The 10 Biggest Influences on Zen Habits

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

By Leo Babauta

No writer or person becomes fully formed without any influence from the outside world. I certainly didn’t — my writings are influenced by dozens of writers and people in my daily life, from the writers I’m in love with to my loved ones and more.

But there are 10 people who have influenced the content of this blog above all others, and though I run the danger of leaving out many important people with this list, I thought I’d share my influences with you, in hopes that they’ll be useful.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” – Stephen R. Covey

  1. Elaine St. James. The biggest theme on this site, among several, is simplicity. It influences everything I write about. And Elaine St. James’ writings have undoubtedly taught me most of what I know about simplicity. Read my book review.
  2. David Allen. In the earlier days of this site, I wrote a lot about David Allen’s Getting Things Done … I don’t write as much about it anymore, but his methods inform much of what I do and write about, and I don’t give him enough credit. He was obviously a big inspiration for Zen To Done and other posts. If you’re not familiar with GTD, buy the book, or read more: GTD FAQ, Massive GTD Resource List, Beginner’s Guide to GTD, and more.
  3. Stephen Covey. I don’t know if I’ve written directly about Covey and his highly influential 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but I read him when I was young and I think some of his principles have influenced me ever since. Of course, I wrote about his Big Rocks, and this concept of important over urgent is key to Zen To Done.
  4. Lifehacker. Gina Trapani and Adam Pash and crew at Lifehacker showed me what a great blog can do. They’ve been an inspiration for Zen Habits, obviously, since Day 1, and many of my concepts were learned about through them.
  5. Fly Lady. I’ve been a fan of for awhile now, and if you’ve ever read her and Zen Habits, you’d probably guess that. She taught me about the power of routines and baby steps, both important concepts here.
  6. Get Rich Slowly. J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly was one of the first bloggers I read regularly, and his no-frills, authentic voice showed me what blogging should be, and what I could do. I often compare him to Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, only because they both write with authenticity. GRS also influenced many of my concepts about frugality and common-sense personal finance.
  7. Your Money or Your Life. If J.D. Roth influenced my personal finance philosophy, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin set the foundation with Your Money or Your Life. Their book will transform your life. Read my book review.
  8. Gandhi. I’m not sure how to describe Gandhi’s influence over this site, as I don’t often write directly about his teachings. But he taught me about simplicity, about using love to conquer your enemies, and about the essential truth of the human spirit. He influences who I am, and therefore what I write. I should write more about this sometime. Read his autobiography and one of my favorites, The Essential Gandhi.
  9. 43 Folders. Like Lifehacker, Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders was a favorite of mine before I started Zen Habits. His writing is fun and inventive, his tips are insightful, and his site is extremely useful. He doesn’t seem to write as much anymore, but I’m sure he’s extremely busy. Wonderful writer. Update: I didn’t know this, but apparently Merlin isn’t writing as much because he’s on paternity leave. Thanks Balfour!
  10. Zen Buddhism. I’ve been criticized for using the word “Zen” in the title of this blog as a commercialized appropriation of the word, so that I could seem “cool”. I accept that criticism, although I honestly never intended for it to be that way. I’ve also been criticized because I don’t write about Zen, or because my writings aren’t “Zen”. I accept that as well. However, even if I don’t write about Zen, there is no doubt in my mind that some of the principles of Zen Buddhism have greatly influenced this site. When I write about focusing on the now, on the task before you, that is from my readings of Zen. When I write about running being my zazen, and about finding the essentials in our lives, that is also from my readings of Zen. The book that influenced me most was probably Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
  11. Bonus: My mom. I just had to mention the person who is the biggest influence on who I am, and therefore influences this site daily. My mom is a wonderful person, caring, passionate, kind, patient. I aspire to be as good as her. I’ve followed in her footsteps, first as a journalist, later in politics, and now in pursuing something that I’m passionate about — I blog, and she is launching a non-profit online encyclopedia about Guam called Guampedia (not launched yet).

“I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” – Mahatma Gandhi