Being present

When we work out while listening to a podcast or checking messages, we lose out on being present with our bodies, feeling the experience of moving, exerting ourselves, being in nature.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/meticulous/

I try to walk as much as I can. Usually I make it out to walk every day for about an hour. For years I was simply walking in nature with myself and my thoughts. A few years ago, when I got really into podcasts as a listener, I started listening while walking.

But about a year ago—after noticing I’d stopped writing things down about my walks—I realized that I had lost something valuable: My time alone with my thoughts. So I cut back to listening to podcasts for about half the walk.

I’m often asked if I meditate. Yes, particularly in the past year, and it looks a lot like walking.

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Retreat and reflection

In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.

You might meditate, relax, read, journal. You might take a walk in nature, or find solitude. You might just mindfully enjoy the space.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/december-retreat/

What I like about this prompting from Babauta is that it’s about creating space for retreat and reflection; it’s not about necessarily going to some specific, special place. I’ve spent several years arranging and rearranging my life to create space for retreat and reflection in my daily life. It’s not easy. It hasn’t been easy. …on me or on those around me. I had gotten to the place I was gradually by taking small steps, day after day, in the wrong direction. So turning around was difficult, and beginning to walk back was close to impossible.

But it was possible. It is possible.

Do you have 5 minutes every day where you can retreat and reflect? If you don’t, try it for a few days. Set aside a specific time and work to arrange your life (including the people in your life) to make that small space sacred.

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Bashing against the resistance

… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows. 

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/resistances/

Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.

Maybe.

Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.

These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.

But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?

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Enough already of having the dial at 11

This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/kind-done/

There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt this way. I had the work-ethic, grit, stick-to-it-iveness, determination, bull-headed, finish-all-the-things dial twisted to 11 and covered in duct tape.

I believe I have learned the lesson. We’ll see what 2020 brings.

I’ll know I have it sorted when it only feels like an “idea” to tackle some new thing, help someone do something, implement some idea, accept a new challenge… When it feels only like an idea, rather than an urge like an addict has urges.

…because ideas I can say ‘no’ to.

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What would it be like?

I have a list of daily reminders that I cycle through. This one came up this morning and, as always, it bears repeating:

Add padding to everything. Do half of what you imagine you can do. We tend to cram as much as possible into our days. And this becomes stressful, because we always underestimate how long things will take, and we forget about maintenance tasks like putting on clothes and brushing teeth and preparing meals. We never feel like we have enough time because we try to do too much. But what would it be like if we did less? What would it be like if we padded how long things took, so that we have the space to actually do them well, with full attention? What would it be like if we took a few minutes’ pause between tasks, to savor the accomplishment of the last task, to savor the space between things, to savor being alive?

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/simple-living/

Where I am, there’s a winter storm coming later today. It’s the end of the world. People rushing around. Grocery stores picked clean. Flurries of communication about, “have you heard…,” and, “is this thing cancelled?” It’s like this every year; not just the first winter storm, but every storm.

The crazier it gets, in general, in life, on the roads, in the markets, online, the more I feel like, “meh.” Tempest in a teapot. All the world is but a stage, and all that. On any given day, there are things I want to do and I set about doing them.

What do you want to do today? Have you allocated time to do that well?

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Decisions decisions decisions

Over and over, throughout the day, we make the Hundred Little Decisions: to work on this, to check email, to go to this website, to respond to messages, to grab a bite to eat, to meditate or exercise or do yoga or have tea or watch a video or push into deep purpose.

~ Leo Babauta, from http://zenhabits.net/decisions/

As usual, Leo has this boiled down to its essence. I certainly make plenty of bad, in-the-moment decisions. These generally relate to food or entertainment, as escapes from stress and workload—both are entirely self-imposed and positively feedback into each other. I’m convinced that no amount of good intentions, nor mantras, nor little sticky notes, etc. can save me.

My mistakes are made much farther back in time. The mistake is not what I do when I feel frustrated; the mistake was starting the 42nd task during which I became frustrated. The mistake was putting 47 things on my todo list—not literally on paper, but in my set of expectations of myself. When I get to item 41, there’s absolutely not way I’m not going to start on number 42 when I have my eyes on the goal of 47.

I am completely on board with the idea that what one can accomplish in a lifetime is astounding, and that I can get there by simply doing a little bit, (of whatever it is,) each day. I understand that idea, but it appears in action too rarely in my life. I have a nice, sparse, morning routine and each day—more than two hours after I’ve awakened—I get to the point where I “surface.” Where I open up all the communication tools, project management system, notes, everything… and I plan my day.

This is where I fail; around 7:30am. Every day I grab life by the short hair and set out to tackle All The Things allocated for today. Every self-cursed day, I get to the 42nd item and get frustrated, tired, hungry, discouraged or whatever.

This problem is not solved with sticky notes at the spots where decisions are made in real time. This problem is solved in my first two hours in the morning… where I should be thinking:

What would a good day look like today?

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P.S.: I’m adamantly opposed to planning “tomorrow” before going to sleep. The last thing I want to do, at the end of my day, is wade into what tomorrow holds, in the end-of-day, wound down, ready for restorative rest, mode. That’s crazy. It’s also presumptuous about there being a tomorrow into which I will awaken—the last thing I ever want to do is have someone find me dead, and see the stupid crap I was planning to do the next day. The only sane course of action is to wake up, begin the day with a fresh start and see what it holds in store.

Daily reminders

I learned then that even when I felt powerless to control my job or education — or anything else that seemed out of my hands — I always had control over my own mind and how I treated others. Even when I had nothing else, I could still be kind, just, generous, honest, loving and compassionate.

~ Susan Fowler, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/opinion/power-self-improvement.html

I find that I’ve often committed myself to an unmanageable number of responsibilities. There are so many things I have the personal power to do, that I seem to be compelled to constantly deploy my power. Worse, I feel guilty if I’m not constantly applying my power towards some goal. I end up with a forest of goals and a feeling of being trapped. Shortly after feeling trapped, I find myself sinking into the pits of dispair on the shore of the lake of learned helplessness.

One habit I’ve built to try to keep myself entirely away from that lake is a collection of daily reminders. Ever the process maniac, I have them in my personal task management system in a rotation that brings one up each day. There are enough of them that even though they are in a fixed order I never know which is next. Each feels like a fresh reminder. They are collected from Ben Franklin, Leo Babauta and some other places I’ve neglected to keep track of.

They are:

  1. AM I AN ENERGY-GIVER OR -TAKER?
  2. BECOME MINDFUL OF ATTACHMENTS THAT LEAD TO CLUTTER AND COMPLEXITY — For example, if you are attached to sentimental items, you won’t be able to let go of clutter. If you are attached to living a certain way, you will not be able to let go of a lot of stuff. If you are attached to doing a lot of activities and messaging everyone, your life will be complex.
  3. TEMPERANCE — Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  4. Habit 1: Be proactive — While the word proactivity is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than meerly taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.
  5. AM I LIKELY TO “ACT” OR “REACT” TO A TASK?
  6. SILENCE — Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  7. Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind — Each part of your life can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you. By keeping that end clearly in mind you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have to your life as a whole.
  8. DISTRACTION, BUSYNESS AND CONSTANT SWITCHING ARE MENTAL HABITS — We don’t need any of these habits, but they build up over the years because they comfort us. We can live more simply by letting go of these mental habits. What would life be like without constant switching, distraction and busyness?
  9. ORDER — Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  10. Habit 3: Put first things first — The degree to which we have developed our independent will in our everyday lives is measured by our personal integrity. Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to take and keep commitments to ourselves, to “walk our talk.” It’s honor with self, a fundamental part of the Character Ethic, the essence of proactive growth.
  11. AM I AUTHENTIC OR OBSEQUIOUS?
  12. SINGLE-TASK BY PUTTING YOUR LIFE IN FULL-SCREEN MODE — Imagine that everything you do — a work task, answering an email or message, washing a dish, reading an article — goes into full-screen mode, so that you don’t do or look at anything else. You just inhabit that task fully, and are fully present as you do it. What would your life be like? In my experience, it’s much less stressful when you work and live this way. Things get your full attention, and you do them much better. And you can even savor them.
  13. RESOLUTION — Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  14. Habit 4: Think win/win — Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, hardball or softball, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed. It’s based on power and position rather than on principle. Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.
  15. HOW DO I TREAT SOMEONE I DON’T KNOW?
  16. FRUGALITY — Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  17. Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood — You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?
  18. CREATE SPACE BETWEEN THINGS — Add padding to everything. Do half of what you imagine you can do. We tend to cram as much as possible into our days. And this becomes stressful, because we always underestimate how long things will take, and we forget about maintenance tasks like putting on clothes and brushing teeth and preparing meals. We never feel like we have enough time because we try to do too much. But what would it be like if we did less? What would it be like if we padded how long things took, so that we have the space to actually do them well, with full attention? What would it be like if we took a few minutes’ pause between tasks, to savor the accomplishment of the last task, to savor the space between things, to savor being alive?
  19. INDUSTRY — Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  20. Habit 6: Synergize — What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.
  21. IS THERE AN ELEMENT OF STRUGGLE IN MY HISTORY?
  22. MY OATH — Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I shall make no excuses and hold no grudges. I care not where I came from, only where I am going. I don’t compare myself to others, only to myself from yesterday. I shall not brag about successes nor complain about my struggles, but share my experiences and help my fellows. I know I impact those around me with my actions, and so I must move forward, every day. I acknowledge fear, doubt, and despair, but I do not let them defeat me.
  23. SINCERITY — Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  24. Habit 7: Sharpen the saw — It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. … “Sharpen the saw” basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways.
  25. WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING?
  26. JUSTICE — Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  27. FIND JOY IN A FEW SIMPLE THINGS — For me, those include writing, reading/learning, walking and doing other active things, eating simple food, meditating, spending quality time with people I care about. Most of that doesn’t cost anything or require any possessions (especially if you use the library for books!). I’m not saying I have zero possessions, nor that I only do these few things. But to the extent that I remember the simple things I love doing, my life suddenly becomes simpler. When I remember, I can let go of everything else my mind has fixated on, and just find the simple joy of doing simple activities.
  28. MODERATION — Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  29. WOULD I WANT TO GO ON A LONG CAR RIDE WITH ME?
  30. GET CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT, AND SAY NO TO MORE THINGS — We are rarely very clear on what we want. When we see someone post a photo of something cool, we might all of a sudden get fixed on doing that too, and suddenly the course of our lives veer off in a new direction. Same thing if we read about something cool, or watch a video of a new destination or hobby. When someone invites us to something cool, we instantly want to say yes, because our minds love saying yes to everything, to all the shiny new toys. What if we became crystal clear on what we wanted in life? If we knew what we wanted to create, how we wanted to live … we could say yes to these things, and no to everything else. Saying no to more things would simplify our lives.
  31. CLEANLINESS — Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  32. AM I SELF-AWARE?
  33. TRANQUILLITY — Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  34. PRACTICE DOING NOTHING, EXQUISITELY — How often do we actually do nothing? OK, technically we’re always “doing something,” but you know what I mean — just sit there and do nothing. No need to plan, no need to read, no need to watch something, no need to do a chore or eat while you do nothing. Just don’t do anything. Don’t accomplish anything, don’t take care of anything. What happens is you will start to notice your brain’s habit of wanting to get something done — it will almost itch to do something. This exposes our mental habits, which is a good thing. However, keep doing nothing. Just sit for awhile, resisting the urge to do something. After some practice, you can get good at doing nothing. And this leads to the mental habit of contentment, gratitude without complaining.
  35. CHASTITY — Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  36. WHAT IS MY TALK-TO-LISTEN RATIO?
  37. WE CREATE OUR OWN STRUGGLES — All the stress, all the frustrations and disappointments, all the busyness and rushing … we create these with attachments in our heads. By letting go, we can relax and live more simply.
  38. HUMILITY — Imitate Socrates.

Update Oct 2019: Added the seven habits of highly effective people from Stephen Covey’s book.

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Deliberate way of living

http://zenhabits.net/deliberate/

Set intentions at the start. When you start your day, or any meaningful activity, check in with yourself and ask what your intentions are for the day or that activity. Do you want to be more present? Do you want to move your mission forward? Do you want to be compassionate with your loved ones? Do you want to practice with discomfort and not run to comfort? Set an intention (or three) and try to hold that intention as you move through the day or that meaningful activity.

~ Leo Babata

Long ago—maybe ten years?—this idea of setting intentions made a huge impact on my life. I’ve talked about first learning the twin skills of self-awareness and self-assessment as the first steps on my journey. Once I began developing those skills, I was able to begin setting intentions and that lead to the long period of growth I’ve recently been experiencing.

But there’s a problem, or at least there’s a problem for me. Once I started down the road of setting intentions I’ve fallen prey to a vicious cycle. Practicing continuous improvement by setting intentions and assessing progress makes me focus forward, treating my intentions at targets before me. I used to think the “focus forward” part of that was a good thing. After all, it clearly has led me on a long journey of improvement.

I set good intentions which force me out into my un-comfort zones and it turns out that I usually don’t quite reach the goals. If I do reach a goal, then I realize I could have set a better goal by stretching for a farther intention. In that way, every assessment ends up reporting that I fell short, didn’t make it, didn’t live up, didn’t achieve, didn’t succeed, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t… and that leads to a dark place.

Recently I’ve been more intentional about what intentions I set.

(That’s a red flag right there; I’m still intentions based.)

None the less, I’ve been trying to set easier-to-achieve intentions so that I can check off more wins. I find this very hard to do since it feels like artificially lowering the bar so I can cheer-lead myself away from the dark place. Worse, this is still looking forward and assessing progress made towards goals.

I wonder what would happen if I could manage to turn around, make progress towards the goals, (they now being behind me,) while staring back at the INSANE MOUNTAIN OF AMAZING THINGS I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED?

Maybe I should try that for a while?

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What if

https://zenhabits.net/numbed/

But what if we blocked all of our exits, and stopped ourselves from numbing out or escaping being present to our feelings and the moment in front of us?

~ Leo Babauta

What if indeed!

Much of my personal changes arise from observing my habitual behavior and then putting up some sort of road block (or at least adding some friction) to derail me when I head for the habitual behavior.

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