I was thrilled for the opportunity to interview Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits on his new book, Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, now available to be backed on Kickstarter.
Leo shares some advice on his writing process, what keeps him motivated, and how to create your own good habits in the near year and beyond.
Helen: Congratulations on being super close to finishing your book! How does it feel? How did it feel when you began?
Leo: You have no idea what kind of journey this has been. I set out to write this at the beginning of the year, with the idea that this would be my “best book ever”. That ended up being too high a bar to meet — who has the ability to create perfection? I’ve struggled with that ever since.
But in lots of ways this has been an incredible learning experience. I wrote the first version of this book for a group of 10 alpha testers, sending them each chapter as it was written, having them put it into action, and then journal … and I’d read and respond to their journals. So it was a great way to get feedback on my book, and see where I needed to make improvements, based on real-world testing.
I then rewrote the whole book, and then scrapped that version because I wasn’t happy with it, and recently re-wrote the entire thing again. And now I’m happy. What a journey! It’s been amazing, and I can’t wait for people to read it.
Helen: What's been the biggest challenge in taking on such a big project?
Leo: I had to cut out everything else to focus on this, including killing two projects! I was enjoying working on a lot. And because it is such a daunting project, I’ve agonized over this book for months, which is a lot of struggle. And fun!
One of the biggest challenges, actually, is the self-doubt that comes with publishing your own book, especially in a new way like this. I’ve been in doubt the entire way… but the big lesson for me is that I can be in doubt, and still move forward. I can be uncertain, and still be OK. Being uncertain doesn’t mean I can’t act.
Helen: What's been your biggest motivation in the last year?
Leo: When I talk to people who are really struggling in their lives — with unhappiness, with themselves, with relationship problems, with addictions, with the inability to change habits — I really want to find a way to help. I don’t always have the answers of course, but if I can help people deal with their struggles, this is an amazingly meaningful way to work. I hope what I’ve been doing is helpful, but I never know. That’s OK too … even if I don’t help people the way I’d like, I think just having the right intention is meaningful. You can’t control how your work is used by others.
Helen: Any advice for someone looking to break a habit? Start a good one?
Leo: Yes, I’ve written a whole book on it! But in brief:
- Start with one habit at a time — the rest will come in time.
- Start with the smallest version of that habit as you can.
- Fully commit yourself to your habit change — if you bet $10,000 that you’d succeed, would you even consider failure? Be all in.
- Build support and accountability by making your habit social and doing it with others or having friends hold you accountable.
- Learn to watch but not follow your urges. Delay!
- Be mindful as you do the habit, and find things to appreciate and enjoy, so that the habit itself is the reward.
- Learn as you go — if you mess up, just figure out what went wrong, and adjust. Let your habit plan evolve as you learn what your obstacles are.
Helen: When you have an off day, week, or month, how do you get back on track?
Leo: I have these off days and weeks all the time. It usually comes when I’m tired from travel or lack of sleep, or if I get stuck with something and don’t know how to overcome the struggle. For the first problem, I just try to be compassionate with myself and let myself take a bit of a break, and get more sleep. But the second is tougher: I try to find a new way out by tackling the problem from a different angle, or talk to friends about it, or break it into a really easy task, or get some accountability by creating a public challenge around it. Whatever it takes to overcome the struggle — and what I’ve found is that I can always overcome it, and learn something along the way.
Helen: What's next?
Leo: I’m focused right now in wrapping up the book and getting it into people’s hands. I’m also creating a couple bonus guides on procrastination/effectiveness, and mindfulness, for people who back this book. And I’m going to add in a manifesto on how to create a movement of change in the world! I think this can be an exciting movement — change yourself, and change the world.
Want to reflect with us? Sign up for our Reflection & Roadmapping Workshop on December 14th!
Leo Babauta is the creator of Zen Habits. He's married with six kids and lives in San Francisco, California. He's a writer, an avid runner and a vegan.
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