We spend most of our time sleepwalking through life. Which is a shame, because it’s short. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits brings us a great list of practices to help us be more present. My favourite was the very first on the list:
Practice fully pouring yourself into every act. This is a Zen practice — being fully in every task you do, every act. If you’re sitting in meditation, be fully in your seat, not have your mind be somewhere else. If you’re brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth — and be completely immersed in that. This is a practice, of course, which means we’ll forget to do it most of the time, but it’s an incredibly rich practice. Fully express yourself in everything you do.
I’ve written her many times about the illusory nature of the self. About how we think of our personalities as these fixed, permanent things, when in fact we’re just a string of choices and habits, threaded together by a story we tell ourselves. Many people feel a little disheartened to be described ini this way, but for me, it highlights how limitless our potential for change and growth is at every moment.
That’s the theme of Leo Babauta’s latest piece for Zen Habits on changing your identity.
One of the most powerful switches I ever made when changing my entire life was switching up my identity.
And while I never did it overnight, I successfully did it in multiple areas:
I changed from a smoker to a non-smoker — and once I did, I stopped thinking of smoking as something to do when I was stressed.
I went from meat-eater to vegetarian (and later to vegan). It literally took meat off the menu for me, so that I didn’t even consider eating it.
I thought of myself as a marathoner. Later, as just someone who exercises regularly to stay fit and healthy. It meant that there was no question I was going to exercise, even if I fell out of it for a bit because of disruptions.
Leo breaks down how he was able to make these changes and even some of the potential pitfalls of changing the way you look at yourself, but there’s no question that taking the opportunity to look at yourself in a new way can be life changing.
Most of us have been spending a little more time at home lately. And living, working and socialising in the same space is bound to lead to some clutter, as well as some frayed nerves.
It’s not just our physical environment either. Email, social media, our never-ending to do lists, all of them pile up so quickly that were under constant threat of being overwhelmed by them.
But while it’s natural to feel like the only way to stay afloat is to keep moving forward, swimming against the tide as it rises ever higher, it’s worth remembering that we can also stop, pick up a metaphorical bucket, and start bailing.
Today, Leo Babauta reminds us of the importance of clearing things out. Tidying away the old to make room for the new—not to mention to give ourselves room to breathe.
It’s a simple truth that wherever things can accumulate, they will. Emails pile up, clutter piles up, read later list piles up, small admin tasks build up like cruft.
This is the nature of things: they accumulate if we don’t tend to them.
And so, we must tend to them.
There’s no shortage of advice on the internet on how to work more. On how to optimise, discipline and sacrifice your way to a better more productive you. And this isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s natural and healthy to want to live up to our potential after all.
But it’s very easy for this healthy desire to find meaning our work to turn into a failure to find meaning in the rest of our lives. It can easily become destructive to our relationships, our health, and our state of mind.
It’s up to each of us to find the right balance of course, but for those struggling at the latter end of the spectrum, maybe it’s time to think about working less. This doesn’t have to mean abandoning your goals, but simply restructuring how you go about achieving them and rethinking where they fit in your overall priorities. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has some thoughts:
Working less would mean reducing the number of things we do — which would mean focusing on higher priority tasks.
If you could only work 1 hour today, what would you spend that hour doing? What would you do with the rest of the things on your list?
When we ask ourselves these questions, it might become clear that there are some key items we could spend more of our attention on, and many other tasks we could let go of somehow.
Then, after we’ve reduced the number of things, we can practice being more fully in those things.
Then call it a day — a victorious day, where we got the important things done.
Yesterday I wrote about the tension between self improvement and self confidence. At first glance it seems as if accepting oneself and trying to improve oneself are at odds with each other. But this is just an illusion. Recognising that we can still grow doesn’t prevent us from accepting who we are.
The problem comes, as Leo Babauta points out here, is when the goals we set for ourselves become the ends rather than the means. When that happens we’re no longer free to grow. Instead, our expectations become a trap:
The clients I work with almost all put incredible expectations on themselves — they have higher standards than almost anybody I know. It’s why they work with me.
It can be hard to see, but the expectations they’ve set for themselves often stand in the way of what they want the most.
It’s hard to see, because they became successful because of those expectations. It’s what got them this far.
But after a certain point, the expectations become the anchor, not the engine.
The breakthrough to the next level for many of us who perform at high levels — and actually for people of all kinds — is to let go of all expectations.
It’s easy to feel that if you’re not doing 10 things at once, you’re not doing enough. We’ve created a world for ourselves where there’s always something on our to-do list, and failure to achieve any one of them feels like failing at life. Then, because your attention is scattered, you end up doing each task half as well as you could have, which leaves you feeling even further behind.
But this isn’t just a question of quality of performance, it’s about quality of life. Life is better, everything is better when we’re present. When we’re focused wholeheartedly on the thing we’re doing right now. Here’s Leo Babauta’s take on the subject:
Every now and then, I have to remind myself to do one thing at a time.
The tendency to try to do a whole bunch of things seems to be a natural result of my wanting to get everything done as soon as I can. Many browser tabs open, switching between one thing and the next, endlessly, endlessly.
No wonder I can never focus on anything!
Then I remember to do one thing at a time, and it’s like coming home.
Leo Babauta on thew struggles living in the “age of distraction” presents. He admits at the beginning of the piece that calling rest a “lost art” is a little hyperbolic, but I’m not sure I’d agree. The scenario he describes below really does seem to be how most modern people spend their lives.
I could rail about the age of distraction (I’ve done that before), and social media and devices. Yada yada, you’ve heard it from me and many others. But whatever the reason is, we rarely rest anymore.
Think about it: when you get a break, what do you normally do? Go on your phone or computer? Check messages or social media or your favorite websites? Watch video online? That’s how most people spend their breaks — myself included. I’m part of this.
What happens when you’re done with work for the day? That’s if you’re ever done — many of us will work practically until we are falling asleep, if we’re allowed to. But if you’re done, do you read and watch and message online? Most people I know do that.
When do we ever truly rest, not only our bodies but our minds?