You don’t say

This can lead to overwork, burnout, tiredness, and never letting ourselves enjoy a moment of rest.

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

I am by far my own worst enemy. Go go go. Do do do. In the past year this is the area where I’ve made the most progress. I’ve gotten much better at setting out a sane plan for my days. And when a day doesn’t go exactly as planned—so, basically every day—I’m now able to roll with it.

Also, I’ve long been good at “active” days off. I can spend a day biking or climbing or at some event. It doesn’t need to be gonzo-level physical either. I think the feeling of physical activity convinces my mind that something meaningful has been accomplished.

But what I cannot do is simply idle. Sit on a beach… not drinking nor reading nor writing nor thinking. Or relax on my patio. “Just be,” is definitely still beyond my grasp.

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The rolling hills of Pennsylvania

The other day, in the glorious sun and breeze, I got an irresistible urge to get in some single-track miles. I grabbed ‘B’ off the hook and went somewhere I’ve never been.

CREATE SPACE BETWEEN THINGS — “Add padding to everything. Do half of what you imagine you can do. What would it be like if we did less?” ~ Leo Babauta

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The one skill

I owe a large debt to Leo Babauta of Zen Habits for the tremendous number of tremendously useful posts I’ve had the pleasure of noodling over. One way I try to pay back people who’ve been kind enough to create positive things sprinkled around the Internet is simply to point as many people as I can towards said things. If you’d like to try a large dose of—what I lovingly refer to as—Leo-zen, try his free ebook, The One Skill.

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Time for reflection

Imagine that you were to sign up for a retreat this month … you put aside your daily life, all your busywork, all your projects and errands and emails and messages … and you travel to another place. 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.

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

Today, a rare two-fer’…

Not only does hyper-connection alter our social relationships, it also makes us dumber, as pointed out as early as 2005. It threatens our health too. Twenty-first-century afflictions include digital fatigue, social media burnout or compulsive internet use. Cures for these rising internet-related disorders include such radical solutions as rehab centers, or disconnection.

~ Antoine Lefeuvre from, https://alistapart.com/column/designing-for-post-connected-users-part-1/

Babauta’s take is from the Zen perspective of simply—as in: this is the only thing you have to do, and don’t overcomplicate it in the doing—creating space in your life. Lefeuvre’s is from a nuts-and-bolts perspective of facts and tactics.

I feel called quite often to take more time to reflect. I was going to write, “sit and reflect,” but it’s not quite always sitting. I believe this is also true for everyone else; some people are early on in their journeys and their need for reflection is small in total, but it is more than they are currently doing. With precious few exceptions, we could all use more time for reflection.

Do you have time for reflection built into your life?

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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.