Zen Habits Lessons: 10 Powerful Things I’ve Learned This Past Decade

By Leo Babauta

It’s the end of the 2010s, and it’s been quite a decade for Zen Habits.

I’ve grown the blog, discarded ads, simplified to a minimalist design, wrote & published numerous books and courses, formed two programs (Sea Change and Fearless Training), and grew my mission. Read more about my decade in review here.

I thought I’d spend a little time reflecting on this decade and what I’d like to take away from it all. Reflect on the biggest lessons I’ve learned.

I’m going to share them below, in condensed form. This isn’t everything I’ve learned, but some of the most important lessons.

  1. Things never go the way you think, but that’s a wonderful thing. This decade has unfolded in ways I would never, ever have predicted. I wouldn’t have guessed we’d be in San Diego right now, that we’d live in Davis, CA for four years, that my business would be where it is. I wouldn’t have guessed I would lose my father and father-in-law within two years of each other, or one of my best friends. I wouldn’t have guessed half of what has happened. What it shows is that life isn’t under my control, to a very large extent. And that’s OK. Things have turned out well even if it’s not what I expected. My practice is to surrender much of the control I think I need to have in any situation, and learn to trust and bring curiosity to what might happen.
  2. There are always ways to deepen. A decade ago, I’d been meditating for years, and for some reason, I though I understood what mindfulness practice was. To some extent, I did. But it turns out, there was a lot more to learn. I’ve dived deep into it in the last 10 years. And as I continue to learn, I’ve been finding that you can deepen in any area: in relationships, in purpose, in health, in your relationship with yourself. A good question to ask is, “How can I deepen here?”
  3. Two of the most important shifts are developing self-trust and self-compassion. As I’ve been coaching people, I’ve learned that the two biggest problems for most people are self-trust (keeping promises to yourself) and self-compassion (not judging or beating yourself up, not being critical of yourself). Most people have at least one of these as the root of their biggest struggle.
  4. Working with people in person is incredibly powerful. As a writer, I really love helping people from behind the safety of my computer — not having to interact with people is comfortable for an introvert. But over the past decade, I’ve discovered the joy and power of working with people directly, in person. I’ve participated in retreats, held retreats and workshops of my own, and started coaching people 1-on-1 … I am in love with working directly with people. It will be a big part of my work in the coming years (related: I’ll be announcing a retreat soon).
  5. Focus is one of our most important resources. This one sounds obvious, but I’ve been more and more aware of the limited resources we’re all working with — limited energy, time, money. The thing that ties these all together is the limited resource of our focus. We only have so much we can actually focus on, and we try to focus on all of it. If we learn to use our focus more intentionally, it changes our entire life. We make good use of our time and energy. We get more meaningful work done. Check out my Mindful Focus Course if you’d like to work on this.
  6. Finding deep purpose, and staying connected to it, is one of the best things we can do. I never really believed in having a “mission” or “purpose,” and so for years I did what felt right, but didn’t have a deeper motivation. This past decade, I’ve been discovering more and more what drives me — the love of my fellow human beings, and wanting to help with their struggles. Connecting with this has been one of the most profound shifts in my life. Staying connected to it remains one of my biggest challenges, which I’ll be working on in the coming year.
  7. Relationships are more important than we realize, and need to be nurtured. I have developed some incredible friendships over the past decade, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them. But I’ve noticed that they can’t be taken for granted — if we want to maintain friendships, we have to nurture them, keep them strong. I haven’t done as well with that in the last year as I was doing in the years before that, so it’s another intention of mine to nurture my relationships more in the coming year. I also noticed that when my dad and my friend Scott died, I felt a sense of regret that I hadn’t done more to spend quality time with each of them — which reminds me to do that with the people who are still in my life.
  8. A compassionate diet isn’t hard, and feels meaningful. I was vegetarian when I entered this decade, and in 2012 my wife Eva and I went fully vegan (thanks in large part to a couple of friends) and we truly love being vegan. I’ve encouraged many people to try veganism with my 7-Day Vegan Challenge. What I’ve found is that a compassionate diet (and lifestyle) is not difficult, it’s at least as healthy as other lifestyles, and feels incredibly meaningful. I recommend it for anyone who’d like to bring more compassion to their lives.
  9. It’s a training of a lifetime to open to uncertainty & discomfort. I’ve spent much of this decade opening to discomfort (Goruck Challenge, Ultramarathon, meditation practice, and more) and uncertainty (my mission, relationship practice, etc.). It has been difficult, scary, and joyful. I’ve learned to open up in the middle of stress, to recognize and work with my patterns, to fall in love with the moment. I have much more training to do, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever undertaken. If you’d like to train with me, check out my Fearless Training Program.
  10. Heartbreaking loss is heart-opening. This past decade, I lost some of the people who I loved most: my dad, my father-in-law, my friend Scott. All within a couple of years. It was devastating. Heart-wrenching. I won’t pretend that I think those huge losses were good in any way. But they definitely helped my heart to open. Grieving over these wonderful men opened my heart in new ways, in profound ways. I miss them every day, and the pain of losing them still hits me hard. It has been a transformative thing for me, a tragic gift.

I would like to thank everyone who has read my blog, supported me, bought my books, taken part in my programs, attended workshops and talks, emailed me without needing to get a response. You are valued by me, loved by me. Thank you, all of you, for this past decade.

Here’s to another decade of growth, learning, transformation and love.

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