zen habits : breathe

Refraining From Letting Ourselves Numb Out

By Leo Babauta

Much of our lives is spent numbing out to what we’re experiencing.

We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we seek comforts and procrastinate.

We don’t want to feel fear, so we avoid uncertain situations.

We don’t want to stay in the present moment, so we distract ourselves with technology, or get lost in thoughts about the past or future.

And we are so good at numbing ourselves to our experience. This is not a judgment — I do it too.

But what if we blocked all of our exits, and stopped ourselves from numbing out or escaping being present to our feelings and the moment in front of us?

What if we committed to not running to our favorite numbing methods?

Favorite Numbing Methods & Some Alternatives to Numbing Out

Let’s consider the some of the most popular kinds of numbing methods (see if you do any of them) and consider some alternatives to Numbing Out:

There are other ways to numb out, to avoid feeling, to exit … but you’re getting the idea by now. Note the ways you exit, and see if you can avoid exiting instead.

Consider Closing Your Exits

What if you committed for a month (or three) to not going to any of your usual exits, your usual numbing out methods? What would that be like for you?

If you created a practice container (see below) for not going to any of your exits … you’d be forced to feel. Forced to be present to your experience.

It wouldn’t be easy. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy. You are going to do this because:

  1. You want to learn to be fearless with your fear, courageous with your feelings, and finally fully experience them instead of avoiding them.
  2. You want to be present to our experience and the current moment, appreciate the life in front of you instead of constantly avoiding it.
  3. You want to explore a more mindful, intentional way of being. And change your relationship with life.

To do this, you have to close your exits. Not let yourself run. Create a container for yourself, so that you can go deep into this practice.

Creating a Container for Closing Your Exits

A practice container is simply a sent of boundaries, rules, agreements, structure … to hold you in practice.

For example, if you go to a yoga class three times a week, and have a teacher leading you through practice, with rules for not checking your phone or talking during practice, this is a structure that helps you go deeper into the meditation — it’s a container for your yoga practice.

You’d set the same kind of container for sitting meditation (no going on your phone or laptop, for example, or otherwise you’re not even meditating), for relationship practice, for therapy. Structure helps you see when you’re running to your exits, helps you set an intention for practice and stay with that intention more, helps you to explore in safety.

Some ideas for creating a container for practicing not exiting or numbing:

  1. Decide on a practice period. Set a period for your practice (let’s say 1 month) and commit to it. It’s ironclad.
  2. Define your exits. Set the things you’re not allowed to do during this period. For example: no social media, no video games, no porn, no alcohol, no pot, no sweets, no fried foods, no going to your favorite online sites (reddit, youtube, blogs, news, etc.).
  3. Define other triggers. Highlight other triggers: when you find yourself being busy without intention, or procrastinating, pause and practice for a minute or two. When you find yourself mindlessly going to food, pause and practice.
  4. Set allowable things. Create small containers for things you need to do … for example: messaging and email just twice a day at predetermined times. Sex with partner just once every two weeks. Other things you might want to allow yourself to do: yoga, meditation, going for a walk and being present to the world around you, talking with a friend when you’re struggling and being open-hearted with them, taking a bath or drinking tea but being fully there with the experience and your feelings as you do it.
  5. Define your practice. Set what kind of practice you want to do when you’re feeling urges to go to addictions, distractions, etc. For example: when you feel the urge to exit, you’ll pause and first turn inward, noticing what you’re feeling. Then give yourself at least a minute to actually feel it, dropping into the sensations of your body, fully feeling it, being curious with it, being friendly towards your feeling. Also allow your awareness to widen beyond your body, noticing the sensations of the world around you, feeling it as pure experience.
  6. Commit to others. Tell your plan to others. Ask for them to hold you to this commitment. Make sure they’re the kind of people who won’t let you off the hook, who will love you fiercely in this practice. Tell them you’re going to report daily on an email thread.
  7. Report daily. Start an email thread for your commitment to others, and report to them every single day. Ask people to check on you if you’re not reporting.

Can you do this? Absolutely you can. Your fears, resistance and rationalizations for why you can’t do this are exactly why you should.



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