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Q&A: author Leo Babauta

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | NOVEMBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Leo Babauta is the creator and writer of the website Zen Habits. His website is ranked one of the Top 25 blogs, and Top 50 websites in the world, with more than a million monthly readers. A husband and father of six, Babauta writes about simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment. He has authored many e-book and Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change will be his first physical printed book— all backed through Kickstarter. His fundraising campaign will continue until Dec. 17, though Babauta reached his goal of $44,700 on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Daily Iowan: Why are you funding your new book through Kickstarter?

Leo Babauta: For me, it's more of an experiment as an author and a self-publisher. I have been published through a real book publisher, I have sold e-books on Amazon and on my site, but I want to see what it's like to print a real, beautiful limited edition book and get it into the hands of the people who back it through this crowd funding thing. Instead of them just buying a book from me and the transaction is over, this is something that we believe in and want to back. And if they really want to back it, I'm going to print more of them and get it out to more people. But this is kind of my way of finding out whether this is important to people.

DI: You talk a lot about change, the biggest thing you talk about is that first, small step. For college kids, and young adults, how would you recommend beginning to change?

Babauta: I struggled a lot with change throughout my twenties into my thirties, and I couldn't figure out how to make the change and I finally figured out what works is if you have a ton of changes you want to make, pick one. Just do one at a time.

Because change is hard and we reduce our focus and chances when we do a lot of them. So do one, and make it as small as possible. I called it the minimal, viable change. If you think you want to exercise for thirty minutes a day, go out and run or walk for two minutes.

What's important in the beginning is creating the habit of doing it. So if you do that for about a month, you now have the habit of exercise and you can expand that and gradually increase over time, and that really makes a difference. The third thing is to add some kind of social component. So have a partner or go for a walk with a friend, or a run with a friend, or have an accountability group you have online on Facebook or something, and that really helps you stick to things when there is resistance, because the resistance is going to stop you.

DI: Procrastination is also something that inhibits change. How would you recommend overcoming procrastination?

Babauta: I use mindfulness as a tool, watch what's going on, following your procrastination. The urge to go check Facebook or email, right? So just sit there and watch the urge, and what I've found is, this urge doesn't have as much power over you. So if you just watch it arise and go away, you can go back to writing.

One thing I've done is an un-procrastination session. An un-procrastination session is saying, 'For the next ten minutes I am not going to allow myself to follow the urge to procrastinate.' You have this container that you're not going to allow procrastination in, and if you see yourself wanting to run, just say, 'My ten minutes are not up, I need to stick to it.' And at the end of the ten minutes, give yourself a break. You'll find as you do this you're going to get better and better at it, and it gets the ball rolling and you feeling good about yourself, which is important.

DI: Mindfulness is something not quite a lot of people know what it is. Why would you say mindfulness is important in our everyday lives?

Babauta: What [mindfulness] really is, is shining a spotlight onto the darkness that is going on in our heads. Usually we are looking out here, and what is going on in here [minds] is controlling us, without us knowing it. So we have these fears, these urges to procrastinate and these doubts about ourselves, this desire to run away from discomfort.

All this is going on inside our heads and if we don't shine a spotlight on it, it will overpower us. So shining the spotlight on it allows us to remove the power, and see what's going on, and start to think rationally with that.

DI: What is going to be the primary focus of the book? Why should other people back this?

Babauta: This book is for anyone that struggles: struggles with making habit changes, struggles with procrastination, struggle with major life changes, struggle with illness, or some kind of loss in your family. We all face that at some point or another.

I've struggled myself and I am an example of how you can overcome that, so this book is a practical guide to dealing with those struggles in our lives. It guides you, one step at a time, to making habit change and I think it's a really important thing, to learn how to overcome these struggles and how to make change in your life, and deal with changes in your life.

This book is a practical guide for doing that, and I think it's going to give people hope to see a path to a better place … I have this fun thing in the book that people can do with their friends. It's called the Zen Habits game, a game for habits. You basically try and do a habit for a week, based on certain points for certain things, and you also can set an embarrassing consequence.

So if you get zero points, your friends can throw a pie in your face or something like that. You pick that consequence, but you try to not get that pie in your face. Habit change can be hard, but it also can be fun if you do it with a lot of people. So this is a way to get yourself motivated and to make changes together with people who will support you.


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