Friday, September 22, 2017
Thursday, September 21, 2017
By Leo Babauta
There isn’t a person among us who doesn’t procrastinate — put off your work for the day, distract yourself, put off pursuing your dreams, put off putting your work out in the world for fear of being judged.
But here’s the thing: most people think that this procrastination is a problem.
Most people stress out about being a procrastinator, and feel bad about themselves for doing it.
Au contraire (that’s French, don’t bother looking it up, it means you’re way wrong).
Instead, procrastination is the perfect place to practice all the most important life skills.
Our tendency to procrastinate is exactly how we’ll see how our minds work, and learn to be better at all the difficulties of life. Because life will always have these difficulties, no matter how much we’d prefer to avoid them, and how we respond to them will determine everything.
Let’s work on our responses to the hardest things in life.
How We Usually Respond
When we procrastinate, this is the usual process:
- We have something difficult or uncomfortable to do.
- We don’t feel like doing it, because it’s difficult, uncertain, uncomfortable.
- Our minds habitually turn away from this task, and find a more comfortable, certain thing to do, like watching videos or playing games or checking email or social media.
- We run to the easier thing, and then put off even thinking about the other thing.
- We feel bad that this happens, and start to form a negative image of ourselves. We rain harshness and criticism upon our psyche.
This makes us less likely to do better the next time around. It’s a vicious cycle, I tell ya.
We can learn to do better.
Procrastination is an Opportunity, Not a Suckfest
So what should we do instead? Ideally:
- We set a hard task before us.
- We feel the difficulty, but see this as a signpost that we’re pushing into uncertain ground.
- We relish the opportunity to push into uncertain ground, and dive in with gusto. (I love the word “gusto,” btw.)
But that’s not where we are. We have to practice in this way:
- Set a hard task, feel like procrastinating because it’s uncertain and uncomfortable …
- Start to procrastinate by going to something easy.
- Once we’ve switched over and noticed that we’re procrastinating … we pause. This Pause is the key to everything.
- We see this Pause as an opportunity to practice a key life skill, and we light up with joy. And yes, gusto.
- We practice with discomfort and uncertainty. What does it feel like? Is it horrible? Can we work in the midst of it? Can we open up to the discomfort of it all, embrace the uncertainty, and see it as a beautiful part of what we’re doing?
Slowly, through this practice, we can get better at not running, at staying with the discomfort, at embracing it all, at being patient and joyful in the middle of chaos and the unknown.
Commit yourself to this practice. You’ll find it life-changing and gorgeous.
Practicing with Discomfort & Uncertainty
So you are in the Pause. And you see that you have a chance to practice with discomfort and uncertainty.
Here’s what you do.
You turn toward the feeling — the physical feeling in your body, not just a mental idea of it — and see how it feels. Where is it located in your body? How would you describe the sensation? Can you give it an energy, a color, a sound?
You stay with the feeling, with curiosity. You surrender to it, with trust in yourself. You allow it to be there, with acceptance.
Then you go forth and do the work. The hard thing. The thing you’re completely uncertain about. And accept the uncertainty as part of life, as part of the mission you’re on, because no worthy mission will be fully certain. No hero sets out on a journey knowing how it will end. You’re that hero, and yes, you’re completely up to this mission.
You do the work, notice the discomfort, allow it to be there. You notice your urge to turn away and run, and you don’t follow the urge.
You mess up, and start all over again, like the goldarn hero that you are. You fall down a thousand times, get up two thousand. You are courageous, inspirational, and stronger than even you believe.
One step at a time, you’re expanding your comfort zone, your zone of genius, your hero range. And with each step, you’re getting stronger, and inspiring the world to do the same.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
By Leo Babauta
The things that stop us from taking action are all-too-familiar:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Not knowing where to start
- A habit of procrastinating and doing easier things
It’s easy to get into a mode of inaction, but building the Action Habit can be a lot more difficult. The reason is that the feedback loops in our lives are set up the wrong way: it’s easier to put things off than to act, it’s easier to seek comfort than to push into discomfort, fear and stress.
So how do we start taking action in our lives: changing fundamental health and productivity habits, getting out and looking for a job, putting our creativity out there in the world, taking steps to finally work on that project you’ve been wanting to start?
The answer lies in a simple method for creating the Action Habit:
- Pick one positive action
- Make it tiny and easy
- Set up positive feedback
- Put everything you have into it
This might sound too simplistic for some people, and you might be tempted to skip this and go read something else. This is a mistake — try this method and see if you can create the Action Habit today.
Pick One Positive Action
Yes, I know that you have a thousand things you want to do, in all areas of your life. But thinking about all the things you need to do can be stressful and overwhelming, and lead to inaction. You can’t do it all right now!
Instead, focus on something you can do right now.
But how do you choose among all the things you want to do? Try this:
- Make a list of the main things you want to do. Feel free to make a second list of the smaller tasks and errands you need to get to as well. Don’t get stuck on this step — if you are overwhelmed by this, just think of the biggest things you need to get done.
- Mark the top 3 things on your list — what feel most important to you right now? If you can’t decide, ask someone else to decide for you.
- Pick the No. 1 thing in your top 3. If it’s too hard to choose, make a random choice — it’s better to make a slightly less-than-optimal choice than to get stuck in indecision.
Once you have your No. 1 thing you want to get done (let’s say, “Write a book” or “Get in shape”), then you need to pick one small action you can get done on this project in the next few minutes.
What about the other projects or tasks on your list? You’ll get to those later, but worrying about everything all at once is counterproductive. Pick one thing on the list, and get moving with it. After that, you can re-evaluate and pick the next thing on your list to get moving on. In this way, you’re getting in the habit of taking action rather than getting stuck.
Make It Tiny & Easy
Now that you have something you want to focus on, ask yourself, “What tiny action can I take right now?”
For “Write a book” it could be as simple as “Open a document and write down a few ideas.” For “Get in shape,” you might choose something like, “Go out for a short walk,” “Do a few pushups,” or “Send an email to my sister to go for a run tomorrow.”
You don’t have to do the whole project right now. Just one tiny step. Once you get into the Action Habit, you’ll be able to do the other steps later. But for now, just focus on one tiny step. This is how you create the habit.
Make it as ridiculously easy as possible, so that you can’t really say no.
Are you tempted to put it off? Then make it even easier — 30 seconds of working out is so easy that anyone can do it.
Thirty seconds of working out is not going to get you in shape, but the Action Habit is about removing barriers and getting moving.
Set Up Positive Feedback
If you get one or two people into an accountability team, you’ll make it much more likely that you’ll succeed. That’s because with accountability, you get negative feedback for not doing the actions (a bit of embarrassment) and positive feedback for doing the actions (a bit of pride in your accomplishment).
- Ask one or two friends to be on your team. This is as easy as sending an email or text message.
- Tell each other what tiny steps you’re going to do today towards important long-term goals.
- Check in at the end of the day, or when you’re done with your three tiny actions.
If you’d rather not have a team, then simply put up a list on your wall (or somewhere very visible) of your three top tiny actions for this morning, and allow yourself to check them off once they’re done. It’s rewarding to be able to check the off.
Positive feedback means you’re going to enjoy taking the tiny actions, rather than seeking comfort in putting them off.
Put Your Entire Being Into It
Once you have your accountability set up, and a tiny action chosen, then it’s time to take action!
Now put your entire self into starting the action.
All you have to do is start.
Act as if your life depends on it.
Act as if nothing were more important than keeping your word to yourself.
Act as if this one tiny action were the entire universe.
All you have to do is get moving — open a document, start an email, write one item on a list, put on your running shoes. Devote yourself single-mindedly to starting this tiny movement.
Repeat, to Create the Habit
Doing your first tiny action is amazing. Now focus your entire being on the next tiny action. This is how you create the Action Habit: by doing it repeatedly.
If you’ve taken a tiny action on an important project, congratulate yourself! Check it off your list, report it to your accountability team, feel gratitude that you got moving. Now ask yourself what is the next small step you can take on this project. Can you take it right now? One small step at a time, you’re getting some momentum on this project.
Or perhaps there’s nothing else you can do right now. Look at your Top 3 list, and see if there’s another project you can take a tiny action on right now.
If not, maybe one of your other important items. Or maybe you take action on your smaller tasks (though don’t let yourself use this as a way to put off the hard stuff). Do the hard stuff first if you can, but you need to get to the small stuff sometimes. The trick is, you’re turning the hard stuff into the small easy stuff.
Just repeat this method, re-evaluating your list once a day or so, taking tiny actions all day long, with breaks in between. This is how you form the Action Habit, and it will be incredible.