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Leo Babauta: Essential Zen Habits Book Summary

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The Book in Three Sentences

  1. We struggle with habit change because we have unrealistic expectations of how things will turn out, how others should be, and how we should be.
  2. When our expectations aren’t met, we feel disappointed, frustrated and sad.
  3. When we turn from our Mind Movie and embrace reality, we overcome our inner resistance to habit change.

The Five Big Ideas

  1. “There’s a projector in our minds, and it’s constantly playing a movie about how we’d like things to be, our ideals about the world, our expectations of how things will turn out, how others should be, [and] how we should be”.
  2. The Mind Movie is what stands in our way of making habit changes. It tells us that changing a habit should be easy and fun, but the reality is that we must wander outside our comfort zone.
  3. The Childish Mind is the part of our mind that complains about how things are, that fears discomfort, that just wants pleasure and comfort, that doesn’t want things to be difficult.
  4. “Gratitude is a great antidote to resistance that we can practice each day, including when our Childish Mind eventually starts to rebel against doing the habit”.
  5. “Take mistakes in stride, and take the long view that what really matters is not whether you mess up for a day or two, but what you do over weeks and months and years”.

Essential Zen Habits Summary

  • “There’s a projector in our minds, and it’s constantly playing a movie about how we’d like things to be, our ideals about the world, our expectations of how things will turn out, how others should be, [and] how we should be”.
  • The Mind Movie is what stands in our way of making habit changes. It tells us that changing a habit should be easy and fun, but the reality is that we must wander outside our comfort zone.
  • The Childish Mind is the part of our mind that complains about how things are, that fears discomfort, that just wants pleasure and comfort, that doesn’t want things to be difficult.
  • “Gratitude is a great antidote to resistance that we can practice each day, including when our Childish Mind eventually starts to rebel against doing the habit”.
  • Consider writing a short journal entry about your reflections, to solidify your learning.
  • “Treat habit formation as a learning process, as a way to learn about yourself, your mind, mindfulness, resistance and more”.
  • “Gradually [a] habit becomes your new normal and you can expand a bit more, pushing your comfort zone a little at a time”.
  • Question: “What does the resistance feel like? Is there a way to accept the thing you’re resisting, accept the discomfort, relax into it, and find gratitude for it? What is good about the discomfort?”
  • “When you miss a day or two, you can either feel bad about it and possibly get derailed completely, or you can flow around it and not make it a big deal”.
  • “A key habit skill is learning to flow around the disruptions and just keep going”.
  • “Notice feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, and stay with them. Get to know them. Get intimate with these feelings”.
  • “When we experience groundlessness — a feeling of not being anchored, not certain, things not going our way, a feeling of loss — our minds don’t normally like it”.
  • “One of the most difficult tasks we can give to our Childish Mind is letting go of what it really wants, and accepting life as it is, seeing that it’s already enough”.
  • “It can be disappointing to let go of a habit you had such high hopes for and worked so long for, but we have to remember that we do these habit changes to learn about ourselves”.
  • “If making a commitment to yourself isn’t working, you can increase the commitment by telling others that you’re going to create this new habit”.
  • “When you miss one day, do everything you can to figure out why you missed, and solve it so you don’t keep missing”.
  • “When you make a change, others in your life might unconsciously see this change as threatening”.
  • “I’ve found the best method of persuasion is being a good model for change”.
  • “If others won’t get on board with your changes, ask just that they give you the space to make the change on your own, without their help”.
  • “A good practice is to not attach to the outcome. Have a good intention for the habit, but don’t worry too much about how it will turn out because you can’t control that”.
  • “Tell yourself that when you slip and fall, it’s just another lesson that will teach you to be better at change”.
  • “Mistakes means you’re pushing into new ground and exploring something interesting — if you weren’t, you wouldn’t make mistakes”.
  • “See every mistake as an opportunity to learn, a thing that you can get better at, the feedback that’s so crucial for improvement”.
  • “Most people make the mistake of trying to tackle a quit too early when they still haven’t gotten good at forming habits”.
  • “I recommend forming new, positive habits at least three times before taking on a quit”.
  • “The first thing you need to do before you attempt to quit a habit is track it for three days and try to write down every trigger for the habit”.
  • “Each bad habit meets some kind of need, or you wouldn’t be doing the habit”.
  • “For each trigger and need, write down a positive replacement habit that will meet the same need”.
  • “When you’re feeling stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, etc. … just pause and turn your attention to this feeling. Be curious and really see how it feels, where it is in your body, what the quality of the feeling is. Become intimate with it, without trying to avoid it”.
  • “Watch [an urge] gently, without judgment or wishing the feeling weren’t there. Treat it like a friend, kindly. And see that this feeling is impermanent, just arises but will pass, like a cloud. This is the whole meditation: just watch with curiosity and kindness, not attaching to the feeling or needing to act on it”.
  • When quitting a bad habit, change one trigger at a time.
  • “Tell yourself you can do this, you’re strong, you got this. And be realistic in that things won’t go as planned, but those are learning opportunities. In the long run, you’re going to make it, because you’re worth it”.
  • “The real question isn’t whether you’ll mess up, but what you’ll do if you do mess up”.
  • “Take mistakes in stride, and take the long view that what really matters is not whether you mess up for a day or two, but what you do over weeks and months and years”.

How to Create a New Habit

  1. Pick one new, easy habit you can do once a day
  2. Don’t start right away
  3. Create a vow
  4. Create a space
  5. Set a trigger & a reminder
  6. Start with a Minimum Viable Habit
  7. Focus on enjoying the habit
  8. Practice mindfulness
  9. Watch your Mind Movie
  10. Reflect and journal
  11. A daily practice
  12. Increase gradually

How to Quit a Bad Habit

  1. Don’t attempt a quit until several successful new habit changes
  2. Track your habit
  3. List your triggers
  4. List your needs
  5. Come up with replacement habits
  6. Use techniques you’ve learned
  7. Gradual change vs. cold turkey
  8. Learn to recognize urges as they arise
  9. Form the right mindset
  10. When you fail, get back on track and don’t let it derail you

 

Shout out to samuelthomasdavies.com for doing this written summary

 

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