“All I am is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer…but I have accomplished a lot over the last couple of years…”
In this interview with Leo Babauta, bestselling author and founder of top-ranking blog Zen Habits, you will get a glimpse of how he made these pivotal life changes:
- Quit smoking
- Lost almost 70 pounds
- Became debt-free
- Started eating healthier
Read on while Abu Productive sheds light on Babauta’s recipe for success at making big life changes and tips for overcoming common hurdles such as fear of change, lack of motivation, and loss of focus.
You’ve been a real inspiration in terms of making big changes in your life. People often fear change, so what is the one most vital ingredient to making a significant change in your life?
Leo Babauta: The fear of change is partly a fear of discomfort, which always comes when we do something new. But at its core, this fear is about thinking that you’re not good enough to survive this new change and discomfort — that you’re not good enough, that you won’t be OK. And the trust is that you will be OK. I’ve made dozens of changes, and so have thousands and thousands of others, and they all turned out fine.
In fact, if you can learn to embrace change, not only will you be OK, you’ll find confidence in yourself, and see that you can reinvent yourself at any moment. This is an amazing discovery, and worth a little discomfort.
Lastly, if you’re afraid of change, that’s OK; just make a small change. Don’t want to change your entire diet? Just add one vegetable a day, which isn’t too scary. Over time, you’ll adjust to that change, and then you can make one small change.
What practical tips do you offer in your book on mastering change to ingrain new habits?
Leo Babauta: I offer dozens of practical tips, from creating a minimum viable habit (as small as possible) to overcoming your resistance when you don’t feel like doing the habit, to overcoming your urges, to creating positive feedback using social groups. I also share a new habit game I’ve created to make changing your habits fun and social!
How do you overcome the lack of motivation to keep up a new change?
Leo Babauta: There is the pain of not changing (feeling unhealthy or bad about your body, feeling bad about procrastinating, etc.) and there is the resistance to making the change. If the pain is greater than the resistance, you’ll be motivated to change. If you already have the pain, and want to change, then you just need to lower the resistance.
How do you lower the resistance? Ask others to challenge you and hold you accountable. Make the habit even easier (just run for two minutes, just eat one bite of a carrot, etc.), do it with someone else, make it a game so that it’s fun.
You should also mindfully enjoy the activity, so that the habit itself becomes the reward.
You’ve published the Focus Manifesto in the past. What advice can you offer our readers on focusing on small changes in their life and not being distracted in the age of ‘distraction’?
Leo Babauta: It’s such a human desire to want to do everything, and make lots of changes at once, and to be distracted with everything going on online and on our phones. It’s the Fear of Missing Out: if we don’t go to our distractions, we might be missing out on something interesting! If we only do one habit at a time, aren’t we going to miss out on the benefits of those other habits?
The truth is, we can only do one thing at a time. When we allow ourselves to be driven by this fear, we lose the focus on the thing in front of us, and we never really focus on anything very well. Instead, build the focus muscle by practicing it for longer and longer. Try to focus on one task at a time for just two minutes, then three, then four, until you can get to 10 or 15 minutes. Try to focus on one habit for just two days, then four, then a week, until you can do it for a month. You’ll find that the fear was unjustified: not only did you not miss out, you found the beauty of focus!
You talk about the concept of simplifying things in life, which is a concept very closely aligned with Islamic teachings. How can people learn to simplify their lives instead of being consumed by the culture of ‘want more, have more’?
Leo Babauta: Again, there’s the fear that we’re not going to be OK if we stop striving for more. We think that we’ll be missing out on what everyone else has, or not be able to show how successful we are, or not get the benefits of having more. Those are false fears too; they aren’t justified by reality. If you stop and say, “I have enough,” and every time the urge to have more comes up, you say, “Not now, I have enough,” then you will see that you don’t need any more. The fear can be fought with this experiment.
What are the three practical things you do every morning to boost your productivity?
Leo Babauta: First, pick the most important thing that I need to focus on right now. Second, only have that in front of me. Third, when I do process incoming emails and other information, I make quick decisions and get to empty.
People’s environment affects their productivity and you’ve written extensively on this. Tell us, what are the main things you have on your ‘Zen Desk’?
Leo Babauta: As little as possible. Clutter is a form of procrastination: we have the clutter around us because we haven’t made a decision on what needs to be done with the clutter, and haven’t taken action on it. Instead, put aside some time at the end of the day to make decisions on things around you — for at least 10 minutes — and clear away a little clutter at a time.
I do have a document scanner (Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M) that quickly scans documents so that I can store them in Dropbox and not have the clutter of paper around me. Other than that, I don’t need anything on my desk but my computer.
We’re excited about sharing the new book with our fans, can you give us a sneak preview of what to expect?
Leo Babauta: It’s called “Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change” and it’s about learning to deal with the resistance that comes with change. So I walk you through making one small change, and during the course of the book I show you how to deal with the resistance that comes up when we try to make this change, and all the excuses and rationalizations and urges and feeling guilty that surrounds the change.
At the end, we see that the same things we learned can be used to deal with major life changes, like getting a new job or starting school or losing a loved one or getting an illness or injury. It can also help us with frustrations with other people, or unhappiness with ourselves. These are all difficult to deal with, and the book shows us how to handle that with calm and gratitude.
I’m only selling the book through Kickstarter, and I’m excited to be printing it and getting it into my readers’ hands!