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Interview with Zen Habits’s Leo Babauta

c. Leo Babauta

                                    Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta was a very different person in 2005. He was 70 pounds heavier, a chain smoker, huffing and puffing to a job he hated. He was in serious debt and he had no time for his wife and three kids. Even when he did, he preferred to just veg out, because he was so spent. He was miserable and he knew it. He also knew that to get out of his misery he would have to make some changes, let go of some deeply ingrained habits that he had developed as security blankets. This was perhaps the scariest thing.
 
I am an avid reader of Zen Habits. I always get something great out of his posts. His posts talk about manageable, simple things that I can actually do to great effect. He is finishing his latest book about changing habits, Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. Let me tell you, there is no one more suited. He is the poster boy for changing habits. He has done it!


Always unconventional, he is crowdfunding his book. His book will not be sold in stores or on Amazon. It will only be available via Kickstarter.


This week I had the awesome opportunity to interview Leo.


Everyone wants to make changes. Few can stick with those changes. In your book, you share some of your tips on how to make change last, through a process called mindfulness.


First off, can you explain what exactly “mindfulness” is?


Leo: In the book, I compare mindfulness with a spotlight: usually we go through our lives not really aware, not seeing the present moment, not noticing our thoughts. Mindfulness is simply shining a spotlight on all of that, so that we’re aware of what’s happening. It takes practice to remember to do that, but when you do remember, you can see the resistance in your mind to change, you can see your rationalizatons and urges, you can feel when you’re resentful or frustrated. If you can’t see any of that, you can’t change it. Mindfulness also helps me to appreciate more about each moment, and to enjoy the moment more fully.


Leo, everyone can relate to where you started. There are many of us who are in debt, hate our jobs, could lose a few pounds, start an exercise program. We all WANT to make change. We know we SHOULD make a change, but just can’t. I know for me, I can have the best of intentions, but I either forget, because the habits are so ingrained, or give up because it’s too difficult.


But you actually did it! You overcame all of the really “impossible” obstacles, quitting smoking, drinking, overcoming debt, etc.


Many people get overwhelmed because they know they need to make a lot of changes, but you didn’t make all of these changes at once. You say you started by making just one change. You started by quitting smoking and gave it all you had. Once you slayed that dragon, you moved on to the next. Tell us about that. How did you decide which one to take on first? How did you deal with the tough parts, the cravings, the fidgeting, the bad moods?


Leo: Well, I did try to change a bunch of habits all at once, but that wasn’t working for me. I kept failing. So I decided to just try one, and pour all my energy and focus into that. I chose quitting smoking because I thought it was the worst thing I was doing and I really wanted to change it. I don’t recommend that as a first habit change, though — choose something easier. But yes, I did have to deal with cravings, bad moods, and very strong resistance. What helped was mindfully watching the urges arise, and then not acting on them. I also learned to cope with stress in other ways (other than smoking), by breathing, meditating, taking a walk, doing some pushups. I also learned to call on other people when I was having a hard time, and to distract myself from the urges when necessary, to delay action on the urges until they went away. Finally: I learned not to believe all the negative self-talk that I found myself doing.


Get the book!
Personally, I am trying to finish a few writing projects that I am struggling to find time for. After a full day of work, I just want to nap and veg out. I have been setting two hours a day that all I can do is go to my office and write. It’s just that so many other things seem to vie for my attention then. Its all too easy to postpone my writing time for something “quick” [and necessary] like unloading the dishwasher, checking email/voicemail, etc. Before I know it my two allotted hours have passed…again.


Leo: Yes, exactly! We think of the productive work as this big block of time, a huge task we need to get done, but the email or dishwasher are quick tasks that seem much easier. So we do the easy and put off the huge chunk of work until later. What if instead, we just saw the writing as an easy task — something you can do in a couple minutes. “Just start writing” should be the task you think of … and then, once you start, maybe you’ll want to continue!


You talk about relaxed productivity. I love that. I know few things get done when we are running around like chickens with our heads cut off, but if we breathe through it. It all gets done. I work at Starbucks and when it’s really busy, I know I can get it all done if I just move a little slower, breathe through the steps. Unfortunately people usually want me to move faster. They don’t realize that if I rush around they’ll have to wait until I fix my mistakes. There are several jobs like mine, where if people don’t see you running around, they think you aren’t taking it seriously or are being lazy. They don’t realize that the less you are in panic mode, the more productive you will be.


It’s the same with habits. If you are taking on too much at once, you are not setting yourself up for success. You will quickly become overwhelmed. How did relaxed productivity help you with your habit changes?


Leo: That sense of urgency, which is created in our own minds, becomes a mental habit that we have a hard time getting out of. When you rush through one task, you are suddenly looking for the next one, and then the next, and it’s neverending. What I’ve found useful is to slow down, focus on one task, give it some space, loosen up my tightened mind. When I finish that one task, I try to give some space before starting the next task (when I remember).


Has this helped with my habit changes? Well, it’s important to give the habit its own space as well … if we just see the new habit (let’s say doing a workout) as something to rush through before you do your next task, it won’t have any focus, and you won’t enjoy it. Instead, treat this new habit as an event, something worth giving your attention and time to, something to be relished.


These are Buddhist concepts, but it is possible to practice mindfulness and Zen without being Buddhist, right? There are things that parallel with Christianity, for instance. Things like impermanence and leaving attachments sound very much like Christian concepts as well.


Leo: Yes, the ideas of impermanence and non-attachment are fairly widespread, and you don’t have to be a part of any religion, really, to try them out. It’s obvious that our time here on earth is fleeting and limited, and so life itself is impermanent. Nothing lasts, everything changes. It’s how we deal with that impermanence that determines our happiness. And so non-attachment is simply a way of dealing with impermanence — if everything changes, don’t be attached to one state. And with practice, it works really well.


I love how you always talk about being grateful for the moment. You don’t necessarily mean, Yay, I’m encountering hardships, but being grateful for the experience and the corresponding lessons. Can you talk about some obstacles you faced when you were conquering habits, and how you dealt with them?


Leo: I’ve faced so many obstacles! From not wanting to do the habit today, to feeling guilty if I missed, to not trusting myself to stick to a habit, to opposition from other people in my life to my changes. Actually, my entire book is about how to deal with these obstacles … but in brief:


Have there been instances where people in your life have responded negatively or uncomfortably to your changes?


Leo: Oh, definitely. I’ve had family members who were resentful when I tried to eat healthier, or people who mocked my quitting smoking, believe it or not. Probably the most negative reactions we’ve gotten is from becoming vegan, and unschooling our kids. We’ve learned that other people will be resistant to change, and we have to learn how to handle that in stride. We try to deal kindly and gently with other people like that, and to slowly educate them or at least get them to understand a little. Slowly, though, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are more supportive.


Are there any habits you wanted to but haven’t changed?


Leo: Sure, lots … I’ve been inconsistent with meditation, and I’ve quit language learning about 5 times. That’s OK — we’re all learning! I try not to be too hard on myself, but learn from my mistakes.


You are selling your new book on an unconventional platform. Can you tell us how we can get it?


Leo: I thought it would be fun to cut out the middle man, and sell directly to my readers. So you can only buy the book on Kickstarter: the Zen Habits book. This will help fund the printing of the book, and you can also get it in digital format (Kindle, PDF, iPad, web) and even be a part of webinars and a coaching program if you choose the higher reward levels.


     Thank you so much, Leo!

      You can always read Leo’s stuff at https://www.zenhabits.com

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Interview With Dr. Michelle, Naturopathic Doctor, Extraordinaire

dr. michelle

Dr. Michelle, c. Charlotte Natural Wellness

Our society is comfortably numb. We are overmedicated, for sure. You say you are uncomfortable? There are lots of chemicals that may or may not treat your symptoms that medicine companies [not doctors, mind you] will happily sell to you for thousands of dollars.

There is a medicine for almost every minor discomfort under the sun. The more addicted you are, the better off they are. Medicine companies are making billions of dollars. I stopped watching TV long ago, but I remember I couldn’t watch for any length of time without being pummeled with an antidepressant ad or worse, a Viagra ad coming on. Magazines aren’t safe either.

That’s why it was very refreshing to meet a doctor who wants to first and foremost solve things without drugs, but isn’t afraid to use them when necessary.

I met Dr. Michelle Dillon at my church. I was really stoked to find out what she does. She is a Naturopathic Doctor at Charlotte Natural Wellness. Her passion is working with mothers, who are probably the most stressed out people in the world. She should know, she’s a mother of three.

First of all, is there a difference between homeopathic, naturalistic, there are a lot of words people throw around. Are they all the same?

Dr. Michelle~No. Homeopathic remedies, I would say, fall into the same category as natural medicines. The difference is that homeopathic remedies are produced differently, are diluted multiple hundred times vs. natural medicines are just a vitamin, herb, or combination.

She said the differences between homeopathy and traditional practice are, that traditional medicine prefers to treat symptoms while homeopathy advocates a preventative healthy lifestyle which encompasses the whole person.

My own personal moment of clarity came when I found out that anxiety is a gut issue, not a psychological issue. This really resonated with me. I know that I can get really grumpy when I’m hungry, or am sick to my stomach. Also anxiety is known to manifest itself in the gut, constipation, diarrhea, what have you. [All the digestion aid medicine ads started to make sense].

There is a percentage of serotonin that is made in the gut It’s like 60 – 80 percent of serotonin, which is the happy hormone or neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut. If you have weak digestion, if you have chronic diarrhea you are not absorbing everything, it’s going to definitely affect your moods. A lot of health issues are stemmed in the gut.

~Anxiety, I find a large correlation with irregular blood sugar. So when your blood sugar is really low, your body will kick in norepinphrine, the stress hormones to help increase the blood sugar, but in the process it increases your anxiety as well. It’s a lot of things…There is never just one answer. There are so many components to it and it’s different for everyone.

What do you say to people who think that homeopathic medicine is new agey. To people who would never consider seeing a homeopathic doctor or yoga or meditation. I remember there was a time when I thought that was something only hippies did, and there are some who consider meditation just dangerous.

I do encounter nay sayers – but most of the time if they feel that way they will not call me in the first place!

I think meditation is good; It’s just what are you meditating on? Because I’m actually working on a CD for Christian mediation; like just meditating on scripture. The Bible uses meditation frequently…It says whatever your thoughts are constantly thinking of, that’s what you’re meditating on. So, yes, I think there are some meditations that are kind of new agey, creepy and weird, but a lot of meditation is just bringing your thoughts to something that is calming and restful and focusing on positive things instead of all the crazy in your life. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. A lot of new agey stuff…there’s no harm in it.

My boyfriend is a yoga teacher. And until I met him I had never tried yoga, but it really does help you relax. I can tell a huge difference after I practice. Now I wouldn’t be able to give it up.

yogadownload.com is great. They just has a thing on Groupon, where you could have a whole year and then you could just do it whenever you want. You can do it on your phone. It comes in handy when you don’t have a lot of time to go to a class.

Are you taking any supplements?

No…Actually I did just start taking something I heard from Dr. Oz. It’s a teaspoon of ginger, a teaspoon of lemon juice and a half teaspoon of honey. You are supposed to take it three times a day. I’ve been doing it inconsistently. But it seemed to work. I’m going to keep trying it though.

I’m sure not going too long without eating will help with anxiety and supporting your adrenal glands, like adaptogenicherbs; Kava KavaCalifornia Poppy. These all help with anxiety and stress.  A lot of people turn to alcohol, but there are some herbs you can turn to as well. Which sounds kind of bad, you know, Turn to herbs, no? [laughs] The proper kind, the legal kind, like Valarian or Kava to take that edge off.

And these are herbs you can get at the grocery store?

Yeah, you can get them at Earthfare, a Vitamin shop. You want to make sure you read the label that it’s filtered for any contaminants, cause some of the herbs can be high in arsenic or heavy metals or pesticides. Make sure it’s by a good company, that it proudly states that they filter it or they investigate any impurities. Because not all supplements are created equal. They’re like Oh, let’s get the cheap kind. Most of the cheap ones have no medicinal value. You’re just wasting your money or you’re even contaminating yourself. Like the big popular one now is Centrum. And Centrum is high in copper and tin. And tin is neurotoxic. People spend big money to get that out of their body and you’re paying, like nothing, to get it in.

Thank you so much, Dr. Michelle!

Dr. Michelle Dillon is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor at Charlotte Natural Wellnesswho is an expert in relieving fatigue, allergies, headaches, women’s issues, and a variety of other imbalances without medicine, if possible. 

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