zen habits : breathe

My Most Effective Learning Tools

By Leo Babauta

This blog has been a way for me to share what I’ve learned, about simplicity, mindfulness, habits, motivation, work, parenting, life.

And it’s been quite a journey of learning.

I look back on when I started Zen Habits, nearly eight years ago, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed. I’ve lost more weight, become vegan, learned a lot about meditation and mindfulness and contentedness, have experimented with going car-free and unschooling our kids and traveling, have moved to two different cities, and have grown as a person. In lots of ways, I’m a completely different person today.

How did that happen? Each step along the way wasn’t momentous, except for the day I quit my job and a few days when I published books. Mostly, it was small steps, slow changes, gradual learning.

As I went for a run the other day, I thought about what has helped me learn the most from all my experiments and changes. And I realized that I’ve created a little toolset for learning. I hope you’ll find it useful, without thinking I’m bragging too much.

Here are the tools that have helped me learn the most — with the admission that I still have much, much more to learn:

  1. I reflect on my life. As I go for walks, or a run, or play with my kids, or take a shower … I think about what I’ve been doing lately. I step back and look at the larger picture. And sometimes I can extract something useful from these reflections. Other times, I draw a blank, and decide I need to do something different if I want to keep learning. Either way, reflecting on my life has become a regular habit, and one of my most useful for learning.
  2. I’m (sometimes) mindful. Practicing mindfulness in my everyday activities has helped me watch my mind, watch the habitual urges as they arise, watch my negative self-talk and the stories I tell myself. This has been more fascinating and useful and powerful than any college education, and this mindfulness is available to us all the time.
  3. I’m willing to turn to the problem. I realized that one of the things I used to do, before I started changing my life, was avoid thinking about my problems. I think a lot of people do this. I had a hard time sticking to habits and finding motivation and discipline, and this was painful and discouraging and not fun to think about. So I would just think about easier things, like how I liked fried food or what to watch on television. Of course, this avoidance only made the problem worse. These days I’m much more willing to face the problem, instead of turning away from it, and that allows me to actually address it and learn about what’s going on. I’ve learned an incredible amount from this simple, but difficult, technique.
  4. I’m OK with being wrong. I used to hate failure, but now I’ve learned that the anxiety of failure is all in my head. It’s not about anything real. If I fail, it’s not a big deal unless I make it a big deal. So now I just let myself make mistakes, and be wrong. I look back on past blog posts and realize that I don’t believe a lot of the things I used to, but that’s OK. I was wrong back then, but I was willing to admit that and explore something new. I don’t think you can learn very much if you don’t allow this.
  5. I’m OK with uncertainty. Trying something new is scary, mostly because you’re wandering through new territory, places where you’re not good at things or sure of what you’re doing. Most of us avoid this feeling, because uncertainty and confusion are not fun feelings. I’ve learned that they’re not that bad. You can be uncertain and confused and it’s not the end of the world. This has opened up new areas for me, because I can go into uncomfortable places and not be as terrified.
  6. I blog. Writing about what I’ve been learning about, and my successes as well as my failures, has been an amazing tool for learning. I highly recommend it, even if you never want to be a writer or make a living as a blogger. Don’t worry about growing your audience, but just blog and share it with friends. Why? Because to write a blog post, you have to reflect on your life. You have to push yourself a little and experiment. You are motivated to learn something useful, so you can share it. You dig deeper and find new things you didn’t realize before. You hold yourself accountable for changes, because other people are watching.
  7. I’m super humble. You can’t learn anything if you think you know everything. Having strong opinions and thinking you’re right means you close yourself off to learning. Instead, you need to be curious, and powerfully and gloriously humble, as I am. Like a rock-star of humility!

Add to all of this the truly humbling fact that I’m surrounded by wonderful people — my wife and kids and brilliant friends and family, other great writers, and my breath-taking readers. I’ve learned more from all of you, and the people around me, than from anything else. So thank you.



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