As we start off a new year 2013 with new year’s resolutions and goals, it is important to keep ourselves motivated to stay on path of our goal. Here is 2nd part of question and answers series from the motivational expert Leo Babauta from Zen Habits. To see first part read here: Motivation questions answered Part 1.
11. What is your best advice on keeping focused on the important when the distractions in our lives are constant?
Figure out what’s distracting you, and how to minimize them, or at least put them in a certain place. Engineer your environment so the distractions are minimal. For example, shut off the Internet except for times when you really need it (predetermined times). At the very least, shut off email notifications and anything else that pops up and tells you there’s a new message or tweet or whatever. Close those programs and only have what you need for the task in front of you.
Learn to focus for short amounts of time — say 10 or 15 minutes. Then lengthen that time gradually, by 5 minutes, until you can focus for 45-60 minutes at a time — or more. And enjoy that time of focus — it’s fantastic.
12. How do you stay motivated in business when you have never done something before & the results won’t show up until down the road?
Learn to love the process, and don’t let your happiness be so dependent on the outcome. Be passionate about the actual things you do, do them because you love it, and you’ll stick with it. The great things that result will be a natural by-product.
13. Thoughts on getting unstuck?
If you’re stuck on a project or task, give your brain a breather or a jolt. A breather could be going outside to take a walk, doing a little bit of easy meditation (focus on your breath as it comes in, then goes out, for a minute or two), or doing something fun like a game for a few minutes (like 5-20 minutes). A jolt could be some kind of inspiration — read blogs or books you find inspiring, look for something others are doing that inspire you to do something creative.
If you’re stuck in life, that requires a bit more work, but think of it as an opportunity to re-invent yourself and your life. Take a break from work if possible — even if it’s just for an hour or two, but a day or two is even better. Think of it as a necessary work session, because it will help you get unstuck. Take this break as a breather from your normal routine, but use it not just to veg out but to think, to get some perspective, to take a wider look at your life. What are you doing that you love doing? What can you eliminate that’s both unnecessary and unexciting? If you hate what you’re doing, can you change it to something you love, or can you change jobs? Can you automate or outsource things that you don’t enjoy, or eliminate them, so you can focus on creating, on things you do enjoy? Make a list of things you’d like to do, in the short-term and long-term, and then start implementing them, one little thing at a time.
14. How do you stay away from distractions? Do you do just one thing at a time or multitask in a planned way?
I’m a big proponent of single-tasking. Multi-tasking can work in some cases but most of the time it gets in the way of focusing on what’s really important. Multi-tasking can work for little tasks, like checking email and your bank account and Facebook and things like that. But you should set aside time for the important tasks — earlier rather than later, when things might get too busy.
When you’re going to work on an important task, clear away all distractions and focus just on that one task. Close programs you don’t need, clear away clutter on your desk, turn off any notifications, turn off your mobile devices, and preferably shut off the Internet and close your browser.
15. How do you determine when you’ve reached a minimalist lifestyle?
It’s not a destination, it’s a mindset. You’re a minimalist once you decide to have less and do less, when you decided to stick with enough and not go for more. I consider myself a minimalist, but I know there’s much more I could do if I wanted to. I could go live in a cabin in the woods, in Alaska, and be off the grid. I could use or eat nothing I didn’t make myself. But that’s not realistic, for my life, so I just reduce what I own and use and do, and slowly change over time.
Any lasting change should be done slowly and gradually anyway. So think of it not so much as a destination but a long-term process, and you’ll improve over time. You’re never there, at that “minimalist lifestyle” exactly, but at the same time you’re always there, if your mind is in the right place.
16. If you could offer only one piece of advice about beginning … changing habits, starting fresh … what would it be?
Start with one little step at a time. That’s obvious, but you might be surprised at how many people try to change 5-10 habits at once, to start afresh. It’s too hard to make drastic changes like that.
Changes made gradually don’t seem hard at all. For example, instead of giving up meat altogether to become vegetarian, you could just eat some vegetarian dishes on different nights of the week. That will soon become normal, as you learn new recipes and adjust your taste buds. Then add more meatless meals, and so on, and each step along the way, you’ll adjust and that will become the new “normal” for you. Over time, you’ll have made great changes, but each step along the way is a small one and not difficult at all.
17. How do you sustain self-motivation when you suffer a setback toward your goals?
I always try to enjoy what I’m doing. If there’s a setback, that’s not a problem, because the progress I’m making isn’t as important as doing the activity (running, reading, writing, cycling, whatever). And because I enjoy the activity, I’ll keep doing it, even if there’s a setback.
Just realize that setbacks are not the ending points, unless you let them become so. They’re just a little stone on the road — kick it aside, go over it, walk around it, but just keep walking. And enjoy the journey.
18. Besides your own book, what one book would you recommend to help someone find their motivation?
I’ve never found a single book that will motivate someone. Books can help inspire, but there’s too many to choose from — I’d probably recommend The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama or any book by Thich Naht Hanh (Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, and True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart). But one of the books I recommend most, that really reflects how I try to approach things, is Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey. It’s not motivational but if you try the techniques in the book you’ll find that you’ll easily create the habits you want with a minimum of stress.
19. What do you do when you used to love your work, but passion has been killed by work/life balance issues?
There are two approaches I’ve tried and recommend. The first is to try to reinvigorate your work, to find new appreciation and passion for your work. This is the easiest method, from one point of view, but at the same time isn’t always possible if you truly hate your job. To do it, you have to look at the things you enjoy about your job, to appreciate things about your job that you take for granted, and to try to change your job so that it’s something you love doing. You can do that by creating projects and work for yourself, with buy-in from your boss or team, that you’re excited about.
The second approach is more drastic but for me has been so much more rewarding — changing jobs to something you really love doing. This takes a little more time, and more courage. I suggest you start doing the job you want to do on the side — even for free at first, until you get good at it or spread your reputation enough that you can charge. Eventually, as you gain confidence and skills, you’ll want to take the plunge and quit your regular job.
Either way, you’ll need to address the root problem: you need to find balance in your life and time for things other than work. Workaholism is a problem when work becomes a problem — meaning if it’s sapping you of passion, you need to make a change. Set limits — stop working after a certain time, and schedule some non-work things that you enjoy. Exercise, hobbies, doing things with friends or family, creating in some way, reading, anything other than work. Find the balance that works for you — it takes time and experimenting, but most of all it takes a consciousness that you want to change your life.
20. How have the types of habits you have cultivated evolved over time?
Great question. As with anyone, my habits have changed since I started blogging — I didn’t just cultivate some fundamental habits and then stop, living a static life. I’m always trying new things out, and my philosophy is always evolving as I learn. So some of the things you might’ve read when I started Zen Habits back in early 2007 don’t quite apply to what I’m doing today.
A good example is back in those days I was all about productivity in the traditional sense — knocking out tasks as quickly as possible, Getting Things Done, cranking widgets, making the most of every minute. But as I’ve evolved, that has become less important to me. I’ve simplified, and now I focus on what’s important, on enjoying what I do, on creating, rather than on getting so much done. It’s a more human approach to work, rather than an industrial drone type of approach.
In fact, I think I’ve become simpler over time. I don’t stress out about my running as much, and instead just go out to enjoy the run. I don’t worry about waking early so much, although I definitely enjoy the early morning and try to wake early so I can read and work in the quiet before dawn. I don’t keep track of all my tasks as much as I used to, so that at any given moment I might not have an up-to-date task list but I know what I want to focus on right now.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle