Friday, November 17, 2017

Resting in the Open Nature of Life

By Leo Babauta

So much of our days are filled with an underlying feeling of difficulty:

  • Procrastinating when things seem difficult or overwhelming
  • Distracting ourselves and doing small tasks
  • Feeling like we’re doing things wrong, and searching for the right answers
  • Trying to get things under control when they feel chaotic
  • Trying to comfort ourselves when we feel tired or stressed

And so many more examples, I can’t even list them all. Underneath most things we do is a feeling that we should be doing more, that we should be doing things differently, that we don’t want to be doing what we should be doing, that we’re failing in small ways.

It’s stress, worry, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction.

But it’s all unnecessary. We can come to rest in the basic, open nature of our lives.

Why We Feel Stress & Anxiety

The thing that we don’t like is that everything feels unstable. Everything feels uncertain, shifting, not solid. Everything feels unsettled. And this is completely true, and it makes us feel nervous, angry, dissatisfied. We don’t like the unsettled nature of life.

We want certainty, control, plans, a system. Order. Unfortunately, we don’t get that, because that’s not how life works.

Life is unsettled, always shifting, like the waters of the wide open ocean. And that is both scary and beautiful.

Scary because we want order and want to know how things are going to turn out, and we don’t get that, not even a little bit.

But beautiful because open waters are fluid, not fixed. Surprising, not boring. Completely undetermined, which means so much amazingness can emerge.

Coming to Rest

Life’s basic nature is to be open and fluid, like the blue sky. We can either try to box in the blue sky, or we can rest in its openness.

Imagine if you could learn to rest in the open, fluid nature of life — you’d no longer need to get everything under control. You could learn to trust in life, be less anxious or worried, find beauty in each open moment.

It’s possible, if you practice mindfulness.

Try this:

  1. Notice the sensations of this moment. Place your attention on the way your body feels. On the light and colors of the room. On sounds all around you. Without judgment, without needing to reject any particular sensation, just soak them in. Stay with these sensations for a few moments.
  2. Notice that life is open, fluid, shifting. Nothing stays the same. Nothing is fixed. We can try to create order by creating thoughts about things, a narrative, a mental construct about the reality around us. But in truth, life doesn’t need order. It is inherently shifting, open, dynamic. Just notice this fluid nature of all that surrounds you — and include yourself in that.
  3. Allow your mind to come to rest. If you don’t reject things, don’t cling to any one sensation, just allow sensations to come to you, one moment after another … you can actually just come to rest with the open nature of the sensations in this moment. Just rest in the vast openness of the moment.

It can take some practice, as it’s easy to have your mind be very active, or reject certain parts of the experience, or get caught up in a chain of thoughts. That’s OK. Just notice that happening, and think of this as a part of the experience. Just keep practicing.

If you do find yourself able to rest in the openness, this is something you can access at any time. Notice yourself feeling uncertainty, notice yourself getting worked up about the instability of life … and then come to rest in the open nature of the moment, finding trust in it. I wish you nothing less than the deliciousness of that experience.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How We Lose Sight of the Profound Awesomeness of Life

By Leo Babauta

There are moments when we are able to soak in the incredible beauty of life, the preciousness of it, the awe-inspiring power of the world around us.

It is breath-taking, gorgeous, deeply moving.

But most of the time, we forget.

We move through our days like we’re in a daze, checking email and messages, saying hi to our fellow human beings without love in our hearts, jumping from one task to another, one distraction to another.

It’s like we’re in a dream, not fully aware of the life in front of us. Not fully awake to it’s immense beauty.

How do we lose sight of the awesomeness of what’s right in front of us?

It’s simple: we become acclimatized to our lives. Accustomed to our world. It becomes our “normal,” the background noise that we tune out.

When we see things every day — sunlight, trees, beautiful faces — we start to think we know it already. It’s normal, even boring. Nothing to be noted.

We walk by the deep blue flowers, the bright yellow leaves, the fresh green grass, the honeylike sunlight, and don’t even notice that it’s there.

We take for granted things that are truly magic: flying in a plane, the miracle of electricity, the instantaneous communication of the Internet, the unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, the loved ones in our life, chocolate.

We become accustomed, and then walk through life as in a dream.

This process of becoming acclimatized is normal. We all do it. As toddlers, we find wonder and delight in everyday things — have you ever seen a child chase after a bubble or butterfly, or laugh in delight at a bouncing ball? Then we get used to it, and ignore it all in favor of our phones.

I’m not criticizing any of us — we all do it, and it’s natural. But it’s good to know that we’re taking our world for granted. And then take actions to reverse it when we can.

Here’s how:

  • Develop a practice of looking all around you with childlike eyes, seeing everything afresh, as if you’ve never seen it before. See the wonder in the everyday.
  • Look around you, several times a day, and find small things that you’re grateful you have in your life. A cereal bowl to hold your oats and berries. A podcast. A window that gives you a beautiful view.
  • Try to look at one person a day as if they were the most beautiful being on Earth. As if they were worthy of your love, of looking into their soul and understanding the depths of their being. As if they have a gift to offer the world, and your gift is to witness it. As if they have a tender heart that wants to be loved, as if they have pain worthy of your compassion.

Open your heart to the world around you, and behold its truly magnificent nature. We have been given a powerful gift, of being alive and witnessing this world. Let’s not forget it.

Zen Productivity: SF, LA, San Diego

Hey guys, I have a few spots left in my San Francisco workshop this weekend, as well as for L.A. and San Diego next month.

I would love to have you come and work with me.

Zen Productivity Workshops

I just did my first one in NYC this past weekend, with a group of fantastic human beings. It was life-changing, for me. I really look forward to having my life changed by all of you. Come play with me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Key Mental Habit of Simplicity

By Leo Babauta

I’ve written a lot about simplifying your life, from the philosophy behind it to the tactical steps to getting to simplicity.

But the true key isn’t in the steps, it’s in our mental habits.

For example, I could get rid of my physical clutter and simplify my day so that I have more space in my life … but until I address the mental habits that got me to a cluttered life, it will just keep coming back.

So here’s what I’ve learned is the key mental habit of simplicity: noticing the mind’s tendency to want more, and don’t believe it.

The mind always wants more. And at the same time, it wants less — there’s a polarity in the mind that craves simplicity and craves more.

Why does the mind want both? The mind wants more because it thinks that more will make it happy, it sees possibility in acquiring more, and it thinks that acquiring things will help relieve the uncertainty it feels.

The mind wants less when it is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and just wants relief from that difficult feeling. It thinks that if it gets rid of stuff, there will be peace.

Both are wrong, but they come from a good-hearted place.

Why the Desire for More, & Less, are Both Wrong

The desire for more is wrong because, as we’ve all seen, you can get a bump of joy when you receive your new package in the mail … but it doesn’t even last a day, usually. Certainly not a few days. That dopamine hit of acquiring more is very temporary … and it doesn’t make us happier over the long term. It doesn’t actually give us what we’re hoping for in life, nor does it relieve any uncertainty.

Think about it:

  • If you are worried about an upcoming trip, you’ll research the destination, buy some new clothes or equipment to help you feel more prepared, make plans and have everything set in place. The uncertainty doesn’t go away, you’ve just kept yourself busy trying to get control as a way of coping with the stress of uncertainty.
  • You got into a new hobby, excited by the awesome possibilities of it. Of course you had to buy more things to enable the hobby, but that’s OK, because it’s going to give you this amazing new life, right? Actually, your life might change, but it won’t ever be what you were fantasizing about. Your mind just tricks you.
  • You got that beautiful new (outfit, bag, gadget, tool, whatever) and you think, “Oh, isn’t life grand?” But then your life returns to normal, and it’s not any better, except now you’re a little poorer and you have a cool new thing in it to clutter up your space.

So when the mind wants more, it is simply trying to find happiness or relief from stress. Neither actually results from having more, but that doesn’t stop the mind from trying.

On the other hand, the mind’s desire for less is just a desire for peace. And that’s not a bad thing. You get some peace, I think, when you reduce your possessions or commitments. Creating space is nice. But in the end, your mind still will find something to complain about — if it’s not having too many things, or too much to do, it will be boredom or tiredness or irritating people who have too much clutter in their lives.

The key is to change the mental habits.

Changing the Mental Habits

Changing mental habits is pretty tough (though we do show you how in my Habit Mastery Course, check it out!). You have to be hyper aware of your thoughts in order to change them.

Still, none of us ever let a tough challenge stop us from taking action, right?

The process is simple:

  • develop awareness of your mental habits over time
  • see what their harmful effects might be
  • stop believing the thoughts
  • make a loving effort to change them
  • and don’t expect perfection

So with the mental habit of wanting more, you might just notice when you’re online and researching something new to buy, or on Amazon or another shopping site ready to hit the “order” button. This is a good signal that your mind is wanting more in order to become happier and/or relieve uncertainty.

When you notice this, ask yourself (with credit to Byron Katie):

  1. What do I believe I’ll get if I buy this? More happiness? Less uncertainty?
  2. Is that belief true?
  3. What effect does it have on me? Is it helpful to believe this, or harmful?
  4. What would I be like if I didn’t believe it?

So if I’m trying to buy some new travel gear, I might notice that I believe it will give me less uncertainty to get this gear. When I ask if it’s true, I will answer, “No, I know from experience that it isn’t true. I’ll still feel uncertainty.”

I’ll also notice that this belief is harmful, because it’s filling my life with more stuff and emptying my bank account, and it’s certainly not helpful.

What would I be like if I didn’t believe it? I would be less intent on acquiring, more able to open up to my uncertainty and find peace by not needing to relieve it.

So I try to change it by saying to myself:

  • You don’t need this new gear
  • You know it won’t relieve your uncertainty
  • Opening to your uncertainty with a loving heart is the way to go

Then I try to fully feel the uncertainty, loving it as much as I love chocolate or laughter, and feel the awesome beauty of life in the midst of the uncertainty.

This is how we can change our mental habits. With awareness, with honesty, with an open heart, and with appreciation for the immense joy of life in the midst of chaos.

Monday, November 6, 2017

In Love with the Heartbreaking Beauty of the Discomfort

By Leo Babauta

With my body in pain, I looked up at the sunlight and kept my heart open.

And I took in the heartbreaking beauty of life.

I witnessed it, and found it to be miraculous, pain and struggle and discomfort and all. It wasn’t beautiful in spite of the pain — the pain was a part of its total beauty. The struggle and discomfort itself was heart-renderingly gorgeous, as was everything else in the moment.

This weekend I took part in a workshop on relationships and intimacy called the Art of Fearless Intimacy, by John Wineland and Kendra Cunov. There’s a lot I could write about the weekend, which was life-changing, but I want to speak to just one moment.

The moment:

I was in a standing pose, doing about a quarter squat, with my arms raised in the air. For what seemed like an eternity.

I was looking deeply into another man’s eyes, a complete stranger, and also a brother and fellow warrior. We held each other’s eyes, and matched each other’s breath, for more than half an hour.

We came to be in deep discomfort, holding ourselves in stillness in that pose. My shoulders ached, screamed for mercy, wanted nothing more or less than rest from the work. My mind wanted to get away from the discomfort.

And in this moment, I could see my mental habit: reject discomfort and pain, shut it down, get away from it, find peace from it. This is a pattern that has held me in sway since boyhood.

In this moment, I found a place where I was devoted to this brother, and wouldn’t let him down. I wanted to show him, through my gaze, my deepest soul, my devotion to those I loved, my fierce heart ready to go to battle for him, for my family, for all of you.

In this moment, I soaked in the beauty of the light around us, the sound of other men roaring, the beauty of this fellow soul right in front of me, showing me his courage.

In this moment, I fell in love with all of it.

With life, in its total grandeur.

With pain and discomfort, as part of the divinity and magic of that moment.

With my own heart, which I often shut down in fear. No longer would I allow myself to shut down. I kept it open, and saw the absolute pristineness of my glorious heart.

I fell in love with life, and had my heart broken. And I loved the pain of that heartbreak, completely.

Thank you to my brother who held me in that space. Thank you to John and Kendra, who led me there.

And thank you to my wife, my kids, my other loved ones, and all of you, who give me a powerful reason to keep my heart open to the heartbreaking awe-inspiring discomfort of being alive.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Simplifying Your Digital Life

By Leo Babauta

It’s a simple fact of our modern lives that we live, play, learn and connect online. But our digital lives can become overwhelming, distracting, addicting.

With so much complexity and distraction, how do we find focus? How do we live with mindfulness?

How do we find stillness, simplicity, quiet?

The answer lies in simplifying our digital lives.

When I asked you guys on Twitter about what you’d like to simplify, you responded with problems like:

  • Information overload
    • Too many apps/social media
    • Too many WhatsApp groups
    • The need to work online, but wanting to sever the digital connection
    • Too much email
    • Saving things “just in case”
    • Part of me wants to be disconnected, the other part wants to connect
    • Wanting disconnected hours
    • Wangint less usage, more time for people that matter
    • Saving too many digital reading material, falling behind & feeling overwhelmed
    • Having too much online data, too many identities
    • Having to use social network or chat apps to conenct to teams, and being constantly distracted
    • Not being sure about the best way to store photos, digital memories, passwords
    • Needing to check Twitter/Facebook (FOMO)
    • Hating email

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’ve decided to create a new course, called Simplifying Your Digital Life, for my Sea Change Program this month.

In this course, we’ll look at 5 principles for creating a simpler online life, and how to set up simple systems for keeping things under control.

Here are the lessons:

  1. Five Principles for a Simple Digital Life
  2. Creating Organized Digital Systems
  3. A Method for Processing Your Inbox
  4. Getting Todos Under Control
  5. Social Media & Online Reading, Simplified
  6. A Minimalist Computer & Phone
  7. Photos & Digitizing Memories
  8. Security & Backups, Simplified

I’m really excited to work on this with you guys!

I’ll be publishing two video lessons a week (starting today), doing a live video webinar on Nov. 17, and offering a challenge to work on one area of your digital life at a time as we work through the month.

Join Sea Change today to start the course.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Zen Productivity: A Workshop to Help You Find Focus, Mindfulness & Organization

By Leo Babauta

I’m really excited to start working live with all of you in a series of weekend workshops, and the first one is called Zen Productivity.

I decided to focus on productivity, organization, focus, procrastination, mindfulness and simplicity … because it’s something we all deal with, every day.

In our daily lives, we are all grappling with:

  • Distraction
  • Inability to focus
  • Indecision
  • Procrastination
  • Fear of failure
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feelings of stress, uncertainty & anxiety
  • Forgetting things, feeling unorganized
  • Things lost in inbox, or inbox overflowing
  • Always worried not doing the right thing or not using the right tools
  • Don’t feel like you’re doing anything meaningful
  • Feel lost in a sea of tasks, no direction
  • Lots to do, but don’t get much done each day

I’ve developed a system I’m calling Zen Productivity, that helps to deal with all of this.

In this workshop, you’ll learn how to:

  1. Align yourself with a meaningful mission
  2. Pursue a meaningful direction each day, and get stuff accomplished
  3. Find clarity on what high-impact tasks to work on each day
  4. Structure your day, with flexibility, to accomplish your mission
  5. Stay on top of your todo list and process your inbox to empty
  6. Strengthen your ability to be focused & mindful, and less distracted
  7. Overcome procrastination by training in discomfort & uncertainty
  8. Simplify to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed
  9. Learn to deal simply with stress & anxiety
  10. Create space for play, stillness, exercise & meditation
  11. Allow for uncertainty in your life, and get good at being in it

I can’t wait to work on these skills with all of you!

I’m coming this month to New York City (Nov. 11 & 12) and San Francisco (Nov. 18 & 19) … and the SF tickets still have “early bird” pricing for a couple more days, so grab them asap.

In December, I’ll be going to Los Angeles (Dec. 9 & 10) and San Diego (Dec. 16 & 17), and there’s still early bird prices on those tickets as well. More cities and dates to come for 2018, so  sign up here to get notified of more workshops.

Read more about the Zen Productivity Workshop here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Creating the Elegance of Simplicity & Focus in Your Work Day

By Leo Babauta

Our days can feel like a crazy sea of distraction, stress, busyness and overwhelm.

We can get lost in that sea, and it’s hard to figure out how to find mindfulness and focus in the middle of it all.

The answer, I’ve repeatedly found, is in the pure elegance of simplicity.

Simplify to find focus. Simplify to find peace. Simplify to find a way through the sea of chaos.

Let’s look at some things you can do today to create the elegance of simplicity and focus in your life.

Simplify to Clear Distractions

The distraction of multitasking and technology can be hard to overcome. But it drains away our mindfulness, effectiveness, and life energy. So let’s do something about it.

Let’s start with the phone. I recently decided to go minimalist with my iPhone (“Throw it away!”, you might suggest!) … and I simplified:

  1. Put all apps into one folder. I call mine “uncertainty” to remind me that everything lives in uncertainty.
  2. Keep the dock & homescreen clear. No tempting apps to click on. Instead, I use the search function to open an app, requiring myself to type in the name, which makes me think about what I’m doing.
  3. Shut off almost all notifications.
  4. Choose a simple and beautiful background to remind me to be mindful when using the phone.

See my empty home screen, 2nd screen with just my meditation app, and 3rd screen with my single folder.

Let’s move on to the computer, which has some similar steps (these instructions are for a Mac but Windows/Linux users could use similar ideas):

  1. Clear your desktop (put all files into one folder, or several). Put a nice wallpaper in the background.
  2. Clear the dock. Instead, use a search app to open apps, such as Alfred, Spotlight or Launchbar.
  3. Turn off most notifications.
  4. Single-task. Close all apps but the one(s) you’re using.

And now let’s talk about the browser … I use Chrome, but you could find similar things for whatever you use:

  1. Single tab. Close everything else. If it’s important, throw it into a read-later service, bookmark it, or put it into your todo manager.
  2. Close your email program. When you open it, open with intention, and clear out the inbox as much as you can. Then close it.
  3. Use the Momentum add-on to keep yourself focused and mindful.

I like single-tasking apps, at full screen, like Ommwriter, when I’m writing or doing other work outside of the browser.

Outside of the phone and computer, I like to keep a notebook of my tasks for the day (bullet journal style). And I keep my desk as clear as possible.

Simplifying your physical and digital workspaces will help you be less distracted, and more able to focus on a single task.

Simplify Your Intention & Focus

As much as possible, it’s best to focus on a single task at a time. With intention.

That means, instead of constantly switching around (the default mode for many of us), it’s best to pick one thing and set aside some time (10 minutes, half an hour, etc.) to focus on just that thing. If it’s important enough to take up your attention and time, it’s important enough to give it the space for complete focus.

When you clear everything aside, before you dive fullbore into the task, ask yourself, “What is my intention here?” If it’s to help your team, help your client, help your family, help yourself have a better life … it will help you connect your task to something meaningful.

Perhaps the intention is just to learn to focus better. Maybe it’s to push into discomfort and uncertainty. Maybe it’s to be mindful and joyful as you work. Whatever your intention, set it consciously.

Then get started, with focus. Don’t let yourself do anything else, even if you feel the urge to switch. At least for 10 minutes.

Simplify by setting intention and keeping your focus on one thing at a time, as much as you’re able. This is a practice, which means you won’t be perfect at it, but daily practice helps you get better.

The Elegance of Simplicity

As you narrow your focus on fewer things, simplify your workspace so that there are fewer distractions, and practice single-minded focus with intention … things start to change.

It’s like the reverse of how the distraction of technology and social media changes our brains. Our brains seem to become calmer, more at peace, when we find joy in the elegance of simplicity.

It’s the elegance of nothing but you, your meditation cushion, and your breath. There is nothing to distract you from the single-minded practice of being here in this moment, practicing with groundlessness.

It’s the elegance of nothing but you and your yoga mat, as you sink into child’s pose and then start a sun salutation, nothing to distract you from the single-minded practice of being with your breath and movement.

It’s the elegance of nothing but you and your notebook, as you journal or sketch. The elegance of you and nature, as you head out for a morning run. The elegance of you and the barbell, the kettlebell, or the hill that you’re tackling.

It’s the pure elegance of simplicity, and it is found in the paring down.

The Zen Productivity Workshop

I’m excited to announce the first in a series of workshops I hope to hold in the next year or two … the Zen Productivity Workshop.

It’s coming first to NYC and San Francisco (in November) and then L.A. and San Diego (in December). More dates and cities to be announced in the near future.

Sign up now for the early bird discount ($50 off the regular price).

In this workshop, I’ll be talking about finding focus, simplicity, mindfulness and quiet, while focusing on high-impact tasks that have meaning in our lives.

I’ll be talking about how to overcome procrastination by pushing into uncertainty. I’ll talk about how to deal with stress and anxiety in the middle of your overwhelming day. And how to bring mindfulness and joy into more of your day.

I’ll share a number of practices I’ve been developing, in a system I’m calling Zen Productivity.

Read more here, and sign up today!