I ask myself, ‘What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself and others right now?’ Then I get to it

LEO BABAUTA is the founder of Zen Habits, a website dedicated to finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. Zen Habits has more than two million readers, and Time magazine named it one of the “Top 25 Blogs” for 2009 and one of the “Top 50 Websites” for 2011. Leo is the author of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential . . . in Business and in Life, Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly, and several other books.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
I got a Manduka PRO black yoga mat for about $100 (on sale). It is such a heavy, luxurious mat that it encourages me to practice at home, which is frankly a miracle.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

In 2005, I was stuck—deeply in debt, overweight, addicted to junk food, no time for my family, couldn’t stick to an exercise plan. I felt like an absolute failure. But this led to me researching habits and how to change them, and I put my entire being into making one single change. And then another. It led to my entire life changing, and to me helping others to change habits. It felt horrible, but it was one of the most incredible lessons of my life.

The first change I made was quitting smoking, which turned out to be one of the hardest changes I’ve made and I don’t recommend starting with it. But I put everything I had into it, and I learned a lot about changing habits. The next change was adding running—as a way to cope with stress after I quit smoking— and to start getting healthier. After that, I became vegetarian and started meditating.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
“You are good enough, just as you are. Breathe, and relax into the moment.”

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I am absurdly fond of minimalist aesthetics. I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from an empty room with just one piece of furniture and a plant. Sometimes I fantasize about owning nothing but an empty room!

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Zen Buddhism has profoundly influenced me—not only in meditation and mindfulness, but in believing in the pureness of experience, in my interconnectedness with all other beings, in my wanting to devote my life to helping others be happy. I’m now devoted to helping others turn suffering into mindfulness, openness, and joy.

The book I started with is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, which is a classic. But I think the best book for beginners is What Is Zen?: Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind by Norman Fischer. It’s a wonderful intro and answers most of the questions I had when I started.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Embrace uncertainty, groundlessness, and fear as the place where you’ll really learn and grow. Go into that place, rather than shrinking from it. It’ll help you overcome procrastination, social anxiety, fear of launching your own business or pursuing your dreams, fear of failure and ridicule, and more. Those fears will still be there, but you’ll find the deliciousness in them.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I drop into my breath and the sensations I’m feeling in my body. When I feel overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What does this feeling feel like as a bodily sensation, right now?” Not a narrative about my feeling, but actual sensations in my body. I try to stay with those sensations for as long as possible and be curious about and open to them. This works with fear, distraction, procrastination, frustration, and more. Once I’ve meditated on this, I ask myself, “What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself and others right now?” Then I get to it.

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