Retraining Deeply Ingrained Habits of Mindlessness

By Leo Babauta

It’s hard enough to change a habit that you can physically see: going for a daily walk, sitting down to write, having a salad for lunch each day. These are easily seen, but can still be quite a challenge to instill in your life.

But what about habits of mindlessness, that you don’t even know you’re doing? Maybe you notice it later, maybe you never notice. How do you change those kinds of habits?

For myself, I have a number of mindless habits that I could focus on:

  • Judging other people
  • Eating mindlessly, especially when I’m talking to people or watching TV
  • Sitting too long and getting distracted online
  • Comparing myself to others or judging myself
  • Shutting down into self-concern when someone is unhappy with me
  • Hiding things from others because I’m ashamed or afraid for them to know

Of course, these are just a handful that stand out. They’re deeply ingrained, because I’ve had them since childhood.

They are not a reason to beat myself up, or judge myself. There is nothing wrong with me for having these habits. And yet I can see how they’re unhelpful to my happiness, to my relationships, to the work I want to do in the world.

So it would be helpful to retrain these mindless habits.

How do we go about that?

What to Know About Changing Mindless Habits

Before we start, it’s important to know that there are two big obstacles to changing these kinds of habits:

  1. They are deeply ingrained. You’ve been doing them for years — reinforcing them for years — and so you won’t just be able to flip a switch and change them in a day or a week. It could take months to retrain, and in some cases, longer — depending on how much focus you give this retraining, and how consistent you’re able to be.
  2. They are unconscious. If you don’t know you’re doing it, you can’t retrain it. It just keeps happening without you being able to do it. Without awareness, you’re powerless.

So it will likely be a messy process, with starts and stops, lots of “failures” that aren’t really failures if you’re using them to learn and grow your awareness. It can get discouraging, unless you look at every failure in this way, as a necessary step to becoming more aware, a necessary stepping stone to crossing this river.

A Retraining Method for Mindless Habits

With the above ideas in mind, here’s how we might retrain these mindless habits:

  1. Focus on just one habit. Look at my list of mindless habits above — these all seem like great candidates to take on immediately. So why not do them all at once, right? But it’s hard enough to be aware of just one of these habits — trying to be aware of several habits at once is like trying to pay attention to 5 televisions at once. I’d say it’s impossible. Pick just one — you can get to all of them eventually.
  2. Recognize the habit’s effects on you. Before you get started, reflect on how this habit affects you. Maybe just watch it for a few days and see how it affects your happiness, relationships, and the meaningful work you’re doing in the world. Start to get very clear on exactly what this habit does to your life, and all of the ripples it has on all parts of your life. Then get clear that you don’t want to keep doing this to yourself and others around you. You can’t afford it.
  3. Create a practice container to give it focus and create awareness. With focus on one habit and clarity about what it does, you can now set up your retraining practice dojo. Here’s the key: create a space where you become as aware as possible of the habit. For example, if I wanted to work on the “being judgmental of others” habit, I might have a practice hour each day where I walk around in public looking at people and noticing when I have the tendency to judge them. I’m actively watching for the habit. Maybe it’s just 30 minutes, or 5 minutes, depending on the habit. But it has a defined start and end, and I’m very deliberately practicing during this time. I can slowly expand it over time, or have multiple practice sessions a day, but it shouldn’t be all day long. Sometimes I might shrink it. The key is to try to be as aware as possible during this practice container. 
  4. Imagine an alternative habit that would be more helpful. What would be a more helpful habit to do instead? For example, instead of judging people, I might try to look at them with compassionate eyes. Instead of eating mindlessly, I might try to fully savor each bite, pausing in between to ask if taking another bite would be a loving act or just mindless satisfying of cravings. Instead of sitting too long, I might have focused work sessions for 15 minutes, getting up and exercising or stretching in between. Instead of comparing myself or judging myself, I might see myself with loving eyes. Instead of shutting down when someone is unhappy with me, I might try to see their pain and what they’re going through. Instead of hiding things from others, I might be open and vulnerable about what I’ve been hiding. These are only examples — take a little time to imagine the habit you’d rather have.
  5. When you notice yourself doing the old habit, practice the new one instead. This one is obvious — during your practice session, if you notice yourself starting to do the old habit, do the new one instead, as deliberately and consciously as you can. Every single time, as consistently as possible. If you don’t do it consistently, just notice when you don’t, just increase awareness.
  6. Repeat many times. This one is obvious too — repeat it often, until it becomes easier and more natural and more and more automatic. Reinforce each time you do it by giving yourself a mental pat on the back — feeling good about this success, even if it’s not perfect. Take a moment to feel grateful for your effort.
  7. Then learn to do the new habit earlier. With some practice, you can learn to do the new habit much earlier in the process. For example, instead of judging someone and then switching to seeing them with compassion … I might look at someone and immediately try to see them with compassion, as soon as I see them. This takes a lot of awareness and practice, but it gets easier with time. You’re cutting out the old habit completely, so that the new one gets reinforced.
  8. Repeat many more times. Again, repeat this method as many times as it takes to become more and more automatic. You might add additional practice sessions. You can even try to catch yourself outside of the practice sessions, until it becomes really easy to be aware of this during the day.
  9. Important: see every mistake as a stepping stone to greater awareness. Remember that you’re not going to be perfect at this. It’s going to be messy. The old habit has been strengthened over years. Develop patience with yourself, understanding, compassion. Learn to encourage yourself when things are hard. And see every failure as information to use to get better and better.

This is the method. It works, I promise — I’ve changed some difficult habits this way, even if it took me longer than I’d care to admit. I’m still working with this method, in spurts and starts, in a very messy way. But shift happens. It can for you as well!

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The Practice of Listening to Find Purpose

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

Very often, our lives are so filled with busyness and distraction that we have no space to actually listen to what life is calling us to do.

Think about your day so far, and your day yesterday: how much of it was spent in busywork and distraction? Messaging, social media, videos and news, reading favorite websites, answering emails and doing errands, replying and reacting.

In the middle of this craziness, do we ever have space for silence? For creation, contemplation, reflection? And for a practice that I think we do too little of much of the time: listening.

The practice of listening is about creating a little space for silence, and then listening to what you need to do right now:

  • What have you committed to doing that you’re not doing?
  • Why is what you’re doing now important?
  • What do you need?
  • What do the people you care about need?
  • What are you being called on to do?
  • What would be the most impactful or meaningful thing you could do right now?
  • How do you want to spend the next month of your life?
  • What do you care most deeply about? Are you willing to commit yourself to it?

These are the kinds of questions to ask in this purposeful listening practice. But more important than the questions is how you listen:

  1. Create some space by taking a break from devices and busyness. Stop and get somewhere where you can have stillness — a walk in nature, dropping into sitting meditation, dropping into child’s pose on the floor, having a cup of tea, sitting out on your porch, finding a bench in a park.
  2. Now just find silence and stillness and ask a question. You can ask any of the questions above, or whatever feels important for you right now. One of my favorites is, “What am I being called to do right now?”
  3. Keep yourself in that stillness and silence, and listen for the answer. Breathe deeply. Feel how your body feels right now. And then listen to the answer that comes up for you. Your gut has an answer. Maybe it’s not the perfect answer, but it’s something to start with. Listen until you have clarity.

It’s that simple. Pause in a moment of stillness and silence. Ask a question. Listen for the answer.

This can be used in all areas of your life: your relationships, your health, your finances, your work, your meaningful contribution to the world.

How can you practice this throughout the day?

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Finding Groundedness in the Age of Anxiety

By Leo Babauta

We live in uncertain times.

Actually, things have always felt uncertain to the people who live in those times, but these days it might feel even more heightened, with the hyperconnectivity of the internet, social media and constant messaging, comparing ourselves to everyone else, and a very tense, divisive political situation (not just in the U.S., but in many countries).

It’s enough to drive anxiety through the roof for many people. I coach hundreds of people through my Sea Change Program and Fearless Training Program, as well as 1-on-1 … and anxiety seems to be a huge problem for many people I work with. I’ve seen it in my extended family and friend circle as well — anxiety seems to be on the rise, or at least it can feel that way to many.

So what  can we do to deal with this anxiety?

There isn’t one simple solution, but there are some habits we can form to help us cope — even thrive — in the middle of chaos and uncertainty.

The Causes of Anxiety

In short, our anxiety is caused by uncertainty. It’s a feeling of alarm, of stress, of fear or even slight panic, when things feel unsettled, constantly shifting, out of control.

We feel this kind of groundlessness, this out-of-controlledness, all the time at some level. But there are times when this feeling is heightened:

  • We lose our job or feel like our job is unstable
  • We get into deep debt or feel like our finances are out of control
  • Someone we love has a crisis (like health crisis)
  • We get sick
  • There’s a death in the family
  • Someone we can’t stand gets elected to the leadership of our country (this has happened in multiple countries, I’m not talking about anyone in particular)
  • You move to a new home in a new city

You get the idea — they’re all times of heightened uncertainty, and so the feeling of anxiety starts to increase.

The thing is, if you go through just one of these things, it’ll increase stress and maybe anxiety … but then if things calm down, you have a chance to recover. But if you’re constantly going through these kinds of things, it doesn’t give you a chance to recover. You’re constantly in a fragile state, and everything becomes more stressful.

The key is not to eliminate uncertainty and stress in your life … but instead to increase your resilience by allowing yourself to feel grounded even in the middle of a stressful, uncertain event. Then things become not such a big deal. They might stress you out a bit, but they won’t be the end of the world.

Six Habits that Lead to Groundedness

The basic habits that lead to this kind of resiliency, and a feeling of groundedness, are things you can practice every single day:

  1. Let ourselves feel it. When we’re feeling uncertainty, instead of rushing to solve it … or to distracting ourselves or comforting ourselves with food or shopping … we can let ourselves feel the uncertainty. I’m not talking about engaging in a narrative about what the uncertainty is like and why it’s so bad — but instead feeling it physically in your body. Where is the feeling located in your body? Can you give it some attention and curiosity? Can you stay with it for a few moments? This habit of letting ourselves feel the uncertainty and stress is transformative — every bit of anxiety becomes a place to practice, an opportunity to be present with ourselves. It becomes a chance to create a new relationship with our experience.
  2. Learn that it’s OK to feel groundlessness. You are feeling anxiety because of the uncertainty of your situation. But that’s because uncertainty becomes a reason to freak out. What if, instead, we learned that this groundless, uncertain feeling is actually just fine? It might not be completely pleasant, but it’s nothing to panic about. In fact, it can be an opportunity to find joy and appreciation in the groundlessness — what is there to appreciate in this feeling of complete openness? Start to shift how you see and react to this groundlessness, embracing it rather than panicking about it.
  3. Give ourselves love. In the middle of stress and uncertainty, instead of engaging in our old habits of shutting down or avoiding, of worrying and fretting … can we try a new habit of giving ourselves love? This is a way of being compassionate and friendly with ourselves, no matter what we’re doing. It’s like giving love to a child who is in pain — the compassion and love pour out of our hearts. Can we practice this for ourselves?
  4. Simplify by being fully present with one thing. We have so much going on that it can all be overwhelming. Can you simplify by focusing on just one thing right now? Trust that you’ll take care of the other things when it’s needed. Instead, be fully present with this single task. It can be something important, like working on that writing that you’ve been putting off for days. Or it can be something small, like washing this one dish, or drinking this one cup of tea. Be fully with it, and savor the experience fully. This leads to a feeling of groundedness, and helps us to not feel as frazzled.
  5. Find the joy in being fully present and savoring. The item above, of simplifying by doing one thing, can feel like quite a shift for many of us. It might feel like sacrifice, not constantly switching tasks and being on social media and checking phones. But it can be a way of opening up to the moment, treating yourself with a little focus, joyfully savoring whatever you’ve chosen to do with this moment of your life.
  6. Learn to love being resilient. Resilience is a matter of saying “No Big Deal” to any kind of uncertainty that arises, of savoring and being present, of giving ourselves love and being present with whatever uncertainty is coming up for us. Resilience is not blowing everything up to End of the World level, just because it’s not under control. Resilience is feeling grounded in the middle of chaos (even if there’s stress present), and finding a joy in being in that uncertainty. Resilience is taking a breath and then savoring that breath. It can be a wonderful thing, if you learn to love it.

Try these habits today, whenever you notice stress, anxiety, uncertainty. They take practice, but with time, they lead to a feeling of being centered and grounded.

If you’d like to practice with me, try my new Fearless Training Program — we’ll train together.

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The Courageous Self-Discipline Challenge

By Leo Babauta

Who among us doesn’t procrastinate? Who comes up with a wonderfully prioritized plan for the day and sticks to it, without putting off the hard stuff and running to distraction or busywork or comfort?

There may be some of you out there who are incredibly disciplined, but I’d say it’s fairly uncommon.

Most of us have trouble with distractions, with doing busywork instead of important work, with going to our comforts like TV, shopping, social media, with procrastination and putting off good habits.

If you recognize yourself in that description, I invite you to join my Courageous Self-Discipline Challenge for August.

I’ll be holding the challenge (starting Monday) in my Sea Change Program, where more than a thousand people will be doing it together, supporting each other.

How will the challenge work? You’ll commit to the challenge publicly (within the Sea Change community), and then do some daily challenges that will have different focuses each week. There will be weekly check-ins to give you accountability, and a live video webinar.

Here are the weekly focuses:

  1. Week 1: Set commitment & intentions, and start.
  2. Week 2: Deepen commitment & focus.
  3. Week 3: Play with your pattern.
  4. Week 4: Find joy in the discipline.

Each week, there will be an article talking about the weekly focus, with instructions for how to do that week’s focus.

You can ask questions in our Sea Change community, and ask me a question directly in the live video webinar.

Join Sea Change today (it’s free for a week, then $15/month) to be a part of the challenge, and get to work on your habits of courageous self-discipline!

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Cutting Through Indecision & Overthinking

By Leo Babauta

I’ve been working with a few people who are very intelligent, very competent, and very talented — but they get stuck in indecision and analysis paralysis.

In effect, overthinking and getting lost in endless options reduces their effectiveness and intelligence by producing inaction.

Taking any action is likely to be better than inaction and indecision, but we can get so caught up in trying to find the perfect decision that we make no decision.

The answer is to cut through the indecision and overthinking with action.

Before we talk about that, let’s look at what’s going on with smart, competent people who get stuck in their beautiful minds.

The Trap of Overthinking

For someone who doesn’t see a lot of possibilities, sometimes a choice is easy — you just choose the one that looks obvious.

But for someone who has an abundance of intelligence, there are many more doors than that. And choosing can seem impossible. So this person starts creating a decision tree in their mind: “If I choose this, then this might happen, which means I need to decide if I want this, and then that might happen … but then this other option brings three more decisions …”

They also will research every option, which leads to more research. It becomes an endless cycle of thinking through options, researching it, and through the research finding even more things to think about. No decision can ever be made!

It’s also impossible to analyze so many endless options, because each option contains a lot of uncertainty — you can never know how each will turn out, how important every factor is, what the probability is of each possibility happening.

The uncertainty in this kind of thinking is what keeps us stuck in indecision. We fear the uncertain outcome, and would rather have cold hard data, and much more certainty.

But we can never have the kind of certainty we’d like. We’d have to run experiments or do scientific research on every single thing before taking action, which means we’ve just missed out on opportunities as we did that research! Spending a lot of time analyzing comes with opportunity cost.

So how do we deal with this? By cutting through the overthinking with action.

Cutting Through with Action

If overthinking can be a trap of indecision, an unsolvable knot … how do we untie it? By cutting through it.

There can be no solving this knot through thinking — it’s thinking that gets us into it. Now, I’m not saying that “thinking is bad” … I believe we should contemplate pros and cons, that we should take a step back from action and get some perspective, see the big picture, consider the deeper Why of what we’re doing. But at some point, we have to say, “Enough!” And then take action.

Setting a limit for thinking can be a good way to do this. “I’m going to spend the next 2 days thinking about it, and then make a decision on Tuesday.” You consider the merits, you do a bit of research, you talk to other people. Then you decide, and take action.

How do you decide when there is no certain answer? You have to just pick something that seems to be the best, given your limited information. It’s like poker — you never have complete information, but have to make a decision based on what you do know, and the most likely outcomes (the likelihood is based on what you know, but you can adjust your mental probabilities with experience).

You start by taking a step back, think about your deeper Why as it relates to this decision … and also what you’re basing this decision on. Is it based on fear? On instant gratification of a desire? These don’t lead to good long-term outcomes, in my experience. The place to come from is long-term benefit — is this a loving action for those you care about, or for yourself?

Then you think about the different factors that weigh into the decision, and how important each are to you. You think about likely outcomes of each possibility (don’t limit yourself to just 2 possibilities), and weigh the probable benefits with the probable costs.

And then finally, you just go with the decision that seems best. Do a quick review of whether this is for the best long-term benefit. And then pull the trigger. Step off the plank.

You cut through all the doubts and fears and hand-wringing that are holding you back, and just dive in.

Get good at this diving in by doing it in small versions:

  • Write something short and publish it
  • Take a small action to your long-term dream career or business
  • Take a small action to be healthier
  • Declutter one thing that’s easy to decide on, rather than getting stuck on things that are hard for you to make a decision about

What decisions are you stuck on? Can you make a small decision that’s easier, and take action? It might give you more information that helps with the bigger decision. And in the end, the real benefit is practicing taking action without getting caught up in indecision and inaction.

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The Most Neglected & Powerful Act of Self-Care

By Leo Babauta

Many of us are (rightfully) focused on taking care of our health, eating nourishing whole foods and trying to be active … while meditating and flossing and taking some time of disconnection, away from devices.

These are wonderful acts of self-care, and they are necessary and important.

But there’s one act of self-care that is very often neglected, and it might be even more important than all the others: the practice of loving yourself.

In fact, this is so often neglected that when I mention “loving yourself,” many people don’t know what that means. Many of us have never consciously done it. If we have, it’s so rare as to be a forgotten memory.

But it’s my belief that we should do it throughout the day, like trying to drink 8 glasses of water. We should give ourselves at least 8 doses of loving ourselves every day.

What is this “self-love” (not in the sexual sense)? Imagine pouring out love in your heart to someone you love dearly — what would that feel like? Now try doing the same thing for yourself. That’s self-love, and it’s a completely foreign concept for the vast majority of people.

Why It’s So Important

I coach a number of people, 1-on-1 and in small and large groups — and pretty much everyone I meet is hard on themselves in some way. In some kind of stress and pain. Disappointed in themselves, angry at themselves, constantly feeling inadequate.

Do you relate to this? I think most of us can find a good chunk of this in ourselves.

This is the basic problem that most of us face, every single day. We don’t love big portions of ourselves. We beat ourselves up, all day long. We stress out about uncertainty because we don’t think we’re good enough to deal with it. We don’t trust ourselves to stick to something, because we’ve formed a really bad picture of ourselves over the years. We get angry at ourselves for eating too much, drinking too much alcohol, messing up in a social situation, getting distracted and watching videos or playing video games, and so on and so on. We are harsh on ourselves, and don’t like how we look or who we are, in many ways.

This affects everything in our lives. It makes us more stressed, less happy, anxious, depressed, stuck, procrastinating, less happy in relationships, less focused, more likely to reach for comfort foods or distraction or shopping to comfort ourselves from the stress and pain of being who we are.

But if we could give ourselves love, it would start to heal all of this. Everything could shift. We could deal with uncertainty and chaos and difficulty in a much more resilient way.

Giving ourselves love is such an important act of self-care, and yet is rarely ever done.

How to Give Ourselves Love Regularly

Set reminders for yourself, everywhere you go. Put reminders on your fridge, on your computer, on your phone, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, at your desk, near your TV.

The reminders only need to be two words: “Love yourself.”

When you see the reminder, the act is very simple (even if it doesn’t feel natural to most people yet — give it time):

  1. Pause and feel any stress, pain, self-doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety you might be feeling. Let yourself actually feel it, physically in your body, for just a few moments. It’s OK to feel this.
  2. Now give yourself the balm of love. As weird or silly as it feels, just try it. Imagine first that you are sending love to someone you love very much — your child, your parent, your best friend. Imagine them going through difficulty, and send love from your hear to theirs, hoping to make them better. Notice how that feels in your heart. Now try it for yourself, generating the same feeling in your heart, but sending it to yourself instead.
  3. Feel the love as a healing balm. No matter how little you’re able to generate, feel it wash over your stress, pain, anger, doubt … like a thick, syrupy liquid soothing the pain. Let yourself receive this love like the love you’ve been craving.

It’s that simple. It only takes a few moments — feel your stress and pain, send yourself love, let yourself feel it.

Do it 8 times a day. Or a dozen, if you can.

You need this care. Don’t hold it back from yourself any longer.

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Fearless 2.0: The Re-Launch of My New Fearless Training Program

By Leo Babauta

I’m excited to announce that I’m launching a completely new version of my Fearless Training Program (which I think of as “Fearless 2.0”).

A little over a year ago, I launched the Fearless Training Program on Patreon, as an experiment: how do I train people in the uncertainty of doing meaningful work? What would an effective training system look like?

I’ve spent the past year figuring that out, with some amazing people taking part in the program, and I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that:

  • If you train wholeheartedly in this, you can see some amazing results, completely changing your relationship to fear and discomfort
  • You can gain confidence, the ability to be with your most difficult emotions, the ability to overcome your deepset patterns
  • People training in this have overcome fears to create amazing things and step into a bigger game
  • Training with others, in teams, is a powerful way to shift things

I’ve also learned that Patreon wasn’t a good platform for this kind of program. People had a hard time finding things, it’s hard to build a community there, and it was confusing to newcomers to the program, to name just a few things.

So I’m relaunching, with a simplified structure, a beautiful new website, and an even more powerful program.

Deepen Training Beyond Basic Habits

For seven years now, I’ve run my Sea Change Program as a way to help people change their habits. And it has been fantastic — more than a thousand people joined and trained every month to change habits. I’ve seen some incredible transformations in Sea Change.

Sea Change is a powerful place to lay the foundation of your new life: you learn to change your habits, create mindfulness, get healthy, wake earlier, work on relationships and clutter and finances. This helps you get stability and feel like you have a handle on your life.

The Fearless Training Program is the next step, to deepen your training.

Once you’ve gotten that foundation, you are ready to push into the habitual patterns that arise when you do meaningful work. You are ready to face head-on the procrastination, the avoidance, the distraction, the self-doubts that will come on when you intentionally put yourself into uncertainty.

You’re ready to learn to be dedicated to your deepest work, and to be devoted to people you care deeply about.

You’re ready to train with others in small teams, to get accountability and support to hold you in the training when you feel like running.

It’s transformative.

The Way Fearless Training Works

The new Fearless 2.0 is designed to be more effective. It is structured like this:

  1. We have Monthly Focuses for our training, with a guided meditation training that you are encouraged to do daily, training videos and articles, homework, and a live community training call.
  2. You set a monthly goal for your training — write four chapters of your book, for example. You do weekly check-ins with your team and the larger Fearless community for learning and accountability.
  3. You have training sessions (4 a week) to work on your goal and train mindfully in uncertainty.
  4. We have a Fearless community and small teams, to give you accountability, support and compassion as you train. You are not alone — you’re on this journey with others who struggle as well, who are making incremental progress in shifting their patterns.
  5. You’ll get guidance from me — I lead the monthly community training calls, develop the Monthly Focus content (including meditations, videos, articles, etc.), have a monthly Q&A to answer your questions, and do 1-on-1 training calls with people when needed.

It takes commitment, but if you have meaningful work in your life, if you care deeply about who you serve, if you have something you want to create in the world … this is the training you need.

It’s the best program in the world for training in the uncertainty and shifting the habitual patterns that arise with meaningful work.

Join me in the new Fearless Training Program — there’s a 7-day trial to check it out, and a 100% moneyback guarantee.

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