The Incredible Progress of Daily Practice

By Leo Babauta

Lately in my life, I’ve been repeatedly reminded of the power of practicing something regularly.

Daily is best, I’ve learned, but several times a week works well too.

You’d be surprised how much progress you can make with even a small amount of practice, applied regularly.

Some examples in my life recently:

  • A daily yoga practice of just 10 minutes: I am not an experienced yogi, I’m very inflexible, and becuase I only practice yoga sporadically, I don’t really make any progress. But recently I committed to practicing yoga for just 10 minutes a day (a few sun salutations, mostly) … when I started, my shoulders would get exhausted in downward dog fairly quickly. But now, I’m able to hold the poses for longer without tiring as much! I’ve really seen some solid progress with just 10 minutes of daily practice. Of course, that’s not the point of yoga (it’s a mindfulness practice), but it’s still amazing to see that kind of progress.
  • Running 3-4 times a week with Eva: Eva and I started doing a half-marathon training plan by No Meat Athlete about 6 or 7 weeks ago. We do 3-4 runs a week (depending on our schedules), and when we started out, we were both pretty out of shape. Eva had to stop a couple times even on a 2-mile run, and I was far from my peak running shape. But six weeks into it — just doing short runs — we can see a huge difference. At no point did we push ourselves too hard, but just doing it regularly really made a solid amount of progress.
  • Studying go for just 10-20 minutes a day: I’ve been studying the ancient Chinese game of go this year, and I’m still very weak at it. Honestly, if I had more time to study, I might be much stronger. But instead, I’ve been just doing about 10-20 minutes of studying a day, and I’m still making noticeable progress with my calculating ability. Still not strong, but I’m getting stronger slowly, just putting in a minimal amount of study time.
  • Chinups with my son 3 times a week: In the last couple of weeks, my 13-year-old son and I decided to do a chinups challenge. Three times a week, we do five sets of chinups during the day. When I started out, I could only do 10-11 chinups per set, but now I can do 16-17 each set. In less than two weeks. That kind of progress is encouraging.
  • Daily focus sessions by a client: I have a coaching client who does daily focus sessions, training himself to focus on something longer. He just does 15-minute sessions every day, which isn’t a lot. But he’s seen his ability increase noticeably, even when he’s not doing a focus session.

Just a small amount of daily practice, or at least a few times a week. It’s powerful.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. If you’re studying something, you forget less. It’s great to study for a couple hours, but if you don’t study for a few days after that, you’ll start forgetting. Daily study sessions, even if they’re short, interrupt the forgetting process. Therefore it’s more efficient, as you don’t slip backwards but keep making forward progress.
  2. If you are weak, you get stronger without injury. It’s hard to get stronger when you’re weak (at yoga, running, chinups, whatever). But small regular doses will get you stronger, slowly. If you give yourself big doses, hoping for faster progress, you’re more likely to get injured, burn out, or get demotivated because of the difficulty level. Slow and small is better.
  3. Progress isn’t noticeable in the first week, but it is after a couple of weeks. If you’re just giving yourself small training or study doses, you won’t see any difference at first. That’s OK, keep doing it. After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice some solid progress, and a month into it, you’ll see major improvement. Keep at it.
  4. Small doses make it easy to do daily. If you want to train for an hour a day, that is only sustainable for awhile. Eventually you’ll run out of energy, or things will get busy and you won’t have the time for your hourlong session. Maybe you’ll miss 2-3 days in a row — now you’ve lost motivation, and you’re discouraged. It’s better to do it in small doses, because it’s easier to get started when you know you’re just doing 10-15 minutes, and it’s easier to find the time and motivation for small sessions.
  5. Make sure it’s fun. Doing a chore is boring and hard, and you’ll put it off, even if it’s just a 10-minute session. Instead, don’t make it a chore that you have to get through. Make it a game that you look forward to doing. Or a mini-meditation session that brings peace to your life, a time to relax. Or a moment of magic and loveliness. Create an activity that you’ll look forward to.

Bring the magic of small, regular practice to your life.

My Habit Mastery Course

If you’d like to get better at habits and daily practice, please join my new video course, Habit Mastery, which is designed to help you practice and level up your habit skills.

It’s a 12-week course with two video lessons a week, daily practice, and interviews with 11 other amazing habit experts.

This is one of the best things I’ve ever created, and I really hope you’ll join me.

The course includes weekly Q&A where I answer your habit obstacle questions, a Facebook group for support from fellow participants, and 7 bonus ebooks. All of this for $299. The course will start on Monday Oct. 23 (but you can start anytime) … and it will run for 12 weeks.

What will we cover in this course? Basically, the goal is to get you from one level of mastery to the next:

  1. Beginner to Intermediate: You struggle to create habits, and feel a bit lost in sticking to anything over the long term. We’ll have you practice the basics and some key skills to overcome the most common beginner problems.
  2. Intermediate to Advanced: You have successfully created some habits, but often have them fall apart when things get disrupted, and struggle with more difficult habits. We’ll have you practice advanced skills, and your habits will get more solid overall.
  3. Advanced to Habit Master: You are pretty good at creating habits, but are in a place where you’re trying to optimize your day, and are dealing with the more dynamic aspects of habit creation. Also, you’d like to tackle some of the hardest habits — mental habits. You’ll practice these and be amazing at everything.

Of course, it will all depend on how much work you put into it, but with the video lessons, daily practice, Facebook support group and ability to ask questions … we believe you’ll be in the optimal conditions for getting good at habits.

Read more here, and please consider joining me.

from zen habits

The Incredible Progress of Daily Practice

Habit Mastery: My New Course to Help You Level Up Your Skills

By Leo Babauta

I’m excited to tell you about my new video course, Habit Mastery, which is designed to help you practice and level up your habit skills.

It’s a 12-week course with two video lessons a week, daily practice, and interviews with 11 other amazing habit experts.

Guys, this is one of the best things I’ve ever created, and I really hope you’ll join me.

The course includes weekly Q&A where I answer your habit obstacle questions, a Facebook group for support from fellow participants, and 7 bonus ebooks. All of this for $299. The course will start on October 23, 2017 (but you can start anytime) … and it will run for 12 weeks.

Level Up Your Habit Skills

What will we cover in this course? Basically, the goal is to get you from one level of mastery to the next:

  1. Beginner to Intermediate: You struggle to create habits, and feel a bit lost in sticking to anything over the long term. We’ll have you practice the basics and some key skills to overcome the most common beginner problems.
  2. Intermediate to Advanced: You have successfully created some habits, but often have them fall apart when things get disrupted, and struggle with more difficult habits. We’ll have you practice advanced skills, and your habits will get more solid overall.
  3. Advanced to Habit Master: You are pretty good at creating habits, but are in a place where you’re trying to optimize your day, and are dealing with the more dynamic aspects of habit creation. Also, you’d like to tackle some of the hardest habits — mental habits. You’ll practice these and be amazing at everything.

Of course, it will all depend on how much work you put into it, but with the video lessons, daily practice, Facebook support group and ability to ask questions … we believe you’ll be in the optimal conditions for getting good at habits.

Topics We’ll Cover

Some of the topics we’ll cover during this course:

  • How habits work, and how to get started getting good at them
  • The most common obstacles, like disruptions, other people, your tendency to give up, starting again after stopping, and more
  • How to structure your environment to make yourself more likely to stick to habits
  • The common obstacles for common habits such as exercise, diet, meditation, waking early, decluttering, finances, procrastination, and more
  • How to quit a bad habit
  • How to change your mental habits
  • How to get good at keeping your word to yourself
  • And much more (seriously, we’ll cover a ton of amazing stuff)

Habit Expert Interviews

I have had the honor of interviewing the most incredible lineup of habit experts I could imagine, and their interviews will be a part of the course:

  1. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body
  2. Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit
  3. BJ Fogg, director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab and the Tiny Habits program
  4. Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits
  5. Chelsea Dinsmore, co-founder of the awesome Live Your Legend blog, and one of the most grounded people I know
  6. Dr. Sean Young, author of Stick with It
  7. James Clear, author of Transform Your Habits
  8. Courtney Carver, author of Be More with Less blog and Soulful Simplicity
  9. Tynan, author of Superhuman by Habit
  10. Scott Young, author of How to Change a Habit

Honestly, I am so psyched to bring the incredible wisdom of these experts to you, they are all quite amazing!

Bonus Ebooks

In addition to the course, which I believe is already very valuable … I’m offering seven bonus ebooks that I’ve written:

  1. The Habit Guide
  2. Discipline, Solved
  3. Essential Zen Habits
  4. The Do Guide
  5. Un-Procrastinate
  6. Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness
  7. Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction

This is about a $50 value (some of these books aren’t for sale anymore), but honestly I think if you put them to use, they could help you change your life.

Ask Questions, Leo Will Answer Them

In addition to the video lessons and exercises, I’m creating a Facebook group for discussion among participants, as well as the ability to submit questions about your particular struggle.

I’m going to do my best to answer most or all questions in articles and videos that I’ll publish during the course.

In answering these questions, I’ll be customizing the course for you. And I think we can all benefit from a discussion of whatever habit obstacles you face.

Please Support Zen Habits

If you sign up for this course, you’ll be helping to support my business and my family, and I would greatly appreciate it. I don’t run ads, do affiliate promotions, or sell products on Amazon. My entire business model is to create great content (books, courses, Sea Change Program) that will help you guys live a better life.

Again, this is probably the best thing I’ve ever created. I would love it if you supported the site by taking part in the course, and in the process, get good at a key set of life skills.

I hope you’ll join me.

from zen habits

Habit Mastery: My New Course to Help You Level Up Your Skills

The Ultimate Productivity, Simplicity, Finance, Happiness & Weight Loss Hack

By Leo Babauta

I’ll share the ultimate hack in just two words: letting go.

These two words, if practiced and lived, can be the key to all the self-improvement in your life:

  • Productivity: By letting go of trying to do everything, or be updated about everything, you can focus on just what’s important. This simple focus can make you incredibly effective, and you’ll accomplish more.
  • Simplicity: Our lives get filled with clutter and complexity when we constantly want to add things. By letting go of what we want to have, and some of what we already, we can simplify, declutter, create space, let go of complexity.
  • Finances: Our finances would be much better if we didn’t spend so much. Of course, you could argue that we could just earn more, which is true. But spending less and earning more is actually better than all of that! Anyway. Letting go of things we want to spend on is the key to better finances. More on that below.
  • Happiness: When we are frustrated with someone, disappointed with ourselves, unhappy with our situation, angry at something in the past … what is standing in the way of our happiness? We could blame the other person, or ourselves, or our situation, or the thing in the past … but actually, the thing preventing our happiness is being stuck on an ideal or expectation. We could let go of how we want others to be, how we want our lives to be, how we want ourselves to be … and find contentment in the way things are. This is hard for people to accept — because they aren’t good at letting go yet. Again, more below.
  • Weight loss: Eat less, by slowly reducing portion sizes and eating more vegetables and beans (low in calories, high in bulk). This is a simple recipe for weight loss (I would add strength training and other exercise, but let’s keep things simple), but what stands in our way of eating less? Wanting to eat pleasurable foods, junk foods, comfort foods, bigger portions. If we let go of these wants, we could eat less. Yes, it’s possible (I’ve done it many times).

More on all of this in the sections below. But first, let’s look at what letting go actually means.

The Process of Letting Go

What does it mean when I suggest that we let go? It means that we are attached to something (we all are, most of the time), and to let it go means to loosen that attachment.

It’s opening up of our grip, and letting the cherry blossoms blow in the wind as they will, out of our grasp.

When you are angry at someone, you are unhappy with how they acted. You believe they should have acted some other way. The should have acted is what you’re holding onto. If you didn’t have the should so firmly attached in your mind, you wouldn’t be angry.

So the answer is letting go of the should.

The answer is to loosen the tight grip on the way you think things should be. And let the should blow away in the wind. Because in reality, we have no control over the should of reality. We can’t make other people act the way we’d like them to, because they’re not puppets. We can’t even make ourselves act the way we want, much of the time.

We don’t control the should, and so letting go of our tight grasp of them, loosening up and learning to accept the uncontrollable nature of life, leads to many benefits. Let’s look at some of them below.

Productivity & Letting Go

I’ve already given an example of how letting go of all that we want to do allows us to be more focused and effective, and accomplish more.

Let’s look at a few more examples of how letting go improves productivity:

  • If we pick just three things on our to-do list that are important, and let go of the rest (for now), we can focus on the important things.
  • If we let go of needing to stay current on everything, that will allow us to be less distracted by news and social media and messages and emails. We can then just focus on what’s important.
  • If we let go of needing to say yes to every request, we will free up a lot of our time, and instead focus on what’s most important.
  • If we let go of our urges to be entertained and distracted, we’ll free up time to focus on the important.

Attachments are getting in the way of our meaningful contributions to the world. Letting go is the answer.

Simplicity & Letting Go

This past week, I started decluttering different areas of my life. I had to let go of a lot of hopes and dreams, because the reality is, I am not going to have time to do everything. That means I can let go of books, hobby equipment, and all kinds of other clutter that represented my aspirations.

Holding on to how we think our lives should be … stands in the way of simplicity. This attachment clutters our lives, both with physical clutter and with days filled with complexity.

Instead, we can let go of some of these aspirations, and focus on the ones that are truly meaningful.

The clutter is flowing out my door, as I practice letting go.

Finances & Letting Go

Recently Eva and I took a close look at our finances, and identified areas where we could trim down. It was a long-overdue look at our spending, after years of letting things creep higher and higher. I’m so happy we did it, but it meant letting go of things we have gotten used to. Ordering something as soon as we wanted it. Getting things for the house or the kids as soon as we decided we “needed” it.

Now, we’re putting things on wishlists. And for my personal wishlist, I’m practicing changing the heading of that list from “wishlist” to “letting go of list”. I visualize all of these fantasies I had of buying the “perfect” anything, and letting them go into the breeze. It’s both frustrating and freeing.

Letting go isn’t easy. But if we do, our finances can become so much healthier.

Happiness & Letting Go

A lot of times, I’ll get frustrated with my kids. Or Eva. I’ll find my chest tightening up, and have a very strong urge to tell them what to do. To control them. To make them act as I think they should act. Other people can be so frustrating!

But honestly, the problem isn’t with them. They’re all beautiful human beings, and my attachment to how they should act is getting in the way of me seeing that.

I’m missing out on their gorgeousness because I want them to be the way I think they should be. Instead of just seeing how awesome they already are!

So I have to let go of my shoulds. I have to let go of the source of my frustration, which is my ideals.

Instead, I can let go and open up to who they already are, and savor the deliciousness of that.

Weight Loss & Letting Go

I have a bit of a belly. Yes, I know, I’m a horrible person. The world should shame me for having 20% bodyfat!

But seriously, I decided I need to tighten up my diet a bit, because I’ve gotten into the habit of eating a bit too much every meal, and over the long term, that leads to a chunkier Leo. Still lovable, still wonderful, still sexy … but not good for my health.

So I’ve set myself a plan: a green protein smoothie for breakfast, and a set meal for lunch and dinner (half a sweet potato, lentils, edamame, hummus, leafy greens, roasted cauliflower and broccoli, some sriracha sauce drizzled on top, some pickled daikon radish, yum!). No sweets or flour. Only eat between 11:30am and 5:30 pm (I haven’t implemented this last part yet).

Anyway, it’s a simple plan, and it will absolutely work. Until my wife bakes vegan chocolate chip cookies, or the kids have vegan pizza. My two greatest nemeses.

It’s hard dealing with the urge to eat these delicious comfort foods. I have to see the urge, and let go.

Loosen my grip on these tastes, and let them blow into the wind.

Letting go, I open myself up to enjoy the yumminess of the food I already planned to have. Weight loss is that simple, if you practice letting go.

Getting Good at Letting Go

So it’s all easy and breezy, right? Not so fast. Letting go is the ultimate hack, but in truth, it’s hard as hell.

We don’t want to let go. You might already have had that reaction to some of the things I’ve written: “But I like my (insert the thing you’re attached to here)! Why should I let go of it?”

Because of your attachment.

If you get in the habit of letting yourself hold on to all your attachments, you’re going to develop many difficulties in life. Maybe you already are dealing with those difficulties. Practicing letting go is a way to greater happiness, health and focus.

So practice. In small doses, try noticing your attachment, and letting go of it, just for a few minutes.

Try letting go of your distractions and need to be updated for one hour. See what that’s like.

Try letting go of your electronics for two hours. What can you open up to instead?

Try letting go of your usual comforts, for one day. What deliciousness can you experience instead?

Try letting go of the things you want to buy, for one week (no buying anything but necessities like soap and toilet paper). What is that like?

Practice letting go, just for a little bit. Every day.

This daily practice is how you master it. And that’s mastering life.

Zen Productivity Workshop

Interested in working live with me, on Zen Productivity, simplicity or letting go? Let’s do it!

I’m going to be coming to a city near you soon and doing a 2-day workshop.

Sign up for updates here, and I’ll let you know soon!

from zen habits

The Ultimate Productivity, Simplicity, Finance, Happiness & Weight Loss Hack

A Guide to Getting Good at Dealing with Chaos

By Leo Babauta

It is a wonderful thing to have order to our lives, to simplify and have routines and systems that make things peaceful, organized, and calm.

Unfortunately, life likes to throw chaos and disorganization our way.

Things get disrupted, people interrupt, email requests pour in, our neatness gets messy, schedules get thrown into disarray, things get busy and hectic and complicated.

How can we stay sane in the middle of all this chaos? How can we take the chaos and busy-ness and messiness, and use them as opportunities to get good at handling it all?

The answer is with practice. And the practice is a method of letting go and re-centering in the middle of chaos.

The Method: Letting Go & Re-Centering

When chaos and messiness come our way, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not inherently stressful and anxiety-inducing. It’s just that our minds don’t usually like these things. We want order and simplicity.

So the problem isn’t the external situation. It’s our internal ideals. We want order and simplicity, not to be interrupted, not to be overwhelmed. The ideal of orderliness is causing our frustration, stress, anxiety, not other people, not a chaotic situation.

The ideal of orderliness causes our difficulties. And we created the ideal. Therefore, we are causing our own difficulties.

The good news is that, if we created the ideal, we have the power to change it.

What if we let go of our ideal of orderliness, and created a new ideal: the perfect situation is what is in front of us. Our current experience is perfect, as messy and uncomfortable as it is. It is absolutely perfect. We just need to see its beauty.

So in the middle of chaos, the method is this:

  1. Notice that we are getting anxious or frustrated.
  2. Notice that our ideal of orderliness is causing the difficulty.
  3. Let go of that ideal, which is causing our pain and struggle.
  4. Breathe, and re-center ourselves, so that we become calm. This is simply returning to the present moment, with no ideals, seeing the situation afresh and with new eyes and an open heart.
  5. See the beauty and perfection in the moment in front of you.

That’s the method, and it is simple. But not easy.

The difficulty comes from a couple of things. First, we don’t like to let go of our ideals. We want things to be the way we want them. We want people to behave the way we think they should act. We want control over things. That we can’t actually have these things doesn’t often matter. We want them nonetheless. Second, we have difficulty in seeing the perfection in chaos and disorder. They don’t live up to our ideals, so seeing the beauty in them is foreign. We need to open up to them, but we’re not used to it.

The answer to these problems comes with practice.

The Practice: Opening Up

Whenever you have difficulty with disorder and chaos, with letting go and seeing the perfection in the moment … this is an opportunity for practice. And what a wonderful opportunity it is.

Feel the hardness in your heart when someone is behaving imperfectly. Feel the sharp edge in your chest when things start to fall apart and get messy. Feel the frustration in your torso when someone interrupts your quiet time, or leaves their things out and makes a mess.

Then see that as a wonderful opportunity to practice.

Here’s the practice:

  1. Notice when you’re resisting the method above. It could be because you don’t want to let go of your ideal (what you want) or because you don’t want to see the beauty in the current moment. It’s one of the two (and they’re the same thing).
  2. Sit (or stand) still. Pause and notice your resistance. Notice what’s going on.
  3. Try to open your heart and mind, just a little. Be less closed off, and more open to what’s happening. How can this be your teacher? How can you open up, just 1%, to what is in front of you?

Little by little, you can learn to let go of your ideals (which are causing you difficulty) and open up to the perfection of the messiness of this moment. And as you do, you’ll get better at chaos. You’ll be the master of messiness. You’ll be the Zen center of the universe. What an amazing gift to give yourself.

Quick Survey: Zen Habits Workshops in Your City

Guys, I’ve decided to take my show on the road! I’m going to come to your city (maybe) and conduct one- or two-day workshops on different topics. And I need your help in choosing!

Take two minutes to fill out this survey.

It will help me pick cities to come to, and topics for the workshops. I’m going to announce a couple of workshops for October/November, and you can help me! Thank you.

from zen habits

A Guide to Getting Good at Dealing with Chaos

The First Hour: Creating Powerful Mornings

By Leo Babauta

As your day starts, it’s easy to get lost in the habit of checking messages, replying to email, checking the news and your favorite blogs.

It’s easy to fritter your day away doing a thousand small harmless actions … but the essential actions get put off.

The antidote, I’ve found, is putting a little emphasis on making the first hour of your day the most powerful hour. Treating that first hour as sacred, not to be wasted on trivial things, but to be filled with only the most essential, most life-changing actions.

Sacred actions might include:

  • Meditating
  • Journaling
  • Reading
  • Writing (or creating in some other way)
  • Practicing or studying
  • Practicing yoga
  • Exercising
  • Focusing on your most important task of the day

On the days when I’m able to take those kinds of sacred actions, my entire day is changed. I am more mindful, I am more energetic, and I’m more focused and productive.

Treating this first hour as sacred helps me to remember that every hour is sacred, if I treat it as such. It helps me to remember that I don’t have a lot of hours left (I have no idea how many hours are left!), and that I have to live each one with appreciation and mindfulness.

My Current First Hour

The time that I wake up, and my morning routine, has varied over the years. It never stays the same, changing sometimes monthly. But when things tend to drift off into mindlessness, I refocus myself and choose a sacred routine that I find helpful.

Here’s what I’m doing right now with my first hour:

  • A short meditation
  • Write
  • Read
  • Study
  • Short yoga practice (or run with Eva)

I’ve only started doing this, so I keep each action fairly short (other than writing). The yoga practice, for example, is just a short series of poses, instead of a longer practice that I might want to develop over time. I’ve found it useful to start small when you get started, to form the habit.

Creating Your Powerful First Hour

You don’t have to choose the same mix as me, of course. The idea is to figure out what you think would be most powerful for your life, and put those into your sacred hour.

You might not know what mix works for you … pick something and try it. A good mix might include:

  • Some kind of meditation or reflection (gratitude journal, for example)
  • Your most important task
  • Something that takes concentration, like creating, reading, or studying
  • Something physical, like a run, yoga, workout, tai chi

But none of that is fixed in stone. If you find that you can’t concentrate in your first hour, maybe you use it for physical activity like taking a walk. If you don’t like physical activity, maybe you do something you’ve been putting off for a long time, like decluttering.

The main question to ask yourself is: if you were given the gift of an hour in the morning, what would you spend it on? What would make a big difference in your day?

Then test it out. Try the routine for a week and see what happens. Adjust if needed.

If you are already rushed in the morning and don’t have time to do all that, maybe start waking a little earlier. But I would guess that most of us have a little extra time that we spend on checking messages and other things online, that we could use in a different way. Instead of spending it on little things, reclaim that sacred time for more powerful actions.

My New Course: The First Hour – Create Powerful Mornings

I’m excited to offer a new course, called “The First Hour: Create Powerful Mornings,” as part of my Sea Change Program.

I invite you to join us in this 4-week course, by joining Sea Change today.

Sea Change is my monthly membership program for changing habits, learning mindfulness and changing your life. Each month, we focus on something different, and this month it’s creating a powerful morning routine.

What you’ll get with this course:

  1. Two video lessons per week
  2. A challenge to do a short morning routine session six days a week for the whole month
  3. A weekly check-in for the challenge so you stay accountable
  4. A live video webinar where you can ask me questions

I encourage you to join me and have your efforts to change your old patterns be supported by me and more than a thousand other Sea Change members.

Join Sea Change today and start the course.

from zen habits

The First Hour: Creating Powerful Mornings

The Ideal vs. the Reality of Changing Your Life

“Our plans never turn out as tasty as reality.” ~Ram Dass

By Leo Babauta

If only life went exactly as we imagine it would go … things would be so much easier!

Unfortunately, in my dozens and dozens of habit changes, I’ve never once had a change go exactly as I’d envisioned. The reality is always different.

Here’s the thing: that difference can be an interesting surprise, or it can absolutely derail you.

I’ll give you a few examples.

Example 1: Waking early: When I plan to start waking up earlier, I have this rosy ideal about how nice it will be to get up when it’s quiet, and use my day productively. I’ll meditate, write, read, exercise, do some yoga … life is going to be amazing!

Then I start waking early, and the reality is much different: I am tired, I’m moving slowly, my meditation is fuzzy because I’m tired, I don’t write as well when I’m still waking up, I don’t feel like exercising.

I can become very disappointed with this reality, and in myself. Or I can embrace the deliciousness of being tired, and see it as a thing to be curious about. I can continue with waking early, but instead of thinking I know how things will turn out, I can simply see what it’s like. Take a stance of not knowing, rather than thinking things will match my fantasies. And explore.

Example 2: Exercise: I always have an incredible plan for when I start a new exercise program. I’m going to do a hardcore squat program. Or an ambitious running program. Or some kind of intense Crossfit-style plan. Oh man, I am going to be so fit, and people will admire my new quads!

Then when I start doing the program, not only is it way harder than I imagined, but I struggle to stay with it, and even when I’m able to stay on plan, I might get injured. Or I’m super sore, walking around like a stiff zombie, then for my next workout I can’t push through the soreness. Turns out, my body needs a little more rest than I thought, and I should ramp up to intense workouts more slowly. Who would have guessed?

I can become disappointed with my body, with the reality that meets my optimistic self. Or I can see this as a learning opportunity, and a chance to adjust my thinking and my exercise plan. When met with the cold hard face of reality, we can adjust our plans to be adapted for that reality. We don’t have to grip tightly to the original plan, stubbornly trying to make reality conform with our ideals. Adjusting means we learn to be adaptable, flexible, fluid. This is one of the many lovely benefits of meeting reality.

Example 3: Writing a book: When I decide to write a new book, it’s interesting to note what my ideals are. I have this fantasy of being an amazing writer, who just blows minds and changes lives. People will not only be impressed by the wisdom and richness of my writing, they’ll throw their money at me in gratitude. I’ll wake early, write like a maniac, come back to revise and craft my tender words, and then publish within weeks, triumphantly.

I’m sure you can guess that reality throws some cold water on that fantasy, right quick. When I start writing, I first have to deal with the demon of procrastination. I’ll want to check email, read my favorite blogs, clean my house, do some “research” (those quotes don’t mean something dirty — the research is just an excuse to google things and put my writing off). I’ll fall behind schedule, be less than enthused about the project, and enjoy the writing a lot less than I thought I would. It feels like drudgery, not bliss.

This can derail me, and it has in the past. But my best response is to accept this reality, to see the humor in it (laugh at myself for my hilarious ideals), to find curiosity in the process, to find joy in the small moments of creation. Sure, people aren’t worshipping at my writing god feet, but I am connecting with people through my writing, I’m connecting with my inner, unseen self, and I’m connecting with the written word and all other writers in a way that I don’t fully understand. This is fascinating and something to appreciate at a level of detail that fantasy can’t match.

The Takeaway: Be Open

As you can see, the reality of life change doesn’t come close to what we idealize it to be. When we hit the ground of reality, we are never prepared for its actuality. And for many (myself included), that can be disappointing, frustrating, derailing.

But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If we are open to this different reality, instead of rejecting it, we can:

  • Accept this new reality
  • Be curious about it
  • See it as a learning opportunity
  • Find gratitude in the small details of it
  • Find joy in the small moments of it
  • Adjust our plans, and learn to be flexible, fluid
  • Embrace the deliciousness of drudger, or being tired or sore
  • Explore with a stance of not knowing

This is how we can meet the cold, hard reality of our actual changes. And it can be magnificent.

from zen habits

The Ideal vs. the Reality of Changing Your Life

Procrastination is a Practice Ground for Life Mastery

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:

  1. We have something difficult or uncomfortable to do.
  2. We don’t feel like doing it, because it’s difficult, uncertain, uncomfortable.
  3. 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.
  4. We run to the easier thing, and then put off even thinking about the other thing.
  5. 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:

  1. We set a hard task before us.
  2. We feel the difficulty, but see this as a signpost that we’re pushing into uncertain ground.
  3. 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:

  1. Set a hard task, feel like procrastinating because it’s uncertain and uncomfortable …
  2. Start to procrastinate by going to something easy.
  3. Once we’ve switched over and noticed that we’re procrastinating … we pause. This Pause is the key to everything.
  4. We see this Pause as an opportunity to practice a key life skill, and we light up with joy. And yes, gusto.
  5. 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.

from zen habits

Procrastination is a Practice Ground for Life Mastery