By Leo Babauta
When I reflect back on how much happier I am these days compared to my life about 8 years ago, I realize it’s not all a result of better habits (though that’s a part of it).
Here’s what I’ve changed that makes me happier:
- Instead of stressing out about meeting goals, deadlines, timelines, I have learned a way of flowing.
- Instead of getting mad at people not meeting my expectations, I’m looser with what I expect of others.
- Instead of getting mad at things not turning out how I’d like, I accept that things are unpredictable, and accept what happens.
Most of the time, that is.
In other words, I’ve developed a flexible mind.
This is one of the best changes I’ve made, because it gives me more peace of mind and happiness. It took some time to develop this mental habit, and I’ll share with you here why and how I did it.
Why Develop Flexible Mind
The root cause of frustration, irritation, anger, sadness is an inflexible mind — one that wants to hold onto the way we wish things were, the ideas we’re comfortable with. When things don’t go this way, we are then frustrated, angry, sad.
So developing a flexible mind is a way to be open to anything, happy with change, prepared for any situation. Think about it: if there’s a major disruption in your life, it’s only a bad thing because you’re holding onto the way you wish things could be, what you’re comfortable with. If you let go of that wish, the change isn’t bad. It’s just different, and in fact it could be good if you embrace it and see the opportunity.
It’s about developing the ability to cope with change, to be flexible, to simplify.
How: Small Practices
You don’t develop flexible mind overnight — your mind isn’t as easy to change as your outfit. You have to develop mental habits with small changes, consistently over time.
- Make a commitment, for one week, to try to let go of what you’re holding onto when you get irritated, frustrated, sad, etc.
- Make a list of the things that trigger these emotions — being interrupted, someone cutting you off in traffic, someone being loud when you’re trying to work, people not washing their dishes, etc.
- Create reminders for when those triggers happen — paper notes, a bead bracelet, something written on your hand, a sign on your car’s dashboard, etc.
- When the trigger happens, pause. Notice the emotion rising. Feel it, but don’t act. Breathe.
- Try to see what you’re holding onto — wishing the driver would be more polite, wishing you could do what you were doing without interruptions, wishing other people would be perfect in cleaning up after themselves. These wishes are fantasies — let them go. Be open to the way things are, to changes that have happened. Breathe, open your heart, accept.
- Now respond appropriately, without wishing things were different, with compassion.
Repeat however many times you like during the week, or a minimum of once a day.
Please note that you will not be perfect at this when you start. It’s a difficult skill to learn, because we have emotional patterns that have built up over the years. It’s good enough to become more aware of it, and to attempt this method once a day. Be flexible in your desire to get this exactly right. Practice it when you remember for the rest of the year.