constantly using pleasurable (comfortable) things as a crutch when we’re facing discomfort.
- We put off adventures, doing the work we love, learning new things, because they are full of uncertainty and fear, and instead we stay in our comfort zones.
- We lash out at people when we’re angry because of fear (of being criticized, of losing our good self-image, etc.). Or we withdraw from them. This hurts our happiness and our relationships.
- We put off connecting with other people because we’re afraid of opening our hearts to strangers, and instead stay in our comfort zones. This leads to loneliness and a craving for connection.
And so on: financial problems, health problems, work problems, relationship problems, happiness problems all stem from this running from discomfort, uncertainty, instability to comfort and security.
What if we were able to try a different way?
What if we explored the Way of Openness?
It could open up a world of change and possibilities for us, freedom from our addictions and procrastinations, our lashings out and our fears.The Way of Openness
The opposite of running to comfort and security is … not running.
Instead, it is:
- being open to uncertainty
- being curious about discomfort
- getting in touch with fears, staying with the physical feeling of fear
- being present and facing the moment in front of us with openness
- embracing the unknown, the unstable, as full of opportunity and learning
- finding curiosity in every moment
- welcoming all feelings with friendliness, not running from them
- smiling at fear, at other people’s fears, with an open heart
- stepping into uncertainty with courage
The Way of Openness is about embracing and welcoming and being curious about whatever is in front of us, staying in touch with our feelings, and being open to the constantly changing nature of what comes at us.
This Way is not easy, but neither is the life of running from discomfort and uncertainty, as we’ve seen.
This Way takes practice. It takes courage. It takes love.
But the result, I’ve been finding (and I’m still a beginner), is that you are capable of any kind of change, that you can open your heart to people in a way you never were able to before, and you realize you’re free from having to run, to constantly distract yourself and find something to keep you busy.
So how do we cultivate this Way of Openness?Practices for Being Open
This is a lifelong practice, to be honest. But here are some things you can practice — pick one each day instead of trying to do them all at once, and constantly come back to practices you’ve tried before:
- Identify patterns: Recognize when you’re procrastinating, seeking distraction, going to addictions, lashing out, withdrawing, doing any kind of harmful action against yourself or others. Try to see the fear or discomfort that you’re running from. Notice what your go-to distractions or comforts are.
- Stay in touch: Once you understand your mental patterns, notice when they’re starting up, and instead of allowing yourself to run to comfort … stay with the discomfort. Locate the physical feeling in your body, and stay with it for as long as you can. Get in touch with the feeling of fear (not the mental story about fear) and keep the warm hand of your attention on it. See if it relaxes if you give it curiosity and loving attention. Welcome it as you would a friend.
- Be open to the present moment: As you go about your day, check in on the present moment in front of you, and notice if you’re rejecting it for any reason. Instead, see if you can embrace it. Be curious about it. Be friendly towards it. Give it your loving attention and welcome it as a friend. See the moment changing, and develop an open heart towards it.
- Step into uncertainty: Can you challenge yourself to move into uncertainty and discomfort each day? Staying in meditation, learning something new and difficult, facing difficult tasks or projects, putting yourself in a vulnerable place with others … these are all great practices. As you do them, use curiosity, an open heart, and a friendly smile as your tools for staying present with the uncertainty.
- Open your heart to others: For many, our habit is to reject things about other people, to lash out or withdraw from them when we reject things about them. Instead, practice not rejecting. Practice curiosity. Embrace the things about them you would normally reject, and find gratitude for them. Open your heart and be vulnerable, and see what happens. Be open to their rejection, their anger, their fears. Stay with the feelings of fear or anger that might arise in you.
- Find gratitude for everything: Instead of rejecting things about others, instead of rejecting things about the present moment … find a way to be grateful. This helps us to embrace and be open to everything.
I’d say that’s a good start. You could spend a year practicing with these ideas. Once you’re good at them, find other areas where you’re blocked or holding back, and practice opening up there too.
In the end, this is about whether we want to go through life running from what we find and seeking comfort, or whether we’re going to find the courage to be open to everything, to finally be free of the running.
In the end, we find that there was nothing to be afraid of after all. It’s a wonderful place to be, this changing, uncertain, uncomfortable and miraculous world.
Most of our lives are spent following unconscious, habitual patterns.
We wake and start immediately with our usual distractions, fall into regular eating habits, interact with people reactively out of old mental patterns, procrastinate and put off exercise out of old mental habits, are constantly thinking of something other than what we’re doing out of habit …
What if we could step away from those old habitual patterns?
What would it be like to wake up from our daydream, and make more conscious choices in each moment?
That’s what I’m exploring in my new course for my Sea Change Program called “Deeper Into Mindfulness” … and I invite you to join me this month.
In this course, we’re looking at:
- Developing mental concentration and awareness, so that we can become more aware of what our minds are doing and of the present moment.
- Developing mindfulness more in our daily lives, not just during meditation.
- Letting go of attachments by seeing the fluid, impermanent, egoless nature of the reality in front of us.
- Developing heart practices that work hand-in-hand with awareness to help relieve our stresses, be more compassionate in our relationships, and be happier in each moment.
Each week, I share two videos with my Sea Change members who are taking the course, and offer them daily practices they can do to delve deeper into mindfulness and develop these skills.
Each week, there’s a challenge to do these practices every day if possible, and a weekly accountability thread.
And I’m going to do a live webinar on the topic, and answer member questions during the webinar.
I invite you to join me by signing up for Sea Change today. And step out of your old habits, and start becoming more conscious in every beautiful moment.
I have a friend who is lonely, who has such a good heart and desperately wants to find a partner who appreciates that goodness, to share a life with.
We have all felt this, I’m guessing: this desire for a deep connection, this hope that another person will just get us and want an intimate relationship with us, the idea that if we could just find this person and merge with them, we’d be fulfilled.
What if we tossed that idea out on its head?
What if everything we need for happiness and fulfillment is within us?
What if all the requirements for fulfillment were in this very moment, not in some imagined ideal future?
What if the idea of a romantic partner who is perfect (because of their imperfections!) and who fills our every need is just a fantasy that isn’t helping us?
The truth is that even those of us who have partners know that it’s not all honeymoon, and in fact a long-term relationship contains a lot of struggle. The fulfillment that we get in life ends up (mostly) not coming from the other person, but from ourselves.
What would it be like if we let go of this fantasy of a fulfilling partner, this fantasy of a better future … and instead focused on finding fulfillment in the here and now, within ourselves?Where We Get Fulfillment
Another person isn’t going to fulfill us — at best, they’ll make us feel better about ourselves, and listen to us. The listening part is great, but we can get that from friends or family as well. The feeling better about ourselves is a function we can fulfill on our own as well. I’m not saying a partner is useless, but I am saying that a partner isn’t needed for fulfillment.
So how can we fulfill ourselves, by ourselves?
Well, what brings fulfillment? In my experience, focusing on pleasures like food, entertainment, online distractions, sex, drugs, alcohol, and thrills … these only bring temporary pleasure, but in the end you’re left wanting more.
Fulfillment comes from something deeper — finding meaning in life, finding appreciation for the fleeting beauty of every moment, being in service of others, loving.
But we don’t need a partner for those things. We can find meaning by searching within ourselves and in the world around us. We can start to appreciate the impermanence and joyful moments around us all the time. We can be in service of others in our community. We can love anyone, from those already in our lives (even if they don’t know we’re doing it) to strangers on the street, to all living beings.Fulfillment From Within
What if we could do all these things just sitting here, doing nothing?
What if this very moment contained all we need for fulfillment?
Try looking within:
- Stop and be still. Sit and do nothing, finding stillness and just noticing the moment.
- Notice your body, your breath, emotions that happen in your body (like a tightness in your chest, or a warmth in your heart area), your thoughts.
- See that there is constant change within you, and a loving goodness as well.
- Fall in love with all that you see, from the emotions and thoughts to the body and breath, from the impermanence to the underlying goodness.
- Reflect on a desire to be in service of yourself, and others.
- Cultivate a love for yourself and all others by radiating a wish for everyone, including yourself, to be free of suffering, to be happy, to find joy.
- Reflect on your innate connection to others — reflect on how others support your life, how the food that nourishes you is brought to you by thousands of others, how you’ve been created into the person you are because of the influences of every person you’ve met and connected with. This web of connections is how you are always a part of everything and everyone around you, a deep connection that is ever-changing and everlasting.
- Reflect on your surroundings and in the constant change and beauty that is in every single thing, in the ocean of matter and energy that you are a part of.
These and more are always available, right now and in every moment, in you and all around you.
This practice can bring fulfillment, and nothing is required but attention, appreciation, gratitude and love. You have that in you.
A lot of our troubles could be solved by one simple practice.
A lot of joy could be found with the same practice.
And it is simple: practice seeing life with a beginner’s mind.
It’s not just something you practice when you’re learning something — though dropping the “expert’s mind” and seeing the learning as a beginner is an important practice in learning. It’s something you can practice every single moment of the day (if you can remember to do so).
What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That’s beginner’s mind.
But imagine if you could apply this to every activity. Take eating breakfast, for example:
- You start by seeing the activity of eating with fresh eyes, as if you don’t know what to expect, as if you hadn’t done it thousands of times already.
- You really look at the food, the bowl, the spoon, and try to see the details that you might not normally notice.
- You truly notice the textures, tastes, smells, sights of the food, pay close attention as if you don’t already know how the food will taste. Everything seems new, perhaps even full of wonder.
- You don’t take anything for granted, and appreciate every bite as a gift. It’s temporary, fleeting, and precious.
As you can see, this practice of beginner’s mind transforms the activity.Why It Matters
When you practice beginner’s mind with an activity:
- Better experiences: You aren’t clouded by prejudgments, preconceptions, fantasies about what it should be or assumptions about how you already know it will be. When you don’t have these, you can’t be disappointed or frustrated by the experience, because there’s no fantasy or preconception to compare it to.
- Better relationships: If you are talking to someone else, instead of being frustrated by them because they aren’t meeting your ideal, you can see them with fresh eyes and notice that they’re just trying to be happy, that they have good intentions (even if they’re not your intentions), and they are struggling just like you are. This transforms your relationship with the person.
- Less procrastination: If you’re procrastinating on a big work task, you could look at it with beginner’s mind and instead of worrying about how hard the task will be or how you might fail at it … you can be curious about what the task will be like. You can notice the details of doing the task, instead of trying to get away from them.
- Less anxiety: If you have an upcoming event or meeting that you’re anxious about … instead of worrying about what might happen, you can open yourself up to being curious about what will happen, let go of your preconceived ideas about the outcome and instead embrace not knowing, embrace being present and finding gratitude in the moment for what you’re doing and who you’re meeting.
As you can see, the practice of beginner’s mind can transform any activity, get rid of a lot of our difficulties, allow us to be more flexible, open, curious, grateful, present.
I’m not saying all of this happens automagically. It takes practice, but it’s worth the practice.How to Practice
Beginner’s mind is what we practice in meditation. Instead of sitting in meditation and thinking you know what your breath will be like, or the present moment in front of you will be like … you pay attention. See it with fresh eyes. Drop your preconceived ideas and just look clearly at what’s in front of you.
A daily meditation practice is extremely useful in developing this beginner’s mind. Here’s how to practice:
- Sit comfortably and upright in a quiet place.
- Pay attention to your body, then your breath, trying to see them clearly and freshly.
- When you notice yourself having preconceived ideas, wandering from the present moment, thinking you know how it will be … just notice that.
- See if you can drop the ideas and thoughts and fantasies and stories that are filling up your head. Empty yourself so you can see what’s actually in front of you. See what your breath is actually like, right now, instead of what you think it will be or what you’re thinking about.
Repeat the last few steps, over and over. See the thoughts and fantasies, empty yourself and see what’s actually there with fresh eyes.
You can practice this right now, with whatever is in front of you. With how your body feels, how your breath feels, whatever else is around you.
You can practice whenever you do any activity, from brushing your teeth to washing the dishes to walking and driving and working out and using your phone.
You can practice whenever you talk to another human being, dropping your ideas of how they should be and instead emptying your mind and seeing them as they are. Notice their good heart, their difficulties, and be grateful for them as they are. Love them for who they are and find compassion for their struggles.
This is the practice. Do it with a smile, and with love, with fresh eyes and gratitude for the only universe we’ll ever get — the actual one in front of us.
I’ve heard from many people who say, “I think too much,” or “I can’t get out of my own head.”
This is pretty common. Thinking isn’t the problem, but the struggle comes when we’re constantly spinning stories in our heads and getting caught up in them.
Our minds jump from one thing to another, seeking distraction or avoiding difficulty. We can’t focus, we can’t be present in the moment, and we feel the need to be constantly busy.
The answer, I’ve found, is finding stillness.
Our mental processes — jumping around and distraction and being caught up in stories — don’t have to cause anxiety, actually. They’re not only common, I think it’s the normal human condition. If this is how our minds are most of the time, then feeling afflicted by this condition is probably going to cause us constant anxiety.
Instead, I find it more helpful to learn to:
- be aware of these mental conditions;
- be present with the mental pattern and stay with it; and
- work with the condition in a mindful way.
The only way to do all of that is to start with stillness.A Moment of Stillness
Take a minute out of your busy day and try to do the following:
- Sit still and look away from all devices and other activities. Just sit there, maybe with your eyes closes, maybe looking at nature or a wall.
- Take a moment to assess your condition. How do you feel? Are you tired, anxious, frustrated, calm, happy? What state is your mind in?
- Assess how you’ve been behaving recently (today, or just in the last hour) … have you been constantly distracted? In a state of busyness? Focused? Procrastinating? Anxious or fearful? Irritated? Feeling down?
- Stay with these feelings for a moment, just being curious and non-judgmental about them.
- Face each of the feelings you’re noticing, and notice the mental pattern that caused it. If you’re frustrated, are you stuck in a resentful story about someone else or your current situation? If you’re anxious, is there some desired outcome that you’re holding tightly to? If you’re feeling down, are you comparing your situation with some ideal that you don’t have?
- Bring your attention to your body. How does it feel? What sensations can you notice in your head, neck, arms, hands, torso, hips, butt, legs, feet?
- Can you find gratitude in this moment? Can you find love or compassion, for yourself or others?
You don’t have to do all of these things each time you sit still, but these are all things you can try doing. Pick a couple and focus on them for a minute, then next time pick a couple more. Take a few deep breaths, then give yourself permission to return to work or whatever activity you’re doing.Cultivating Stillness
As you can see, it just takes a minute of stillness to work with your spinning stories and other mental patterns. We can use this minute of stillness to bring less busyness and anxiety and more calmness, mindfulness and gratitude to our lives. It just takes a bit of cultivation.
Some ways to cultivate stillness in your life:
- Set reminders to get away from technology for just a minute or two, and sit still somewhere.
- Build time in your day for just sitting. It could be sitting meditation, or simply sitting somewhere pleasant and doing nothing.
- Find time for disconnected reading — using a paper book or dedicated ebook reader.
- Have tea in the morning or afternoon. Just sit and drink tea, noticing its smell, flavor, warmth.
- Do a couple yoga poses — child’s pose for a minute or two, for example, or downward facing dog or pigeon’s pose. This can be a meditation, where you’re staying with your breath and body for a couple minutes and getting a stretch in as well.
- Go for a walk. While this isn’t technically stillness, it’s moving your body in a healthy way while not allowing yourself to be distracted.
When you notice your mind racing, when you notice distractions and procrastination, when you notice anxiety or resentment … take a stillness break.
And in this stillness, notice all of the wonders of life that we take for granted.
“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unbelievably, this month marks 10 years since I started Zen Habits. I’ve had an amazing decade, and I’d like to reflect on those years today.
I’ve seen so much change in the last 10 years that I can’t possibly reflect on all of it.
Just a few examples of how my life has changed:
- Zen Habits became my career. I had a full-time job (and was a freelance writer) when I started the blog in January 2007, with no idea it would change my life. A few months in, I decided that Zen Habits could be my calling, and I went into it full bore. By the end of the year, I quit my day job and never looked back. It has been amazing and gratifying.
- I published numerous books. By the end of 2007, I had my first book deal, and I published the Power of Less in 2008. I’ve also published numerous ebooks (some of which I’ve taken off the market) and self-published the limited-edition Zen Habits book and then Essential Zen Habits. Last year I published several ebooks. It’s one of my favorite things, writing and publishing a book. These past 10 years have made me so happy as a writer and book lover.
- I launched Sea Change and numerous courses. I’ve had the honor of starting my membership program, Sea Change with so many amazing members changing their lives. In addition, I created a number of other video courses (including an upcoming course called Dealing with Struggles). I’ve been so happy to be able to teach this way.
- My kids grew up. When I started the blog, I had kids who ranged in age from under 1 year old to 13. Today, I have three grown kids and one who’s almost 18. It’s been quite a decade watching them turn into their beautiful grown selves.
- I traveled, a lot. When I started the blog, I’d barely traveled anywhere outside of Guam except the west coast of the U.S. Since then, I’ve traveled all over the world, and it’s been an incredible journey so far. I still have a lot of places I want to visit, but I feel awfully lucky to have been able to go where I’ve gone, and meet people from so many cultures.
- I learned a lot about habits and mindfulness. I thought I knew a bit about mindfulness and creating habits, but I’ve learned about a hundred times as much through my own experiments and teaching habits and mindfulness to thousands of others. I’ve written books recently on what I’ve learned.
- I moved from Guam to San Francisco and then Davis. When I started the blog, I’d never lived anywhere else as an adult but Guam (I lived on the U.S. west coast). But we made the huge move from Guam to San Francisco in 2010 with our six kids, and it was quite an adjustment and learning experience for all of us. We went car-free and explored California. We absolutely loved it, and yet we missed our home and family tremendously. Today we live in Davis, California, completely changed because of our moves.
- Eva & I became vegan. I became vegetarian shortly before starting the blog, and Eva slowly transitioned to vegetarian by 2010. In 2012, we both went fully vegan for ethical reasons (not wanting to participate in animal cruelty) and we have never been happier.
- I made great friends, and lost one. While I had wonderful family and some really good friends on Guam, when I moved to the Bay Area I formed some of my closest friendships. While we no longer live near each other, I still see many of them regularly and I love them with all my heart. One of those friends, Scott Dinsmore, died tragically in 2015, and I miss him dearly. He was a brother to me.
- I lost two fathers, gained some family. My father died in the beginning of 2015, and Eva’s father died last month. These were terrible losses for our family. They still hurt to this day. That said, I gained some gorgeous nieces and nephews, and brothers-in-law, and I love them all deeply.
That’s just the start of the changes, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of big things. Honestly, I’m a completely different person and my life would be unrecognizable now to my 33-year-old self. Life changes all the time, but for me it has felt like accelerated change.
This has been a decade of growth, loss, learning, fatherhood, loving, service and joy.What I’ve Learned in 10 Years
It’s been a decade filled with learning for me … too many things to put into one post. But as I’ve been reflecting on it all, I have a dozen or so notes I’d like to share with you.
Some of the things I’ve learned, starting with personal lessons and ending with lessons about my business:
- Focus on intentions rather than goals. As you might know, I experimented with giving up goals after being very focused on goals for years. It was liberating, and it turns out, you don’t just do nothing if you don’t have a goal. You get up and focus on what you care about. Read more here. Instead, I’ve found it useful to focus less on the destination (goal) and instead focus on what your intention for each activity is. If you’re going to write something … instead of worrying about what the book will be like when you’re done, focus on why you want to write in the first place. If you are doing something out of love or to help others , for example, then you are freed from it needing to turn out a certain way (a goal) and instead can let it turn out however it turns out. I’ve found this way of working and living to be freeing and less prone to anxiety or procrastination.
- Small actions really add up. By focusing on getting out and going for a run each day, I ran several marathons and eventually an ultramarathon. By writing a blog post or part of a book chapter every day, I’ve written well over a thousand blog posts and many books, articles and courses. Small actions every day can really add up to a mountain.
- Working resistance is the key to habits. What I’ve learned in working with others is that most people fail at habits because of resistance. When the time comes to meditate or exercise or write, resistance arises and we procrastinate. I’ve written a whole book on overcoming this resistance, but until you start to face your resistance and become mindful of it, you won’t be able to overcome it.
- Working with attachments is the key to happiness. What gets in the way of happiness? Frustrations, anger, anxiety, feeling down, disappointment, procrastination, self criticism, getting caught up in our stories. The root of all of this is attachment to something — what we want, the way we want things, the way we think others should act. If we can let go of those attachments, we can be happier. I’ve been working for years to get better at being mindful of my (many) attachments, and letting go when I can.
- Mindfulness is the key to everything. If working with resistance is the key to habits, and working with attachments is the key to happiness … then mindfulness is the key to both of those things. And more. The deeper I dive into mindfulness, the more I find that you can’t really work with anything important without it. Check out my Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness for more.
- Health can be made simple. I’ve done all kinds of experiments to get fit and healthy, and they were all really interesting … but in the end, I’ve learned that only a few things really matter. Eat whole foods — my favorites are vegetables, beans & legumes, nuts, fruits, whole grains. And be active — my favorites are strength training, running, hiking, yoga, cycling and sports. I just pick one of these to do practically every day. In addition, floss, meditate, sleep. Each of these might seem hard, but if you just gradually work towards these simple things, you’ll get healthier over time.
- Consumerism & distractions require vigilance. The pull of distractions and urges to buy things (to solve problems or give us pleasure) is incredibly strong. Consumerism pulls on us every day, every time we watch TV, read online, see friends or strangers using products … and results in us owning too man possessions and getting too deep in debt. Distractions are a constant pull on our attention as well, pulling us away from what’s most important, taking attention away from the present moment. How do we overcome these powerful attractions? Constant vigilance: notice when you’re buying too much or becoming too distracted, and start becoming more conscious every day.
- Life is incredibly precious. The deaths of loved ones, and the growing up of young ones, are powerful reminders of how short life is. And how important it is to appreciate this gift we’ve been given. I really believe life is a miracle, and to take it for granted is kind of a crime. I do my best to realize the preciousness of life every day, and appreciate as many moments as I can. I try not to take my loved ones for granted, because I have no idea how many more moments I have with them.
- Focus on one small project at a time. I often have a bunch of projects on my radar, but I usually focus myself on one small project. A short ebook, a lesson for a course, the redesign of a website. If a project is too big, I make it smaller or focus on just one part of it. I like projects that take less than a month, and ideally just a week or two. Any longer, and it becomes overwhelming. By focusing on small projects, I stay focused, have lots of energy, and feel accomplished as I get things done. Btw, I know that this might seem contradictory to the goal-less method I mention above, but I honestly don’t focus too much on the goal (I hold loosely to them) and try to focus more on my intention.
- Copyright isn’t necessary. One year into doing this Zen Habits blog, I uncopyrighted the blog and all my books. It was a scary and liberating move, as no other bloggers or authors that I knew of were doing it at the time. But I really believe in the open-source software movement, and decided that none of the ideas that I write about are my original ideas — I steal them from people before me like everyone else. And though I don’t try to control my work through copyright, I can still sell my books and membership program. I’ve found that people appreciate the uncopyright, and seem happy to support me.
- Focus on what matters to the readers. I’ve learned that a lot of things that people seem to focus on for blogs, websites and businesses don’t really matter that much. For example, people track all kinds of visitor stats, focus on how many followers they get, and try all kinds of promotional tactics (like popup subscriptions). These don’t really matter. What matters most? Helping your readers/visitors. I got rid of blog stats and comments and advertising and most social media, and I just focus on writing articles (and books) that help my readers. This has freed me from obsessions and other distractions, and instead I have the happiness of trying to help people.
- My readers are incredible. These last 10 years have been a true wonder for me. Not only have I gotten to make a living doing what I really love, but I’ve learned so much from all of you. The kind emails I’ve gotten, the notes of sympathy or joy, the feedback and suggestions … it has meant the world to me. I can’t express how grateful I am for all of you. It has been a true joy writing for all of you, hearing from you, being your friend. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I could go on all day about what I’ve learned, but these are some of the ones that have mattered most to me. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!Tenniversary Gifts
I thought about creating a gift for all of you on the 10-year anniversary of Zen Habits, as a thank you. But I just haven’t had the time, with our monthlong Guam trip (necessitated by the funeral last month). I am creating a new course called Dealing with Struggles that I think you will all love, but it’s not quite ready yet.
Instead, I will highlight my best offerings, as a hope that you will consider them a gift, or at least consider supporting me in some way:
- My Sea Change Program. I have worked for years to create the content in this program, and each month I offer a new monthly challenge with course content to accompany the challenge. I hope you’ll check it out.
- My best books. In the last couple years, I’ve created a handful of books that I think will help most people in a powerful way. Check them out here.
- A plea to try veganism. I know many of you truly love animals, and a wonderful gift to me would be to try to be vegan for 7 days. It’s not hard, and I would be deeply grateful. As would the animals!
Thank you all for being a huge part of my journey for the last 10 years. Your love and support has brought me to my knees.
In 2016, I practiced mindfulness more than I ever have before, after 10 years of sporadic practice.
I meditated regularly, practiced with a local Zen group, did a great one-day sitting, went on a retreat, took courses, read books, practiced mindful eating and exercise, learned some great new practices, and taught several mindfulness courses.
I learned a lot about how to cultivate a more mindful life, and I’d like to encourage you to try it this year.
Why? A few good reasons:
- You learn to be awake to the present moment more, and lost in the daydream of your thoughts less.
- You begin to see your mental patterns that affect everything you do, and thus begin to free yourself of those patterns.
- You learn to be frustrated less, and let go more. And smile more.
- You learn to be better at compassion, equanimity, love, contentment.
- You learn to be better at not procrastinating, and better at building better habits.
I could go on about better mental and physical health, better relationships, less fear … but the reasons I’ve given are strong enough. It’s important stuff.
So how do we cultivate a year of mindfulness? I’m glad you asked.Tips for Cultivating Mindfulness
I’m just going to dive in and share my favorite tips for creating a year of mindfulness:
- Commit to sitting daily for a month. It would be great to commit to a year of sitting meditation practice, but I think that’s too long for the brain to commit to. So I recommend trying to sit everyday for a month. Tell people about it, set reminders on your phone and calendar, put a note somewhere you won’t miss it, and keep the meditation short — just 2-5 minutes to start with, until you become more regular. This is the foundational practice for being more mindful, so make a big commitment to sitting.
- Find a group. If you can find a meditation group in your area to sit with once a week, that’s ideal. It doesn’t matter much what kind of group it is (Zen, Tibetan, Vipassana, etc.), just meet with them and meditate however you like when you’re on the cushion. If you can’t find a group in your area, find a group that meets online (San Francisco Zen Center has an online practice group, for example). This commitment to a group deepens the practice.
- Practice mindful eating. I’m gonna be honest here, I don’t practice this as much as I should. But it’s a good example of how you can take something you already do every day, and use it as a meditation. Simply commit to doing nothing but eating — single-task instead of multitasking. As you eat each bite, pay attention to the food, the textures and flavors and colors. Notice when your mind wanders. Savor the food. Showering, brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, walking and sweeping are other good activities to use as meditation.
- Take a course. This is a bit self-promotional, but I’m offering mindfulness courses in my Sea Change Program. However, you can take any online or in-person course, free or paid — I find that they force you to practice and reflect on your practice, so that your learning deepens even further.
- Find a teacher or partner. I am lucky to have a teacher who I meet with every couple months … I find that just knowing that I’m going to be talking to her means that I’ll try harder to learn, remind myself a bit more, reflect on my learning more so that I have something to talk to her about. If you can’t find a teacher, a learning partner can function the same way.
- Watch your frustration. When you get irritated, frustrated or angry … let it be a mindfulness bell! It is a great opportunity to drop out of your story, and notice how your body is feeling. What got you hooked? What story are you telling yourself? What is your mental pattern when you get hooked? What is the physical feeling in your body at this moment? Practice as much as you can!
- Read a good mindfulness book. You learn mindfulness by practicing, but a good book can guide your practice. I recommend checking out my recently published Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness, and I also like Mindfulness in Plain English.
- Practice yoga or mindful movement. Yoga is moving meditation, and I highly recommend it. If you aren’t drawn to yoga, try walking or running or doing other exercise while trying to pay mindful attention to your body and breath. Either way, see it as an opportunity to meditate as you move.
- Sit with procrastination & fear. Whenever you start to procrastinate or run to distraction, there is fear at the root of your urge. Instead of running, sit with it. Notice the fear or resistance. Stay with this feeling, become intimate with it, be friendly towards it, smile at it. Stay, stay, until it dissolves.
- Journal & review regularly. The best learning is deepened by reflecting what you’ve been learning about, reflecting on your obstacles and challenges, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. You evolve your learning through reflecting. Journaling is a great tool for that — it helps you reflect in a mindful way. Journal daily, weekly, or monthly, reviewing what you did the previous day (or week or month) and what you learned from it, and what your intentions are in the coming day, week or month.
That might seem like a lot of things to do, but you don’t have to do them all at once! Nor do you have to be “perfect” at this (perfection doesn’t exist). Just try one or two things, try another couple things later, and explore with no real destination or outcome in mind. Play with these practices and tools. See what happens.Challenge: A Month of Mindfulness
To start your year of mindfulness, I challenge you to do a full 30 days of mindfulness, starting today. That means meditating every day, for at least a few minutes (start small), and trying to incorporate mindfulness practices in your life in small ways.
Are you up to the challenge? If so, commit to it by announcing it to your loved ones, on social media, or emailing your friends. It’ll be an amazing way to start this year.
If you’d like to go deeper with mindfulness, sign up for my Sea Change Program. We’re doing a Month of Mindfulness in January, and I’ve issued the same mindfulness challenge to my members (we check in once a week). Don’t worry if you’re starting mid-month … it doesn’t matter. Go on your own schedule, let go of the idea of perfection.