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.
I believe the freshness of this year brings a renewed energy for changing our lives. I believe 2017 can be great for all of us, with a bit of focus and effort.
So I’ve created a revised Sea Change Program that’s geared to creating a great 2017 for all of you, full of positive life changes.
How can Sea Change help you change your life in 2017?
- Video Courses: I’ve created a huge library of content: video courses and articles that are aimed at helping you practice mindfulness, exercise, eat healthier, declutter, stop procrastinating, get out of debt, overcome fear, find gratitude and more. I’ve been building up this content library for 5 years! I think it’s pretty awesome.
- Challenges: Every month I plan to have a new challenge. This month, it’s a Mindfulness Challenge — try to meditate every day of the month. Report on your challenge once a week. It really helps you to stick to change more to participate in a challenge.
- Forums: You can discuss the challenges, report your progress each week, and in general support each other’s changes.
So video and article content on changing your life, a monthly challenge, and a forum to connect with and get support from other people who are making similar changes. I’ve found this to be a simple but effective method for change.
If you’re ready to make changes in 2017, try my Sea Change Program for one week free (and $15/month after that).Deeper Levels
In addition, if you want to go deeper, I offer Gold and Platinum memberships to help support people who are ready to fully commit to life changes.
How do these levels help you go deeper? A few key ways, in addition to what’s above:
- Live Webinars (Gold and Platinum): Gold members have access to monthly live webinars where I give a talk about the current challenge and answer member questions. My members have found these to be a great resource.
- Ask Questions (Gold and Platinum): Members can submit questions during the month and I’ll do my best to answer them. I highly recommend asking questions, as it deepens the learning process and helps me to see where you need help. People who ask questions are much more likely to see change.
- Accountability Teams (Platinum): I’ve created a Sea Change team on Slack for Platinum members to discuss their life changes, and more importantly to provide accountability teams of about 5-10 members to support each other’s changes.
- Twice-monthly Calls with Leo (Platinum): I’ve just added this feature for the new Platinum membership level … I’m going to have twice-monthly calls where people can ask questions and I’ll answer them, and other members can share their progress, I can even do some one-on-one coaching on the call with other members benefitting from listening. I think this will be a great help for people who are ready to go deeper into their learning and habit changes.
So four tools for more personal support, which I’ve found to be a key ingredient to lasting change.Key Ingredients to Lasting Change
Through changing my own life in a hundred different ways, to helping others change theirs, I’ve found some things to be incredibly helpful if you want to make a change that sticks:
- Motivation: Do you really want to change? If you care about the change, and are willing to focus your life on it for a little while, you can make it happen. If it’s just “it would be nice,” then it probably won’t last until you are ready to get serious about it.
- Small changes, gradually: Most people hear this and ignore it, but they are missing one of the most important ingredients. If you want to meditate, start with just a couple minutes. If you want to exercise, just do five minutes. Start small, increase only gradually. Do less than you’re capable of, and the change will last.
- Reminders and focus: If you forget to do your habit, you won’t change. If you can set reminders, put up physical, visual reminders around you, and keep your focus on the habit, you’re much more likely to stick to it.
- Social support: Doing the change with other people is remarkably powerful. I haven’t found another tool more effective than this, if you are willing to put it to use.
- Gratitude & mindfulness: OK, you can have lasting change without these final ingredients, but I’ve found them to be essential in my personal changes. Why? If you aren’t mindful, you’ll give in to urges to procrastinate or quit your change, because you won’t even notice the urge, you’ll just follow it. And if you find gratitude as you do the habit, you’ll enjoy every step of the way, which means it won’t be a sacrifice but a joy. These are two amazing ingredients, use them!
So those are the key ingredients. You can change your entire life over the course of a year or two if you make small, gradual changes with mindfulness, gratitude, motivation and social support. I’ve seen it over and over.
It’s possible. Take the step today and join me and thousands of other members in Sea Change:
It can seem like our lives are filled with busyness, noise, distractions, and often meaningless activities.
What if we could filter out all that noise, and focus on the meaningful?
What if we could find stillness instead of constant distraction?
I believe that most of us have that power. In my experience, most of the noise is there by choice, but we’ve fallen into patterns over the years and it can seem like we’re not able to change them.
Let’s talk about ways to filter out the noise, then how to find stillness and meaning.Ways to Filter the Noise
Take the rest of today to notice what noise you find in your life. Even take a little time to make a list, whenever you find distraction or busyness.
For example, noise in my life comes from: email, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter, blogs and other sites I like to read, text messages, Slack, and watching Netflix. You might have other sources: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, news, cable TV.
Once we’re aware of the noise, how can we filter it out? We have to decide that we want more quiet and meaning in our lives. That it’s important enough to “miss out” on some things in those noisy channels.
Then we can take action:
- Turn off notifications as much as possible. Including the unread messages count by each app on your phone.
- Decide to check on some things (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) just once a day. Others you can check twice a day, or three times if needed (like email or Slack). But set a limit.
- Delete accounts or delete apps that aren’t giving you real meaning (I deleted my Facebook account years ago).
- Unsubscribe from everything possible in your email account. And from Twitter or any other app where you’re “following” people or blogs/websites. If you use an RSS reader, unsubscribe from as many feeds as possible. Leave only a handful that give you meaning.
- Tell people that you are only checking your messages once a day, to set expectations. Don’t use an autoresponder — I find those annoying. Instead, just send a message to the people who matter most, and ask that they be understanding.
- Set a time each day when you watch TV or movies (if at all). Set a time of day when you read news or blogs (if at all). If you say, “I only watch TV after 7 p.m.,” then you’ve limited how much space this takes up in your life.
- If there are some things (like email, for example) where you need to stay connected because of work, try to negotiate with your boss or team so that you can find periods of disconnection. For example, ask if you can take a couple hours in the morning and a couple in the afternoon to be disconnected, to focus on more important work.
If you take these actions, you’ll filter out most of the noise.
What’s left? Time for quiet, stillness, focus and meaning.Finding Stillness & Meaning
Once you’ve filtered out the noise, you are left with a few interesting problems:
- Changing your habits of busyness and constant movement.
- Figuring out what’s meaningful.
- Learning to stop and stay still.
I think those are wonderful problems to be faced with. Most people never even consider them. Find gratitude that you can work on this at all.
Take some time to notice your constant need for busyness or distraction. For example, if you have a moment where you’re not doing anything — you’re waiting in line, you’re alone at your restaurant table while your friend goes to the bathroom, you’re sitting on your couch — what do you try to do out of habit? This is your pattern of busyness and movement.
Now see if you can let go of those patterns. Catch yourself, and instead opt for stillness and quiet. Try to just sit there and notice your surroundings. Soak it all in. Savor the moment. Meditate on your breath. Reflect on your day. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for right now.
Start building new patterns of stillness. For example, try morning meditation on your breath, even if just for a few minutes every day. Try going for a morning or evening walk, without your phone. Try turning the phone and computer off and just journal.
Start finding activities that are more meaningful to you. This doesn’t have to be done in one day — you can slowly experiment to figure out what’s meaningful to you. You might start writing a book or screenplay, for example, or taking photos or drawing or making music. You might decide to start a business or charity that changes the world. You might start to learn something that’s meaningful, or teach others. Find ways to help others and make the world a better place. Journal, meditate, exercise, make healthy food, declutter, make dates with people who are important to you.
When you notice yourself running to busyness and distraction, pause. Turn instead towards stillness and your meaningful activities.
Build a life around stillness and meaning, and notice the difference it makes in you.
It’s been quite an amazing year for me and Zen Habits. I’m glad I’ve had all of you along with me for the ride.
Other than the 2016 election and other craziness in the world, which I decline to discuss on this site, a lot has happened for me personally:
- Eva’s dad died this month, and we’ve flown back to Guam for the funeral. The good news is we’re finishing the year here on Guam, with family we love and miss, and it is gorgeous here.
- My son Rain graduated from high school and started college, and my daughter Chloe moved back to Guam and started working at the newspaper. We had a family reunion in the summer for my wife’s family. Our son Justin moved back to California and focused on learning 3D animation. My other son Seth got into making electronic music, my daughter Maia started playing in a band and animating, and my other daughter Noelle saved up for a trip to Guam.
- I traveled a lot: a retreat in Ecuador’s cloud rainforest, a hiking trip in Japan, a cruise from Sydney to Hawaii through New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, a nine-day drive around Iceland, and visits to Stockholm, New York, Maui, Guam, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu. Actually it was a bit too much travel, but I’m not complaining!
- I got into ultralight hiking and explored the Desolation Wilderness, and have more hikes planned for next year, and camped in the Sierra Nevada with my wife and kids.
- I dove deeper into learning about mindfulness. It became probably the biggest focus for me this year, and I hope to continue that in 2017.
- I worked with developers to develop the Habit Zen web app for habits, and did a successful Kickstarter campaign for it.
- I wrote several ebooks: the Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness, Ultralight: The Zen Habits Guide to Traveling Light & Living Light, and the Habit Guide Ebook
- I created 8 video courses for my Sea Change Program members.
Whew! What a year! I’m grateful to be here through all of this wondrousness.The Best Zen Habits Posts of 2016
To wrap up this year, here are my favorite Zen Habits post from 2016:
- Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Understanding the Mind
- Let Everything Breathe
- Opt Out: A Simplicity Manifesto
- Fear Is Why We Have Too Much Stuff
- A Mini-Guide to Not Being Frustrated All the Time
- How to Write Every Day
- Unconventional Productivity
- Rules for Getting Organized & Decluttered
- Our Relationship with the Present Moment
- The Zen Habits Guide to Letting Go of Attachments
- Why We Struggle with Change
For more best of Zen Habits:
One of the biggest sources of difficulties for every single human being is the desire for people to be a certain way.
We can’t seem to help it: we want the world to be the way we want it. Unfortunately, reality always has different plans, and people behave in less-than-ideal ways.
The problem isn’t other people. It’s our ideals.
Yes, I think it would be great if people stopped killing animals for food and fashion, and became vegan instead. But that’s not the reality I’m faced with, and it’s not going to happen for quite some time, if ever.
Yes, I think it would be great if my kids behaved perfectly all the time, but that’s not the reality of kids. Or any human beings, for that matter.
Yes, it would be great if my wife always agreed with me, but that’s not going to happen.
So the problem is:
- We have ideals about how people should act, or ways we’d like them to be.
- People don’t act in those ideal ways, or aren’t the way we’d like them to be.
- We get bothered by that reality. Frustrated, angry, sad, disappointed, stressed.
- This makes us unhappy, and damages our relationships with others.
This is obviously not great.
We have a couple options:
- Stick rigidly to the way we want people to be, and be upset when they don’t meet those ideals.
- Stick rigidly to the way we want people to be, and try really hard to make them be that way. (This pretty much never works.)
- Let go of the ideals and be happier and less frustrated.
When we think about it this way, it’s obvious that option 3 is the best route. We’ll talk about this option soon, but let’s talk about a couple objections first.Objections to Letting Go
When people are confronted with the idea of letting go of their ideals about other people, they usually have a few objections:
- Objection: But then people get away with bad behavior. There’s a difference between wanting someone to behave a certain way (and getting upset when they don’t) … and accepting that a person is acting a certain way, and then compassionately finding an appropriate response. In the first case, you are angry at them for their behavior, and your response out of anger is likely to make things worse. In the second case, you aren’t bothered too much, but can see that their behavior is harmful and want to help them not harm. You can’t actually control them, but you can try to help. If you try to help but need them to accept your help, then it will be continued frustration. Help but let go of the ideal outcome you’d like from your offered help.
- Objection: But what about abusive behavior? There’s a difference between being agonized about the abuse, and accepting that the person is abusive and taking appropriate action. Letting go of your ideals about how the abusive person should act doesn’t mean you let them abuse you. It just means you accept that they are an abuser, while taking the appropriate action of getting away from them, and reporting them or seeking help for them if it’s appropriate. Don’t leave yourself in a place where you’re being harmed, but that doesn’t mean you have to be afflicted by someone else’s actions.
- Objection: But then we don’t make the world a better place. If people behave in less-than-ideal ways, you can agonize about it while trying to change them, or you can accept that the world is not ideal … but calmly and compassionately work to help others. In both cases, you’re trying to do good … but in the second case, you’re not agonizing about how things are.
So these objections are all about wanting to change people’s bad behavior. This article is about inner acceptance of “bad” behavior (or what I think of as “not ideal”) … but once you have inner acceptance, you can take appropriate external action. That might be helping, being compassionate, getting to safety, talking calmly and lovingly to someone, reporting abusive behavior, getting counseling, or many more appropriate actions that come from a place of love, compassion and understanding rather than frustration and anger.Letting Go of Ideals
So how do you let go of wanting people to be a certain way?
First, reflect on how these ideals are harming you and others. This wanting your way, this wanting a specific version of reality … is making you frustrated, unhappy, angry. It’s harming your relationship. It’s likely making the other person unhappy as well. This is all caused by an attachment to expectations and ideals.
Next, reflect on wanting yourself and others to be happy. If the ideals and expectations are harming yourself and others … wouldn’t it be nice to stop harming yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice to be happy instead of frustrated? Think about the desire to have a better relationship with other people as well, and for them to be happier in their relationship with you. This is your intention, and it is one of love.
Third, notice the ideals and frustrations as they arise. See when someone else is frustrating you, and reflect on what ideal you’re holding for them. How do you want them to behave instead? Don’t get caught up in your story of why they should behave that way, but instead just take note of the ideal. See that this ideal is harming you. Decide that it’s not useful to you.
Also notice your mental pattern of resentment when someone doesn’t meet your expectations, and decide to try to catch it early. It’s a pattern you can be aware of and catch early, and decide to change your pattern.
Next, mindfully observe the tightness. Turn your attention to your body, the tightness that comes from holding on to this ideal. Pay attention to how it feels, the quality of the energy in your body, where it’s located, how it changes. In this moment of observing, you are awake, rather than being stuck in the daydream of your story about why this person should be behaving differently.
At this point, you can decide to try a different pattern.A Different Way
So now, you can practice a different way of being.
Here are some ideas I’ve found useful:
- Instead of fixing on one way this person (or situation) should be, be open to other possibilities. Open yourself to lots of different ways this person or situation can be.
- Try to understand the person, rather than judging them based on limited information. Try to understand why they’d act this way — perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps they’re suffering in some way. Perhaps this is their strategy for protecting themselves.
- Try to see the good-hearted nature of their actions, rather than one where they are a bad person. For example, you might see that they are tender-hearted and afraid, and so are acting out of fear. Or they just want to be happy, and this is their strategy for being happy. Or maybe they have good intentions and want to help, but are misguided. We all have a good heart deep down inside, but it might take several layers to see that. Anger can stem from jealousy which stems from insecurities and fear, which stems from a tender-hearted worry that we’re not good enough. The angry action isn’t justified, but there is still a good heart at the core.
- See their suffering that causes their actions and know that you have suffered in the same way. Remember how that suffering feels, so you can see what they’re going through. Compassionately wish for an end to their suffering.
- Tell yourself that you don’t know how people should act. Honestly, I don’t always know how I should act … I am fooling myself if I think I know how other people should act. Instead, I might be curious about their actions.
- See the other person as a teacher. They are helping you practice mindfulness, and let go of your old patterns. They are teaching you about reality vs. ideals, about how humans act.
- Relax. Seriously, see the tightness you’re holding, and just relax. Smile. Be happy in this present moment.
- Practice see the goodness in the other person, in yourself, and in the present moment. There is always an underlying goodness in this moment, if you choose to notice. Trust in this goodness, and you’ll be afraid less and happier more.
These are some practices. Try them, practice them over and over. I think you’ll be happier for it, and every relationship will be better.
Too much to do, not enough time.
This is a perpetual problem for a lot of people, but it seems to be especially pronounced during the holidays. With holiday events, shopping, travel, family visiting … things tend to pile on top of our already busy lives.
But no matter what time of year it is, the problem is the same: our list of tasks is neverending, and our days are too short.
How can we deal with this in a sane way?
I’ll offer five suggestions that work for me.
1. Use this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. In the middle of your stress and feeling of being overwhelmed … you have the opportunity to be present. When you notice yourself feeling this way, drop in: notice how your body feels. Take a second to observe the physical sensations of your surroundings (sounds, light, touch sensations, etc.). Notice how your body feels as your mind is spinning with anxiety or busyness.
No, stress and overwhelm are not the two most pleasant feelings, but they’re also not the end of the world. And if you see them as an opportunity to practice, to learn, to get better, then they can actually be good news. They are your teachers, and this is your time to be mindful.
You don’t have to spend a whole minute dropping in, but just take five or 10 seconds. Just observe how you’re feeling, observe your surroundings, observe how your thoughts are affecting you. Just notice, briefly, and in that short time, you’ve woken up from the dream we’re in most of the time.
2. Realize that you can’t do it all right now. You might have 20 things to do, or 100 … but you can’t do all of them right now. You probably can’t do them all in the next hour even. How many can you actually do right now? One.
This reminder is meant to free us from the idea that we need to do everything right now. We can’t. So instead, this allows us to focus on just one thing. Just pick one task, and focus on that. Because the others, as urgent as they might seem, can’t possibly be done right now. You can delegate them, eliminate them, defer them, but you can’t do them all right now. So focus on one, and give it your full attention. This is the most helpful way to work, in my experience.
3. Pick a high impact task to focus on. When we’re busy, we often get into the mode of doing a lot of small tasks really quickly. It feels like we’re knocking a lot of things off the list, which can feel productive. But it’s just running around like a chicken without a head.
If you’re going to focus on just one task, it’s best to make it a good one. Something that will have a decent impact on your day, your work, your life. That probably isn’t answering a bunch of unimportant emails or checking Facebook messages. One important email that will close a deal, move along a key project, help someone’s life … that’s a higher impact task. For me, writing is almost always the highest impact thing I can do. It’s hard to figure out what the highest impact task might be, but if you give it some thought, you can see which ones are probably not that important, and which ones are more important. Pick one from the latter category when you can.
That said, you still have to do the smaller tasks. Answer the other emails, run the errands, clean the kitchen counter. I like to take care of those between the bigger tasks, as a way to take a break. Do something important with focus, then relieve my brain by cleaning or answering a few emails. The key is not to procrastinate on the bigger tasks by doing the smaller ones.
4. Be present with this task, with intention. Once you’ve picked an important task, set aside everything else for now. You can’t do them all now, so be here with the one you’ve chosen. Breathe. Set an intention for this task: who are you doing this for, and why? For me, I am often doing my work tasks for you guys (my readers), but I do personal tasks for my family or to help myself. Set a simple intention: I’m writing this article to help my readers who are struggling.
Then let that intention move you as you focus on the task. Be present with the task, noticing how your body feels as you do the task, letting yourself melt into the doing of it, pouring yourself into it as fully as you can. You might get the urge to switch to something else — just notice that and stay with the urge, not letting yourself follow it unthinkingly, then return to the task when the urge subsides. Remember your intention, then let yourself be fully immersed in the task.
5. Practice letting go, with a smile. Having too much to do, and wanting to get it all done as soon as possible … can actually get in the way of doing. This desire to get it all done is an obstacle. Luckily, it’s a great practice to work with this obstacle!
The practice is letting it go. Notice what you think you need to do (your ideal), and let go of it. Instead, tell yourself you don’t know, and instead be open to the reality that’s right in front of you: you can only do one task. Be open to that idea, and the stress will be lowered.
And as you let go of your ideal and open to the reality, smile. Be grateful for the moment you actually have, rather than wishing for the one you don’t have. Smile, and be happy now, rather than waiting for happiness to come at some unspecified date.
In the end, will these suggestions clear away your to-do list? No. You’ll always have a lot of things on your list, and not enough time to do them all. What this does is help you to deal with that fact, and make you more mindful and focused in the middle of that reality.
Life is too short to spend most of it stressed out by an unchangeable fact. We don’t have to waste our time and mental energy worrying about too much to do. Instead, we can smile and be happy doing what we can do now.
These past two weeks have been hectic and exhausting for me. My wife’s father passed away, and I’ve been in non-stop planning, coordinating, cooking, cleaning, driving around mode.
Yesterday was the funeral, and it was a long, tiring and busy day. Incredibly sad, but busy.
In the midst of this busyness, I’ve been trying to remember the practice of “continual letting go.”
I see it as a Zen practice: whatever you think you know, let go of it. Whatever you are sure of, let go of it. My mantra is: You know nothing. The result is that when I remind myself of this, I try to see things from a fresh perspective. I realize that I think I know something but I don’t really, and so I try to see it as if I don’t know.
What’s the point of this? By continually letting go, we don’t have to be so stressed out. When we realize we don’t know:
- We don’t have to be mad when someone is acting in a way we don’t like.
- We don’t have to have anxiety when we don’t know if things will go as planned or hoped.
- We don’t have to have all the answers. We can have questions and curiosity instead.
- We don’t have to get into a tense “No I’m right” battle with anyone else.
- We don’t judge other people as much, so we can be open to who they are and have a good relationship with them.
- We don’t have to control things, but can instead just try to be helpful without controlling the outcome.
The benefit of this is that by continually letting go of what I think things should be, of what I think I know, of needing to have control or certainty … I can just let go and relax. I can do my best, but not stress out about it when things don’t go my way.
I don’t have to be afflicted by anything. I can be busy, but not afflicted by that busyness. I can be tired, but not afflicted by the fact of my tiredness. I can have things go differently than I planned, but not be afflicted by that fact. The first conditions (busy, tired, things not going as planned) are not always in my control. But I can let go of knowing, and so not be afflicted by any of these conditions. Being afflicted by the conditions of life is what causes our real problems.
So in the midst of tiredness, busyness, chaos … I try to remember to let go, continually.
When someone comes to me with something unexpected, I try to let go of what I thought the situation was. Then I open up to this new situation, with fresh eyes.
When someone is cross with me or grumpy, I try to let go of how I think they should be acting. And then be curious about why they’re acting that way, and love them in the midst of their suffering.
When I’m tired and have a lot to do, I try to let go of the idea that I shouldn’t be tired or busy. Then I look at the situation with fresh eyes and realize that I can do these tasks despite the discomfort, out of love for my family.
When things are messy or disorderly, not the way I like them, I try to let go of the way I think things should be. Then I try to see the situation with fresh eyes, understanding that there will always be chaos and mess, and that this too can be loved.
I see that I’m stressed and holding onto the way I want things to be, and so I tell myself I know nothing. And I let go. Then something else comes up and tightness comes up in my body, and I notice this and try to let go. I breathe, smile, and open up. I see things as a beginner. It happens again and again, often from one moment to the next, and I try to continuously let go, let go, let go.
And by letting go of what I know, I’m opening myself up to what’s in front of me. This unfolding moment of unexpectedness.
And it is truly magnificent.
About 10 days ago, my wife Eva’s father Juan “Brand” Salas Cruz passed away, and he left an immense legacy.
He also changed me in ways I am only now beginning to realize.
He was a man of fierce and immense love for his family and anyone whose life he touched — and he touched a lot of lives, for many years. My father-in-law Juan was a man who was there for anyone, whether you were one of his beloved grandchildren, nephews or nieces … or a friend of his at the Guam Legislature … or a fellow rancher who was in need. He was there, always.
He was the guy who was called when someone was in trouble. The guy who made huge amounts of foods for weddings, graduation parties, funerals, birthday celebrations. The man who would fight for his loved ones, would be a second father to nieces and nephews, would do anything at all for his brothers and sisters, who poured out love for his grandchildren.
He changed me, because I saw him live that message of love every day that I knew him. He changed me, because he inspired me to be a better man. And I love him for that.A Life of Contribution
Juan Salas Cruz was born in 1948 in Santa Rita, Guam, when the village was still newly built in the red-dirt hills of southern Guam. It was shortly after World War II, and Guam was in ruins from war, when the Japanese occupied the island until 1944.
He was born to his parents Juan Camacho and Luisa Salas Cruz, the “Brand” family, and he was one of 14 brothers and sisters. So a huge family, one that is incredibly loyal to each other.
He served in the Navy in the Vietnam War, worked at the Guam Telephone Authority, and then he met his wife, Lourdes Santos, who he loved for 40 years. They had three children together: my wife Eva, along with Amy and Juan Jr. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for these three kids.
Juan worked for many years in the Guam Legislature, as chief of staff and key administrative staffer for several Guam senators. He was the man behind the scenes for many people in the government, the problem solver, the mover of worlds.
He was also the first person in his family to get a college degree, and he had a strong intelligence that he didn’t often show off but that you could see in his eyes and actions.
But he was more than an academic: in his heart, he was a fisherman and a rancher. He loved fishing with a “talaya” (the Chamorro word for fishing net) and would take his nephews and nieces with him to remote beaches to catch fish that he loved to barbecue. He absolutely loved his ranch in Dededo (in northern Guam) and raised pigs that he would roast for people’s special occasions, along with vegetables for his delicious soups. He was often found with red dirt smeared all over his clothes and cowboy boots after a long day at the ranch, and some of his best friends were his ranch neighbors.How I Knew Him
Some of my favorite memories of him were when I would help him cook. He had a huge outdoor kitchen with massive pots and pans that he got from Navy surplus, and it seemed like every week there was a big event he was cooking for.
I would help him make red rice (a Guam specialty), or make incredible amounts of fried rice, eggs, bacon, pancakes and more for family breakfasts on New Year. We would barbecue, smoke beef, fry fish, bake hams, roast pigs. And then after all that, we would clean those massive pots with a big spray nozzle and hose down the kitchen.
I remember helping him after a typhoon had devastated the island and we had no power or running water. He would drive his big red 4×4 truck around getting water for family members and friends, helping them fix their houses, cleaning up debris of torn-up houses and trees, getting equipment to whoever needed them.
I remember him with his grandchildren, my kids … and how they were the world to him. He threw big birthday parties for them, took them to the ranch to ride tractors and help feed the pigs, brought them donuts on random mornings just because he was thinking of them, made them their favorite dishes and desserts, was always looking for toys for them, and would kiss them as if it were the last kiss he’d ever get.
I know how much he loved his home island of Guam. There was no other place like it, and he would say, “Guam is good,” with a pride and love in his eyes. He loved the backcountry ranches but also the people in the villages, and he had friends everywhere. Everywhere. He would listen to island music (and also country music) and he talked to me about his pride in the Chamorro people.His Love Lives On
It’s an understatement to say that he loved his brothers and sisters and their kids — including his brothers and sisters on his wife’s side, and their kids, they were no different in his eyes, all family, all deep inside his heart. Love is a tremendous word, but it’s inadequate to express how he felt. He would do anything for them, and often did.
He had nephews who were sons to him, on both sides of the family. He had nieces who were daughters to him. And their kids were his grandchildren. He raised not only his own kids but many others, and they are so broken up about the loss of this father figure in their lives. He went to any length to help them, and taught them so much about life.
He is not dead, because he lives on in their hearts, in their actions, everything they do reflecting some part of him, from how they treat each other and others in the community, to how they made a huge fiesta spread with several dozen dishes last night to honor him.
He lives on in me, my wife, my kids. In his daughter Amy, in Juan Jr. and his wife Jenny, in every relative who loved him and wants to express that love in some way. He lives on in his wife, Lourdes, who now has to go on without her partner. I’m so sorry for your loss, mom. I’m sorry for everyone’s loss, because his cowboy boots can never be filled, nor can the place he holds in our hearts.
All we can do is live by his example, and be better people, out of love for him.
I’m thrilled to share with you my newest ebook about habits, and perhaps my best yet on the topic: The Habit Guide: Zen Habits’ Effective Habit Methods & Solutions.
I wrote this for the Kickstarter backers of my Habit Zen app (so if you’re a backer, don’t buy this, check your Kickstarter updates for links to the book) … but I also had all of you in mind. I think this is a great guide for anyone who struggles with habits
Some of the essentials from the guide:
- The basic mechanics of forming a habit
- The one reason we fail to stick to a habit
- A dozen+ effective methods for overcoming that obstacle (tested by me and many others)
- Solutions to the most common habit problems
- A whole section on forming the most common habits: exercise, eating healthily, meditation, journaling, writing, sleeping well, beating procrastination and more.
Trust me, this book is packed as full as I could pack it with all the best methods for forming habits, ones that I’ve tested on myself and many people I’ve coached in the 11+ years I’ve been forming habits.
This book is aimed at:
- Beginners who want a guide to forming habits
- Anyone who has struggled with habits
- People who are willing to put in the work to form one habit at a time
- People who want to learn to be flexible, overcome struggle, form mindfulness
If you’re an advanced habit practitioner, you probably won’t need this. I only briefly talk about more advanced topics like quitting a bad habit or forming irregular or emotional/mental habits or other difficult practices. I’m going to put out a course in the Spring called “Habit Mastery” that will focus on these types of topics.
But for everyone else, I think this is a great guide. If you’re ready to change your life, one habit at a time, I highly recommend this ebook.The Ebook & Two Package Deals
I’ve created a few options with this guide … the first is just to get the ebook, and the other two packages have some short videos I’ve created to go with the ebook.
You can buy just the ebook here (in PDF, Kindle & iBooks formats) for $5.99:
The first package (let’s call it “Habit Gold“, priced at $9.99) also contains three videos to go along with the ebook:
- The Meditation Habit: How I’ve set up my meditation habit, what cushion I use, how I sit.
- Lentils recipe video: A video of me making the lentils, tofu and greens recipe I am currently eating every day.
- The Journal Habit: How I set up my journaling habit and what app I use.
You can buy the Habit Gold package with the 3 video downloads and the ebook in 3 formats here:
The 2nd package (let’s call it “Habit Platinum“, priced at $12.99) contains six videos (the three in Habit Gold plus three more) to go along with the ebook:
- The Meditation Habit: How I’ve set up my meditation habit, what cushion I use, how I sit.
- Lentils recipe video: A video of me making the lentils, tofu and greens recipe I am currently eating every day.
- The Journal Habit: How I set up my journaling habit and what app I use.
- Mindful Eating Habit: How I practice mindful eating.
- The Writing Habit: My daily writing habit, what apps I use, how I write.
- Resistance Meditation: The crucial meditation on resistance described in the book, shown in action.
You can buy the Habit Platinum package with the 6 video downloads and the ebook in 3 formats here:
Here’s the table of contents:
Introduction: Why Habits Are Important
Part I: How to Stick to a Habit
- Chapter 1: Overview of Habit Mechanics
- Chapter 2: Why People Struggle
- Chapter 3: Overcoming Resistance & Procrastination
- Chapter 4: One Habit at a Time
- Chapter 5: Prioritizing Habits & Balancing Multiple Habits
- Chapter 6: Start Small, Take Tiny Steps
- Chapter 7: Finding Time for Habits
- Chapter 8: Remembering — Set Reminders for the Habit
- Chapter 9: Deeper Motivation
- Chapter 10: Fully Commit (& the Inertia of Starting)
- Chapter 11: Don’t Overdo Your Habit
- Chapter 12: Accountability & Unmissable Consequences
- Chapter 13: Facing Resistance with Mindfulness
- Chapter 14: The Just Get Started Mindset
- Chapter 15: Rule – Don’t Miss Two Days
- Chapter 16: Distractions
- Chapter 17: Overcoming Disruptions Like Illness & Travel
- Chapter 18: Overcoming a Slump
- Chapter 19: Create the Right Environment
- Chapter 20: Practice the Skill of Mindfulness
- Chapter 21: Journaling & Reflecting
- Chapter 22: Don’t Rely on Feeling Like It
- Chapter 23: Don’t Talk Yourself Out of It
- Chapter 24: Getting Through the Dip
- Chapter 25: Restarting & Re-motivating
- Chapter 26: On Consistency
- Chapter 27: Overcoming Adversity
- Chapter 28: Changing Your Identity
- Chapter 29: Dealing with Negative Thinking
- Chapter 30: Habit Questions & Other Struggles
Part II: Quitting a Habit, Common Habits
- Chapter 31: Overview of Quitting a Bad Habit
- Chapter 32: Irregular or Frequent Habits
- Chapter 33: Eating Habits
- Chapter 34: Exercise Habits
- Chapter 35: Discipline, Procrastination, & Motivation Habits
- Chapter 36: Meditation & Mindfulness Habits
- Chapter 37: Sleep & Waking Early Habits
- Chapter 38: Writing or Journaling Daily
- Chapter 39: Financial Habits
- Chapter 40: Notes on Other Habits
I’ve written the book in PDF, Kindle (mobi) and iBooks (epub) formats. You can buy them all in one compressed file here for $5.99:
Kindle Store: If you just want to buy the book from the Amazon Kindle store, you can buy it here for $5.99. That will only be the Kindle format, though. I would love it if you gave me a good review and/or rating! (Note: It should be available in all of the global Amazon stores.)
iBooks Store: If you just want to buy the book from the Apple iBooks store, you can buy it here for $4.99. That will only be the iBooks/epub format, though. And again, I would love it if you gave me a good review and/or rating! (Note: It’s available in all of the global iBooks stores.)
Also, the Habit Gold package includes the three ebook formats (PDF, mobi, epub) plus a package of three videos for $9.99 that you can buy here:
And finally, the Habit Platinum package includes the three ebook formats (PDF, mobi, epub) plus a package of six videos for $12.99 that you can buy here:
If you’d like to see the table of contents, plus the introduction and first two chapters, you can download/open the PDF here:
You have questions, I have answers.
Q: What do I get when I buy the ebook?
A: If you buy it using the blue “buy the ebook” button above, you’ll get a PDF with links to the PDF, epub (for iBooks) and mobi (for Kindle) files.
If you buy from the Kindle store, you’ll just get the Kindle book.
If you buy from the iBooks store, you’ll just get the epub version.
If you buy the Habit Gold package, you’ll get the three formats plus links to download three companion videos that I’ve recorded.
Finally, you can buy Habit Platinum Package with the 6 video downloads and the ebook in 3 formats.
Q: Is there a print version? What about an audiobook version?
A: No, sorry. This is only being released as an ebook.
Q: I bought the package, but where are the video files?
A: Open the PDF file you downloaded … there are links to download the video files in the PDF.
Q: Did you do the design yourself?
Q: I’m hugely disappointed and want my money back!
A: I’m sorry to hear that. There’s a 100% money back guarantee on all my books. Just email email@example.com and we’ll give you a full refund. I don’t want unhappy customers.
In more ways than we often realize, we get caught up in our stories, and get latched into mental patterns that leave us frustrated, angry, full of resentment … or cause us to procrastinate.
In other words, getting caught up is the cause of lots of our problems.
I recorded a webinar this weekend for my Sea Change members about how we get hooked into our patterns of fear, reaction, resentment, and more … and how to start changing our patterns to something new.
I’d like to share this video with you because I believe it will be helpful for many. If you’re interested in more on this topic, join my Sea Change Program today to take my newly launched video course, the Path of Fearlessness.
I’ve broken this webinar recording into two parts:
- Part I: My talk on the patterns of getting hooked, how to interrupt them, and how to form new mental habits.
- Part II: I answered questions on practicing at work and elsewhere, forgiving yourself, big past fears resurfacing, and more!
Here are the notes from my talk (video is below the notes):
- Fear has so much power over us because it happens when we don’t notice, and we just immediately get caught up in it.
- We procrastinate, we lash out, we get caught up in anxiety, we hide in our comfortable activities.
- It’s a mental habit, of running from discomfort and running to comfort or pleasure. It’s hoping for something better, and then fearing we won’t get it.
- Instead, we can be present with what is right in front of us … opening up to the task, to the situation unfolding, even to our feelings of fear and resentment and frustration.
- There’s a feeling of getting hooked, and then going into a chain reaction of thoughts … the initial feeling of “I don’t like this” and then building up a case against the other person, against the situation we don’t like, or against ourselves.
- It’s a physical feeling, this “getting hooked,” and we can learn to notice it. Spend the day today trying to catch yourself getting hooked, and pause. Notice how it feels. Try to become familiar with this, just as you start to get caught up in the chain reaction.
- When you notice yourself getting hooked … and you learn to pause … you can actually change your patterns.
For me, I’ve noticed patterns of:
- Procrastinating and wanting to avoid or run from discomfort
- Comparing myself to others
In the webinar video, I talk about some of the replacement patterns I’ve been trying to form instead of these patterns.Part II: Questions and Answers
Questions answered in this video:
- How to best remind yourself to pause and interrupt the patterns? It happens so automatically and fast. The idea of a practice day is great–but what about at work etc???
- Besides focusing on the breath and pausing, is it helpful to ask ourselves “How can I best help this feeling in my body?”??
- I get especially hooked when there is some truth in “the story”. Any thoughts on this???
- I like the idea of going below the story and I’ve done this and it works. Do you also find that sometimes you have to use the story to better understand the harmful patterns/attachments???
- How do you go about forgiving yourself for automatically getting hooked in the past – for so much of your life???
- The more I contemplate my fears, the more I seem to uncover. Am I missing something, or is this normal??
- In the Fearless Sessions, I’ve been focusing on current fears, but after those seem less powerful, old big past fears are surfacing. I thought the old were gone, so does it ever end?
- I learned that there are many people that are unenlightened and attempt to try to deny my importance. Am I justified to ignore them???
When we have the pattern of comparing ourselves and our ways of doing things with ours and when we feel better, sometimes I feel I can help others by telling them my/our way is better. But how can I tell whether my way is really better or I just feel so?????