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By Leo Babauta

In the last week, two separate men told me they fantasize about leaving everything behind and living on a mountain.

I can relate to this fantasy, because I’ve had it myself — live a simple life, away from the chaos and burden of this crazy world.

What we (and many others) crave is not really the mountain, but freedom. Simplicity and space and the liberating feeling of freedom.

We think if we simplify and let everything go and get our lives free of the burdens, we’ll feel free.

But what I’ve found is that getting rid of everything and living a simple life doesn’t necessarily give you that freedom. You’ll find a way to experience life as burden and trapped. That’s because we create the feeling of burden and trappedness for ourselves. It’s not the external circumstances, but something we create with our minds.

A teacher a few years ago gifted me with a liberating idea: find the freedom in your current life, without having to change a thing.

And I’ve found that it’s completely possible. And also that I forget to do it, a lot!

If you’re interested in playing with this, you can try it now. In this moment, can you find a freeing of freedom? Can you experience this moment as if you were living a simple burden-free life on a mountaintop? Can you create this feeling of freedom for yourself right now?

It’s a relaxing of the mind, a feeling of openness and liberation, of joy and space. And we create it.

If you can do that, try this practice:

  1. In anything you do today and for the next few days, try to remember to practice creating freedom. You might be washing a dish, answering an email, talking to someone, driving, anything.
  2. Notice in the moment the feeling of burden and closedness that you’ve created for yourself.
  3. See if you can create a feeling of freedom without changing what you’re doing externally.
  4. Enjoy this joyous feeling of freedom!
  5. And repeat, all day long.

What is it like to live freedom without having to change anything? This doesn’t mean you never change anything externally, but it means you’re liberated from having to do so.

Important Post

For the last few years, I’ve had an idea for a satirical self-help article called, “The Productivity Secrets of Adolf Hitler.” The article would feature all the popular self-help tropes—goals, visualizations, morning routines—except expressed through the exploits of Hitler.

“Hitler starts his day at 5 AM each morning with a quick round of yoga and five minutes of journaling. With these strategies, he’s able to focus his mind on his highly ambitious goals.”

“Hitler discovered his life purpose in a beer hall in his 20s and has since followed it relentlessly, thus infusing his life with passion and inspiring millions of others like himself.”

“Adolf is a strict vegetarian, and makes sure to find time in his busy schedule of genocide and world domination to explore his creative side: he sets aside a few hours each week to listen to opera and paint his favorite landscapes.”

I know that I would find the article hilarious. But that’s because I’m a sick, twisted fuck. But in the end, I’ve never quite worked up the courage to write the thing, for clear and obvious reasons.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that a) a bunch of people would get offended and devote themselves entirely to ruining my week with annoying emails and social media screeds, b) the satire would go over a bunch of people’s heads and they’d think that I was actually a Nazi, and c) some awful publication somewhere would run the headline, “Bestselling author outs himself as alt-right neo-Nazi” or some shit and my career would be over.

So, I’ve never written the article. Call me a coward. But it remains unwritten.

This bugs me a little bit because I think satirizing Hitler’s incredible productivity and influence perfectly embodies a point I’ve long made about the self-help world: achieving success in life is not nearly as important as our definition of success. If our definition of success is horrific—like, say, world domination and slaughtering millions—then working harder, setting and achieving goals, and disciplining our minds all become a bad thing. 

If you remove the moral horrors from Hitler, on paper, he’s one of the most successful self-made people in world history. He went from being a broke, failed artist, to commandeering an entire country and the most powerful military in the world in a matter of two decades. He mobilized and inspired millions. He was tireless and shrewd and intensely focused on his goals. He arguably influenced world history as much as anyone who has ever lived.

But all of that work went toward demented, destructive aims. And tens of millions of people died horrifically due to his twisted, misguided values.

Therefore, you cannot talk about self-improvement without also talking about values. It’s not enough to simply “grow” and become a “better person.” You must define what a better person is. You must decide in which direction you wish to grow. Because if you don’t, well, we might all be screwed.

A lot of people don’t realize this. A lot of people obsessively focus on being happy and feeling good all the time—not realizing that if their values suck, feeling good will hurt them more than help them. If your biggest value in the world is snorting Vicodin through a swirly straw, well, then feeling better is just going to make your life worse.

When I wrote my book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, pretty much the entire book was really just a sneaky way to get people to think about their values more clearly. There are a million self-help books out there that teach you how to better achieve your goals, but few actually question what goals you should have in the first place. My aim was to write a book that did just that.

In the book, I intentionally avoided getting too deep into what good/bad values are—what they look like, and why they work or don’t work—partly because I didn’t want to push my own values onto the reader. After all, the whole point of your values is that you adopt them yourself, not because some dude with an obnoxious orange book cover told you to. But if I’m being honest, I also didn’t get too deep into defining values because it’s an incredibly difficult topic to write about well.

So, this article is my attempt to finally do that. To talk about values. And not just what they are but why they are. Why we find certain things important, what the consequences of that importance are, and how we can go about changing what we find important. It’s not a simple subject. And the article is quite long. So enough of me blabbing, let’s get on with it.

What are your personal values?

Every moment of every day, whether you realize it or not, you are making a decision of how to spend your time, of what to pay attention to, of where to direct your energy.

Right now, you are choosing to read this article. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing, but right now, you are choosing to be here. Maybe in a minute, you decide you need to pee. Or maybe someone texts you and you stop reading. When those things happen, you are making a simple, value-laden decision: your phone (or your toilet) is more valuable to you than this article. And your behavior follows that valuation accordingly.

Our values are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave.

This is critically important—because we all have a few things that we think and say we value, but we never back them up with our actions. I can tell people (and myself) until I’m blue in the face that I care about climate change or the dangers of social media, but if I spend my days driving around in a gas-guzzling SUV, constantly refreshing my newsfeeds, then my behaviors, my actions tell a different story.

Personal Values - people walking

Actions don’t lie. We believe we want to get that job, but when push comes to shove, we’re always kind of relieved that no one called us back so we can retreat to our video games again. We tell our girlfriend we really want to see her, but the minute our guy friends call, our schedule magically seems to open up like fucking Moses parting the Red Sea.

Many of us state values we wish we had as a way to cover up the values we actually have. In this way, aspiration can often become another form of avoidance. Instead of facing who we really are, we lose ourselves in who we wish to become.

Put another way: we lie to ourselves because we don’t like some of our own values, and we, therefore, don’t like a part of ourselves. We don’t want to admit we have certain values and that we wish we had other values, and it’s this discrepancy between self-perception and reality that usually gets us into all sorts of trouble.

That’s because our values are extensions of ourselves. They are what define us. When something good happens to something or someone you value, you feel good. When your mom gets a new car or your husband gets a raise or your favorite sports team wins a championship, you feel good—as though these things happened to yourself. The opposite is true as well. If you don’t value something, you will feel good when something bad happens to it. People took to the streets cheering when Osama Bin Laden was killed. People threw a party outside the prison where the serial killer Ted Bundy was executed. The destruction of someone perceived as evil felt like some great moral victory in the hearts of millions.1

So, when we are disconnected from our own values—we value playing video games all day yet believe we value ambition and hard work—our beliefs and ideas get disconnected from our actions and emotions. And to bridge that disconnect, we must become delusional, about both ourselves and about the world.2,3

Optional Gray Box of Doom: Why People Who Hate Themselves Hurt Themselves

Just as we either value or devalue anything in our lives, we can value or devalue ourselves. And much like people celebrating when Ted Bundy got fried, if we hate ourselves as much as people hated Ted Bundy, then we will celebrate our own destruction.

This is what people who don’t loathe themselves don’t understand about people who do: that self-destruction feels good in some deep, dark way. The person who loathes themselves feels that they are morally inferior, that they deserve some awful thing to compensate for their own wretchedness. And whether it’s through drugs or alcohol or self-harm or even harming others, there’s an ugly part of themselves that seeks out this destruction to justify all of the pain and misery they have felt.

Much of the work of the self-esteem movement in the 70s and 80s was to take people from self-loathing to self-loving. People who love themselves don’t get any satisfaction from harming themselves. Rather, they get satisfaction from taking care of themselves and improving themselves.

This love for self is crucially important.4 But it is also not sufficient in and of itself. Because if we only love ourselves, then we become self-absorbed twats and indifferent to the suffering or issues of others.

Ultimately, we all need to value ourselves but also something above ourselves.5 Whether it’s God or Allah or some moral code or cause, we need to value something above ourselves to make our lives feel as though they have meaning.

Because if you make yourself the highest value in your life, then you will never feel the desire to sacrifice for anything, and life will feel purposeless and just chasing one high after another.6,7 In other words, you just become a narcissistic assface… and then get elected president.

And no one wants that…

You are what you value

We all know that story of the middle-class, educated person with a decent job who has a mini “freak out” and decides to take a week or ten days (or ten months) and cut all contact with the outside world, run to some remote and obscure part of the globe, and proceed to “find themselves.”

Hell, maybe this has been you at some point. I know it’s been me in the past.

Here’s what people mean when they say they need to “find themselves”: they’re finding new values. Our identity—that is, the thing that we perceive and understand as the “self”—is the aggregation of everything we value. So when you run away to be alone somewhere, what you’re really doing is running away somewhere to re-evaluate your values.

Here’s how it usually plays out:

  • You are experiencing a large amount of pressure and/or stress in your day-to-day life.
  • Due to said pressure and/or stress, you feel as though you are losing control of the direction of your own life. You don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. You begin to feel as though your own desires or decisions no longer matter. Maybe you want to drink mojitos and play banjo—but the overwhelming demands of your school/job/family/partner make it so that you feel as though you’re not able to live out those desires.
  • This is the “self” you feel you have “lost”—a sense that you are no longer the one navigating the ship of your own existence. Rather, you are blown back and forth across the sea of life by the winds of your responsibilities—or some other deep-sounding metaphor.
  • By removing yourself from these pressures and/or stressors, you are able to recover a sense of control over yourself. You are, once again, in charge of your own day-to-day existence without the interference of a million external pressures.
  • Not only that, but by gaining separation from the turbulent forces of your day-to-day life, you are able to look at those forces from afar and have perspective on whether you actually want the life that you have. Is this who you are? Is this what you care about? You question your decisions and priorities.
  • You decide that there are a few things you want to change. There are things you believe you care about too much and you want to stop. There are other things that you feel you should care about more and promise to prioritize them. You are now constructing the “new you.”
  • You then vow to return to the “real world” and live out your new priorities, to be your “new self”—especially because you now have a bitching tan.

This whole process—whether done on a secluded island, a cruise ship, out in the woods somewhere, or at a raucous self-help seminar—is essentially just an escapade in adjusting one’s values.

You leave, get perspective on what in your life matters to you, what should matter more, what should matter less, and then (ideally) return and get on with it. By returning and changing your priorities, you change your values, and you come back “a new person.”

Values are the fundamental component of our psychological make-up and our identity.8 We are defined by what we choose to find important in our lives. We are defined by our prioritizations. If money matters more than anything, then that will come to define who we are. If getting laid and smoking J’s is the most important thing in our life, that will come to define who we are. And if we feel like shit about ourselves and believe we don’t deserve love, success, or intimacy, then that will also come to define who we are—through our actions, our words, and our decisions.

Any change in self is a change in the configuration of our values. When something tragic happens, it devastates us because not only do we feel sadness, but because we lose something we value. And when we lose enough of what we value, we begin to question the value of life itself. We valued our partner and now they’re gone. And that crushes us. It calls into question who we are, our value as a human, and what we know about the world. It throws us into an existential crisis, an identity crisis, because we don’t know what to believe, feel, or do anymore. So, instead, we sit at home with our new girlfriend, a.k.a., a bag of Oreos.

This change in identity composition is true for positive events as well though. When something incredible happens, we don’t just experience the joy of winning or achieving some goal, we also go through a change in valuation for ourselves—we come to see ourselves as more valuable, as more deserving. Meaning is added to the world. Our life vibrates with increased intensity. And that is what is so powerful.

Why some personal values are better than others

Before we get into exactly how to change our personal values, let’s talk about which values are healthy and which values are harmful. In my book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I defined good and bad values in the following way:

Good values are:

  1. Evidence-based
  2. Constructive
  3. Controllable

Bad values are:

  1. Emotion-based
  2. Destructive
  3. Uncontrollable

Evidence-based vs Emotion-based Values

If you’ve paid any attention to this website over the past five years, you’ve seen a constant theme: overly relying on our emotions is unreliable at best and damaging at worst.9 Unfortunately, most of us rely too much on our emotions without even realizing it.

Psychological research shows that most of us, most of the time, make decisions and are inspired to action via our feelings,10,11 rather than based on knowledge or information.12 Psychological research also shows us that our feelings are generally self-centered,13 willing to give up long-term benefits for short-term gains14, and are often warped and/or delusional.15

People who lead their lives based on how they feel will find themselves perpetually on a treadmill, constantly needing more, more, more. And the only way to step off that treadmill is to decide that something matters more than your own feelings—that some cause, some goal, some person, is worth occasionally getting hurt for.

That “cause” is often what we refer to as our “purpose” and finding it is one of the most important endeavors we can take to enhance our health and well-being. But our purpose should be sought not merely through what feels good. It must be considered and reasoned. We must accumulate evidence supporting it. Otherwise, we’ll spend our lives chasing a mirage.

Constructive vs Destructive Values

This one sounds simple, but will start to scramble your brain if you think about it enough.

We don’t want to value things that harm ourselves or others. We do want to value things that enhance ourselves and others.

Duh.

Now, determining what is actually spurring growth and what is actually harming us can get complicated. Busting your ass at the gym technically damages your body—but it also causes you to grow. Taking MDMA can actually enhance your emotional growth in some circumstances16,17, but if you take it every weekend to numb yourself, then you’re probably causing more emotional harm than good. Having casual sex can be a means to enhance personal confidence, but also a means to avoid intimacy or emotional maturity.

There’s a blurry line between growth and harm. And they often appear as two sides of the same coin. This is why what you value is often not as important as why you value it. If you value martial arts because you enjoy hurting people, then that’s a bad value. But if you value it because you are in the military and want to learn to protect yourself and others—that’s a good value. Same exercise, different values. Ultimately, it’s the intention that matters most in deciding which ways the scale falls.

Controllable vs Uncontrollable Values

When you value things that are outside your control, you essentially give up your life to that thing.

The most classic example of this is money. Yes, you have some control over how much money you make, but not total control. Economies collapse, companies go under, entire professions get automated away by technology. If everything you do is for the sake of money, and then tragedy strikes and all of that money is eaten up by hospital bills, you will lose much more than a loved one—you will lose your perceived purpose for living as well.

Money is a bad value because you can’t always control it. Creativity or industriousness or a strong work ethic are good values because you CAN control them–and doing them well will ultimately generate money as a side effect.

We need values we can control, otherwise our values control us. And that’s no bueno.

Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, building something new, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.

Some examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominating others through manipulation or violence, fucking more men/women, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.

How to Reinvent Yourself

Below is perhaps one of the most inspiring TED Talks I’ve ever come across. It’s not filled with mind-blowing ideas. You’re not going to get huge takeaways that you can immediately run off and implement in your own life. The guy isn’t even that great of a speaker.

But what he describes is absolutely profound:

Daryl Davis is a black musician who has traveled and played blues shows all over the US south. In his career, he’s inevitably run into a number of white supremacists. And rather than fight them or argue with them, he chose to do something unexpected: he befriended them.

This might sound insane. And maybe it is. But here’s what’s more insane: he’s convinced over 200 KKK members to give up their robes.18

Here’s what most people don’t get about value change: you can’t argue someone out of their values. You can’t shame them into valuing something different (shaming them actually often has the opposite effect—they double down).19

Nope, value change is far more subtle than that. And perhaps without even realizing it, Daryl Davis appears to be a master at it.

Step 1: The value must fail.

Davis intuitively understood something that almost all of us do not: values are based on experience. You cannot argue someone out of their values. You cannot threaten them to let go of their most deeply-held beliefs. That just makes them defensive and even more resistant to changing themselves. Instead, you must approach them with empathy.

The only way to change someone’s values is by presenting them with a contrary experience to their value. The KKK members held deeply racist values and instead of attacking them and approaching them as an adversary—in a way that would reflect their values back to them—Davis chose to approach them in the completely opposite way: as a friend. And that friendliness and respect caused the KKK members to call everything they knew into question.

To let go of a value, it must be contradicted through experience. Sometimes this contradiction happens by taking the value to its logical conclusion. Too much partying ultimately makes life feel empty and meaningless. Pursuing too much money ultimately brings greater stress and alienation. Too much sex gives you chafed thighs and rug burns on your knees.

Other times, a value is contradicted by the real world. Many KKK members that met Davis had never known a black person, much less one they respected. So, he simply met them and then earned their respect.

Step 2: We must have the self-awareness to recognize that our values have failed.

When our values fail, it’s terrifying. There’s a grief process that takes place. Since our values constitute our identity and our understanding of who we are, losing a value feels as though we’re losing a part of ourselves.

Therefore, we resist that failure. We explain it away and deny it. We come up with rationalizations.20 Davis said that for months, his KKK friends would struggle to justify their friendship with him. They would say things like, “Well, you’re different Daryl,” or create elaborate justifications for why they respected him.

When our values fail, we have two knee-jerk justifications: 1) the world sucks, or 2) we suck.

Let’s say you spend your entire life chasing money. And then, in your 40s, you accumulate a good amount. But instead of diving and swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, this money doesn’t bring you happiness, it brings you more stress. You have to figure out how to invest it. You have to pay taxes on seemingly everything. Friends and family members continuously approach you looking for help or handouts.

But instead of considering that the value sucks, that maybe you should care about something more than money, most people instead blame the world around them. It’s the government’s fault because they punish wealth and success. The world is full of moochers and lazy people who just want a handout. The stock market is a racket and impossible to win.

Personal Values - Scrooge McDuck

Others blame themselves. They think, “I should be able to handle this, therefore I just need to make even more money and everything will be alright.” They get caught on a treadmill of constantly pursuing their value more and more until they become a sort of extremist.

Few people stop to consider that the value itself is at fault. That valuing money got you into this situation, therefore there’s no way it can get you out.

Step 3: Question the value and brainstorm what values could do a better job.

In a previous post, I described how the process of maturity is replacing low-level, material values, with higher-level, abstract values. So instead of chasing money all the time, you could chase freedom. Instead of trying to be liked by everyone, you could value developing intimacy with a few. Instead of trying to win everything, you could focus on merely giving your best effort.

These higher-level, abstract values are better because they produce better problems. If your primary value in life is how much money you have, then you will always need more money. But if your primary value is personal freedom, then you will need more money for a while, but there might be some situations where you need less money. Or, where money is completely irrelevant. You’ll still have problems, that’s inevitable, but the insatiable need for more money won’t be one of them.

Ultimately, abstract values are values you can control. You cannot control if people like you. But you can always control whether you’re being honest or not. You can’t always control if and when you win or not. You can always control whether you’re giving your best effort. In a career, you can’t always control how much you’ll get paid. But you can always control if you’re doing something you find meaningful.

Step 4: Live the new value.

So, here’s the catch: sitting around thinking about better values to have is nice. But nothing will solidify until you go out and embody that new value. Values are won and lost through life experience. Not through logic or feelings or even beliefs. They have to be lived and experienced to stick.

This often takes courage. To go out and live a value contrary to your old values is fucking scary. I imagine the KKK guys were terrified to spend time with a black man. It probably freaked them out when they realized they liked him and respected him. They probably avoided him and put up walls between themselves and him.

We do the same thing in our own lives all the time. It’s easy to want authentic relationships. But it’s hard to live them. It’s scary. We avoid it. We come up with excuses for why we have to wait, or we’ll do it next time. But the “next time” inevitably ends up being another failure and another pain.

Step 5: Reap the benefits of the new value.

But when you do summon the courage to live out your new values, something crazy happens: it feels good. You experience the benefits. And once you experience those benefits, not only does it become easier to continue living the new value, but it sounds insane that you didn’t do this sooner.

It’s like the high you get after a good run. Or the relief you feel after telling someone the truth. Or the liberation you feel when you stop being a racist fuck and hand over your Klan robe to a nice old black man.21

Like jumping into a cold pool, the terror and shock passes and you’re left with a wonderful sense of relief, and a newer, deeper understanding of who you really are.

Examples: A List of Personal Values

If you’re having a little trouble coming up with values that are important to you, here’s a list of values grouped by categories.22

  • Grounding – Our most basic, fundamental views of the world.
    • Affection
    • Curiosity
    • Food and Shelter
    • Kindness
    • Maintenance 
    • Obedience
    • Physical Functioning 
    • Self-Restraint 
    • Sensuality
    • Wonder
    • Safety
    • Sensuality 
    • Wonder
  • Family – Our fundamental relationships to ourselves and to others. 
    • Belief
    • Belonging
    • Caretaking
    • Discipline
    • Duty
    • Economic Security 
    • Fairness
    • Honesty
    • Legacy
    • Loyalty
    • Patience 
    • Playfulness 
    • Recognition 
    • Respect
    • Self Sacrifice
    • Self Worth 
    • Stability
    • Tradition
  • Management – Establishing and maintaining stability in our lives. 
  • Relational Awareness – Individual responsibility for developing yourself and determining the quality of relationships with others. 
    • Acceptance
    • Analogy
    • Balance
    • Being Present 
    • Choice 
    • Commitment 
    • Courage
    • Creativity
    • Diversity
    • Empathy 
    • Independence 
    • Intimacy
    • Learning
    • Listening
    • Openness 
    • Personal Growth
    • Questioning 
    • Reflection
    • Risk
    • Search For Meaning 
    • Trust
    • Well Being
  • Systems Awareness – How you interact within the context of groups and society at large.
    • Beauty
    • Collaboration
    • Community 
    • Development
    • Dialogue 
    • Empowering Others 
    • Equality 
    • Exploration
    • Flexibility 
    • Innovation 
    • Integrity
    • Interdependence 
    • Intuition 
    • Partnership
    • Service 
    • Simultaneity 
    • Strategy 
    • Sustainability
  • Expansion – Future-oriented aspirations and goals.
    • Altruism
    • Detachment
    • Global Enfranchisement 
    • Human Rights
    • Inspiring Others 
    • Mind-Body Integration 
    • Nonviolence
    • Planetary Ecology 
    • Reconciliation 
    • Simplification 
    • Spirituality

If you value this article, you will probably value my book, Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope. Values are one of the core themes of the book and I go much deeper in explaining them and how our psychology is constructed around them. You can order the book here.

Footnotes

  1. According to Social Identity Theory, we can mark ourselves as members of a group by supporting the group we are in, or by attacking the other bad groups to show we don’t like them.
    Tajfel, H., Turner, J. C., Austin, W. G., & Worchel, S. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. Organizational Identity: A Reader, 56, 65.
  2. This disconnect, where are values, beliefs, or ideas are in conflict with our actions and behaviors can be called cognitive dissonance.
  3. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford University Press.
  4. Neff, K. D., & Knox, M. C. (2017). Self-Compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (pp. 1–8). Springer International Publishing.
  5. Bronk, K. C., Hill, P. L., Lapsley, D. K., Talib, T. L., & Finch, H. (2009). Purpose, hope, and life satisfaction in three age groups. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 500–510.
  6. You can get caught on what is called the ‘hedonic treadmill’, achieving success, just to quickly jump back on the treadmill to pursue the next goal. And on the treadmill rolls, in an endless cycle.
  7. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. N. (2009). Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill: Revising the Adaptation Theory of Well-Being. In E. Diener (Ed.), The Science of Well-Being: The Collected Works of Ed Diener (pp. 103–118). Springer Netherlands.
  8. Hitlin, S. (2003). Values as the Core of Personal Identity: Drawing Links between Two Theories of Self. Social Psychology Quarterly, 66(2), 118.
  9. Lerner, J. S., Li, Y., Valdesolo, P., & Kassam, K. S. (2015). Emotion and Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1), 799–823.
  10. In Everything is Fucked, I called this the Feeling Brain, and it is the driver of our Consciousness Car.
  11. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has also written about the emotional ‘driver’ in his book The Happiness Hypothesisand there are also parallels to the explanation of System 1 and System 2 in Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman’s, Thinking Fast and Slow.
  12. Quattrociocchi, W., Scala, A., & Sunstein, C. R. (2016). Echo Chambers on FacebookSSRN Electronic Journal.
  13. Being self-centered is natural, but can be taken to an extreme with some not great consequences.
  14. This bias for short-term gains over a long-term future is called hyperbolic discounting in behavioral economics, and it is a problem for humans in the modern era.
  15. Cognitive biases make us see reality in predictable but fundamentally flawed ways.
  16. Sessa, B. (2019). A Review of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 7.
  17. In fact, John Hopkins University recently opened a research center to study the effect of psychadelics on mental health problems, like depression.
  18. Daryl Davis is the man.
  19. Tangney, JP, Wagner, PE, Hill-Barlow, D, Marschall, DE & Gramzow, R 1996, ‘Relation of shame and guilt to constructive versus destructive responses to anger across the lifespan’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 797–809.
  20. Cognitive dissonance and rationalization, back at it again.
  21. Seriously, one cool dude.
  22. These come from the Kairios Values Perspective Survey.

<3self-improvement

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I’d like to speak to any of my readers who have supported the current U.S. president in the past, or who are planning to do so again this year. Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to understand where you’re coming from.

I wrote and rewrote this post at least three times before figuring out what I wanted to say. I knew that if I insulted you, you wouldn’t listen—which is fair, because I don’t tend to listen to people who insult me either.

One of you wrote to me recently to say that I must think everyone who supports Trump is a moron. But that’s not true, I replied. I think a lot of them know exactly what they’re getting with their candidate.

And that, to me, is the greatest problem and what I find the scariest of all.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, however. As I said, I’ve been trying to understand why so many people would support someone with the clear intention of destabilizing the world. So first, I thought I’d try to take a step back and think about it more. To start, I went back four years and what seems like a lifetime ago.​

Why Vote for Trump in 2016? A Few Actual Reasons

What, I wondered, would cause a version of myself to be attracted to such a candidate—could there be anything?

In fact, I realized there could be several things. One, there was a destructive approach to his strategy as a first-time candidate that I respected. He came into a traditional party structure and refused to follow its rules, somehow managing to impose his own and getting everyone else to follow along. There’s no doubt about it: this was a remarkable feat.

Under the right circumstances, being an outsider can convey power and status, especially when the insider choices are so undesirable. If you’re frustrated with the political process in America (and there are many good reasons to be), then I can see why it’s attractive to encounter a successful candidate who disregards nearly all of it.

Similarly, I tend to admire people who question norms and protocol. Should the U.S. president have to spend his time hosting state dinners and welcoming sports teams? Must he pretend to respect his opponents in the primary, even if everyone knows they all hate each other?

Clearly, there’s a line between bravado and carnage. But on the surface level, someone who says “Screw this, I’m going to do it my way” has a certain appeal.

So I get it! At least some of it.

Furthermore, if you believed that things “aren’t the way they used to be” and along comes a candidate who makes a direct appeal to the past instead of the future, then I understand how some of those pieces clicked into place for you. Mitt Romney was honest when he told Michigan that its auto manufacturing jobs weren’t going to come back—and he lost the election. Trump promised them otherwise, even though he had no ability to make it happen—and he won.

Lastly, perhaps you supported him four years ago as a protest vote of sorts. You didn’t like Hillary, for whatever reason, so you thought “I’ll just add to the number of votes for the other side, even though we all know he won’t actually win.”

Voting for Hillary was the obvious choice for me, but if I a) didn’t like her, and b) thought she was going to win no matter what I did, then I understand the protest vote logic.

Of course, much to everyone’s surprise—including the president himself, it seems—he actually won! Russia helped, and so did James Comey, but I don’t deny the fact that a lot of people in the right swing states truly believed in him. The phenomenon was real.​

What We’ve Learned in Four Years

But now it’s time for the reality check. That was then, and now here we are four years later. For everyone who said, “Let’s give him a chance,” ask yourself: how did that turn out? For anyone who thought he would grow to be presidential and stop bullying people online all day, what happened?

Again, you need to acknowledge reality. This is an administration that has separated families and put immigrants in cages. On a daily basis, the president uses a social network to insult not only his enemies, but eventually every single person or group he encounters. No one is safe, not military veterans, the disabled, or even his own revolving cabinet of advisers.

Above all, this is an administration that refuses to acknowledge facts or tell the truth. Over and over, the president and his allies lie directly, and his supporters (maybe you?) don’t seem to mind.

As the saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

If you have children or grandchildren, how do you explain to them that the president of the United States makes payoffs to porn stars? (And do you remember that the greatest moral controversy of Obama’s eight years in power was when he wore a tan suit to a press conference?)

ThinkAgain

Making America Worse Than Anyone Thought Possible

One of the great ironies of the president’s agenda—if such a thing exists, since so much of it is driven by personality instead of ideology—is that the promise to “make America great again” has actually made America much worse off.

Back in 2016, Trump campaigned with rhetoric about how the world was laughing at the U.S. because we were “weak.” I travel a lot, or at least I did before the pandemic—and I can assure you that the world thinks very differently about American leadership now than it did four years ago.

It’s not a positive change. Our allies are shaken, and our enemies are emboldened. Why do you think Russia has invested so much in trying to destabilize the U.S.? They achieved a tremendous victory four years ago, and they’re on the verge of doing so again.​

It’s Time to Correct a Big Mistake

So here’s what it comes down to: if you voted to support Trump last time, you made a big mistake.

Sorry, but it’s true. The consequences of the 2016 election have been severe and enduring. The pandemic was always going to happen, but it didn’t have to be this bad. Conflict in society is inevitable, but we don’t need to reach the point of complete collapse.

Still, here we are. We all make mistakes. No one can change the outcome of the last election, but so much more is at stake for the next four years. No matter what you thought about this president until now, there’s still time—a very short amount of time—to redeem yourself and walk away.

For my readers who are more progressive, it’s important for you to show up too. Don’t give in to the lie that this election doesn’t matter, or that because Bernie Sanders (or whoever you preferred) didn’t win the nomination, it’s not worth it. You need to do your part!

But I’m not writing this letter to you, because you don’t need my encouragement.

Instead, I’m writing to anyone who is thinking of supporting the president’s reelection, whether you’ve followed my work for a while or have just stumbled upon this communication.

Here’s what I would say to you, as strongly as I can: please don’t vote for Trump this time. You need to reconsider, and change course while you still can.

If you’ve never voted for a Democrat before, this is the time to jump ship.

If you have to go against the wishes of your family, so be it. Now is the time to be courageous.

I’m not asking you to donate to the Biden campaign or join a political party (I’ve never belonged to one myself). What I’m saying is that his candidacy is the only path forward to prevent further breakdown of civil society.

One candidate in this election is a decent, competent person. His biggest weaknesses are that he seems a little out of touch and he talks too much. The other candidate is a sexual predator who has encouraged armed militias to support him if he doesn’t win the election. He has deployed the National Guard to tear gas peaceful citizens for the sake of a photo op. Why is this a hard choice?

MaskVote

So for anyone who’s ever thought, “America should be better than this,” here’s what you need to do. First, register to vote (there’s still time in most states) and request a mail-in ballot if you can.

Second, talk to your parents and grandparents who support Trump. If they’re getting their news from Facebook, that’s half the problem—tell them what’s really going on, show them the evidence from actual news sources, and encourage them to change their minds.

International readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Most of you know that the whole world is watching this election, and the outcome will affect your lives in many ways. Far-right governments are on the rise worldwide, and they gain strength when they see that a leader in the richest country in the world can get away with this.

So if you’re not in the U.S., encourage your American friends to do the right thing—tell them that you don’t hate them if they voted differently (or didn’t vote at all) before, but now’s the time for them to step up and make a change.

Last but not least, for anyone who says “Wow, Chris, I like your other work, but I don’t like you being so political”—the reality is that our lives are always political. I have been writing about things that matter since I started my blog in 2008, and if anything ever mattered, this is it.

I don’t care if you unsubscribe from my newsletter or stop reading my blog (and there’s no need to send me a message letting me know), but I do care that you decide where you stand in this critical time of history.

Simply put, you need to choose a side. Please choose the right one this time.​​

Yours in democracy,

Chris Guillebeau

P.S. To my fellow artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and creators: guess what? You need to take a side, too. Attempting to be neutral in this situation is another mistake. Be brave and speak up!

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Images: 1, 2, 3

anyone love this post as much as i do

By Leo Babauta

I’ve talked with several people lately who have tasks lists from the floor to the ceiling, and it just overwhelms them. They’re not alone — I can relate, and lots of people have this problem.

If we’re fairly organized, our task list has everything we could possibly want to do on it, and it’ll get longer and longer.

That’s the good scenario — most people don’t have everything on the list, and the tasks are scattered across different systems and lists, in email inboxes and messaging apps, in browser tabs and pieces of paper, and in their heads.

Either way, it eventually gets so overwhelming that many people will give up whatever system they’re doing and start afresh, because the old system wasn’t working. In truth, they just didn’t have a way to deal with the overwhelm.

So what can we do?

It turns out, several key things.

Get Clear on Priorities

Let’s call this Step 0 — if you’re already clear on what matters to you, you’re ahead of the game.

But think about this: if you don’t know what matters, how can you focus on anything? Everything will seem urgent and important, and you’ll be scattered in lots of directions.

If you know what is most important, you can focus on that. The rest can wait. It’s like if you’re a doctor in a hospital, and one person needs a life-saving heart operation, and a hundred people have ankle sprains. You’ll focus on the heart operation, and let the ankle sprains wait for a few minutes.

Get clear on what matters to you. Make a list. Write out why. It’s worth spending 30 minutes on this.

Get clear on what’s important this week. And what you need to focus on today.

If you can get clarity on what matters & what to focus on, it will make you so much more effective than jumping around from task to task as if you were putting out a thousand small fires.

Change How You Relate to Your Tasks

Think about your list of tasks right now — does it feel stressful? This is a sign that you think of them as burdens, as something stressful, or as a potential way that you’re going to let people down or fail or look stupid. Or maybe all of the above.

How I’ve often related to my tasks is something like, “If I don’t do this task, I will be deficient and let people down.” If I have a list of tasks that’s full of these kinds of potential failures … of course it will be stressful!

How do you relate to your tasks?

Is there a more empowered relationship you can create?

Some examples:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

These are some examples from my life, but they don’t have to be your relationship — what empowered way would you like to relate to your tasks?

Find that, and practice it daily.

A Short List

I find it helpful to have a long list of tasks, separated by area (work, personal, finances, etc.) and project, if applicable. But this long list can’t be done today.

So I create a short list, of just stuff I’m going to do today. I call it  “Today’s Joy List”. I try to keep it to 5-6 things, though often I give in to the temptation to add more joy opportunities than I actually have time for. 🙂

If I have meetings, those are on the list, and the more meetings I have, the fewer tasks I allow myself to put on the list.

What things have to be done today?

What things would be a really powerful use of your day?

Just focus on those. The rest can come later.

Full Focus

With a short list of high priority tasks, and an empowered relationship to those tasks … the world is yours!

The final thing I would say is to focus on one thing at a time. If you can practice this regularly, the overwhelm starts to lessen.

The opposite of this is constant switching between tasks. Doing quick emails, working on a task, but 30 seconds into that task you go check your favorite website or messages, etc.

Full focus is picking something important to work on, and then clearing everything else away. Make this the only thing in front of you. Notice the urge to go do something else, breathe, then bring focus back to the task.

Let it be your whole world. Be grateful to have this task in front of you, this opportunity to serve people you care about, this opportunity to play and be curious, this opportunity to learn and find joy and delight.

Now that I’ve shared these ideas of working with an overwhelming task list … how would you like to practice?

Thanks big self-improvement fan here

Stop Asking Couples When They Are Having Kids

“So, when are you having kids?” my aunt asked me soon after I got married. At that point, I had just been married for a few months. I didn’t even know *if* I wanted kids, much less *when* I was having them.

Caught off guard, I replied matter-of-factly, “I have not decided if I want to have kids.” Little did I realize that I would spend the next hour listening to stories of women who put off having children until it was too late, as well as women who had difficulty conceiving for various reasons, with the implicit message being that I was going to regret it if I didn’t hurry and work on producing babies.

This would be my life for the next few years, where I would receive constant questions around “When are you having kids?” from relatives and random people, followed by a routine, almost ritualistic pressurization to have kids.

Lest you think that it ends after having a child, it doesn’t. The people who previously tried to tell you to have “just one kid” when you were indifferent to the idea, will now tell you to have a second one, along with reasons why you should do so. It seems like this questioning process never ends.

The problem with asking people “When are you having kids?”

I understand why people like to ask this question. Find a partner, settle down, get married, and have kids. This is the life path that we’ve been taught to follow since young. This is the life script that we’ve been told is *the* way of life, that would bring us ultimate joy and happiness.

This is especially so in the Chinese culture, where having kids is seen as the ultimate goal in life. There are even sayings built around this notion, such as 生儿育女 (shēng ér yù nǚ), which means to birth sons and raise daughters, and 子孙满堂 (zǐ sūn mǎn táng), which means to be in a room filled with children and grandchildren, used to signify the epitome of happiness.

Multi-Generation Chinese Family at the Park

A multi-generation family, often used to depict a vision of happiness in the Chinese culture

So after you get married, people automatically assume that you should have kids. “When are you having kids?” they ask, somehow expecting you to give them a straight answer to what is really a personal question.

The problem with this question is that it’s rude. It’s presumptuous. It’s also insensitive.

1) There are many different paths to happiness

Firstly, everyone has their own path in life. Some people want kids, while some don’t. Some think that having kids is the greatest joy in life, while some see them as a burden. At the end of the day, having kids isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are significant ups and downs that come with having a kid, and for some people, the ups do not justify the downs. For these people, it may simply be better to remain childless, rather than having kids just to fit in or to fit societal expectations, and then set their lives up for unhappiness. To assume that everyone should have kids, just because you think that having kids is great and important, is rude and disregards that person’s own preferences in life.

For example, Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring woman and humanitarian who chose not to have kids, but has instead dedicated herself to her personal life purpose of serving the world. Oprah hosted her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, founded a leadership academy for girls and became a mother figure to the girls in attendance, and started her own television network. These are things that most do not get to do in their lifetime. Through the years, she has inspired millions and become a champion for people worldwide. As she says,

“When people were pressuring me to get married and have children, I knew I was not going to be a person that ever regretted not having them, because I feel like I am a mother to the world’s children. Love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if a child came from your womb or if you found that person at age two, 10, or 20. If the love is real, the caring is pure and it comes from a good space, it works.” — Oprah[1]

Is she not being a responsible or purposeful person or woman by choosing not to have kids? Definitely not. In fact, I dare say that she lives a much more purposeful life than many in the world, including some people who choose to have kids.

There are many famous celebrities who have chosen not to have kids as well.

  • Chelsea Handler is a talk show host who chose not to have kids. She has said honestly in interviews that she doesn’t have the time to raise a child, and she doesn’t want her kids to be raised by a nanny.[2][3]
  • Betty White is an actress and comedian who chose not to have kids because she’s passionate about her career and she prefers to focus on it.[4]
  • Ashley Judd is an actress and politican activist who chose not to have kids because she feels that there are already so many orphaned kids in this world. To her, her resources can be better used to help those who are already here, and I respect her for such a noble choice.[5]

And then there are others, such as Cameron Diaz, Chow Yun Fat, Marisa Tomei (the actress for Peter Parker’s aunt in Tom Holland’s Spider Man film series), Renée Zellweger, and Rachael Ray. These people choose not to have kids for different reasons, such as because they’re already pursuing paths deeply meaningful to them, because they do not wish to be tied down with a child, or because they just don’t feel a deep desire to have kids.

Not having kids has not prevented these people from being happy in life, and there’s no reason to assume why people must have kids in order to be happy. People need to stop painting this narrative that one must have children in order to be happy. There are plenty of people with kids who are unhappy, and plenty of people without kids who have found inner fulfillment in life through other ways. There is no one path to happiness, and people need to realize that.

2) You may well cause hurt and pain

Secondly, you never know what others are going through.

Some people may want kids, but maybe they are facing fertility struggles. For example,

  • Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan went through three miscarriages before having their firstborn.[6]
  • The Obamas had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF.[7]
  • Friends star Courteney Cox had a total of seven miscarriages before having her daughter, as she has a MTHFR gene mutation which raises the risk of miscarriage-causing blood clots.[8]

About 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant,[9] while 13.5% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, with the figure rising as the maternal age rises.[10]

For some people, the journey to conceive is fraught with deep pain, struggle, and losses as they experience miscarriages, undergo round after round of invasive fertility treatments, and wait in hope of the double blue lines on their pregnancy kit each month.

And then there are people who cannot have their own biological children due to issues with their reproductive system, which could have been there since birth.

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and family

Barack and Michelle Obama had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF

While you may be think that you’re being helpful or funny by asking people when they’re having kids, your question may well trigger hurt and pain. As Zuckerberg said,

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”[6]

3) Not everyone is in a place to have kids

Thirdly, having kids is simply not a reality for some people due to their circumstances in life.

Some people may lack the financial resources to have kids, a reality in a place like Singapore.

Some people may be facing problems with their marriage, in which case their priority should be to work on their marriage, not to have kids.

Some people may be so burdened with caring for their dependents that they are unable to consider kids, at least not at the moment.

And then there are people facing chronic health issues, issues that you don’t know and can’t see, which make pregnancy difficult due to the toll it would take on their body.

4) Some couples could still be thinking

And then there are people who are neutral to the idea of having kids, like myself when I just got married. These people need time to think it through, because having kids is a permanent, lifelong decision with serious consequences. There’s no reason to assume that having a kid should be an automatic decision, because you’re bringing a whole new life into this world. This is a decision that will change your life forever, as well as the life of the child you’re bringing into the world.

For those yet to have kids, they need the space to figure out what they want, not have people breathe down their neck day in and out about having kids.

My experience

For the initial years after I got married, I just wasn’t thinking about kids. Firstly, having a child is a lifelong decision, and I wanted to enjoy married life with my husband before diving into a decision as serious as that. Secondly, both my husband and I were genuinely happy spending the rest of our lives with just each other — we didn’t feel the need to have kids at all, not in the way my culture obsesses about it. Thirdly, my husband was dealing with some personal problems, and I was fully focused on supporting him through these. These were issues that we needed to sort through before considering kids, if we were to want kids.

Yet I kept getting nudges to have kids, even though I never said anything about wanting them.

“So, when are you having kids?”

“This person’s baby is so cute, isn’t it? Why don’t you hurry up and birth a baby?”

It was as if I was some vehicle, some production machine to have kids, where my own views in the matter didn’t matter. The most frustrating thing was that I kept getting this question, while my husband would never get it (as a man), not even when we were in the same room together.

It was as if my sole reason for existence as a woman was to have kids, and until I had them, I was regarded as unworthy or incomplete.

The decision to have kids

Yet the decision to have children is a personal one. It is also a complex one. It is a decision that will permanently change the lives of the couple in question.

It is not a decision that one should be pressurized into making because their mom wants to carry grandchildren or their aunt wants to play with kids. It’s a decision that a couple should make because they genuinely want to nurture another life.

Because when a child is born, the people bugging others to have kids aren’t the ones who will be caring for the baby 24/7, whose lives will be set back by years (even decades) as they care for a new life, or who will be responsible for every decision concerning the child for the next 18-21 years.

It will be the couple.

And the people who aren’t ready, who were pressured into having kids because they were told that it was the best thing to do, may have to deal with regret as they are stuck with a decision they cannot undo. Because there are people who regret having kids, and we need to be honest about that. These people regret, not because of the child’s fault, but because they were simply not ready to have kids, be it financially, emotionally, or mentally. Unfortunately, the children are the ones who eventually suffer, from living in dysfunctional households to dealing with issues of violenceabuse, and anger.

We need to recognize these realities, and not make parenthood seem like it’s some magical band-aid that solves a lack of purpose or life’s pressures. Things don’t magically get better because people have kids; existing problems usually worsen as having a child puts a big strain on a couple’s lives. Digging into people’s plans to have kids, and pressurizing them into one of the biggest life decisions they can ever make, will only stress them out and perhaps push some into depression. As this redditor shared,

“I have a friend who went through 6 years of miscarriages and fertility treatments before the doctors figured out the problem and she had her son. The nosy ladies at her work and her in-laws questioned her constantly. The depression from that made it harder for her to conceive.”

Stop asking couples when they’re having kids

So, if you tend to ask others when they’re having kids, it’s time to stop that. It’s rude, insensitive, and it disregards people’s privacy. It’s also none of your business.

The reality is that if people want kids, they will work on having kids. They don’t need you to prod them about it.

If they don’t have kids, it’s either because

  1. they really don’t want kids,
  2. they are not in a position to consider kids right now, or
  3. they want kids but they are facing some struggles.

For people in group (c), they aren’t going to share such deeply personal experience over some afternoon coffee chat, and certainly not by you asking, “When are you having kids?”

The best thing you can do is to give people their personal space. Understand that having kids is a personal decision, and people don’t have to share or explain anything. Respect that others have their right to privacy. Respect that people are individuals on their own path, and this path may not involve having kids. And this doesn’t make them incomplete or lesser in any way.

Instead of asking women or couples, “When are you having kids?”, talk to them like how you would a normal person. There’s no reason why conversations should suddenly revolve around childbearing after marriage; it’s not like a person’s identity changes to revolve around having kids. A person still has their own passion, goals, and dreams. Talk to them about what they’ve been doing. Understand their interests. Know them as a real person, not some random being here to fulfill society’s checklist.

If you’re really interested in someone’s plan to have children, you can simply ask, “Are you and your partner planning to have kids?” If they wish to share more, they will do so. If they give a generic answer, then take the hint and move on.

Ultimately, having kids or not doesn’t change a person’s self-worth. A woman is complete with or without kids. A marriage doesn’t need kids to be deemed complete. Having kids should be a conscious choice, not a result of external pressure. Don’t judge people by whether they have kids or not. Some people will have kids, and some people will not have kids. Some will have kids early, while some will have them later in life. All of these are different paths and there’s nothing wrong with them.

For Me

For my husband and I, we eventually had a few discussions and decided to have a baby, and had our baby girl this year (2020). 😊 Yet other people’s comments and nudges to have children didn’t make me want to have children; it only annoyed me and made me want to avoid these people, because having a child is a personal decision between me and my husband, that has nothing to do with them. It was after we had the space to settle down and enjoy married life without kids, and took some time to actively pursue our goals and interests, that we finally felt ready to try for a kid last year.

In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. There are other things that I’m working on, other things that are happening that I look forward to sharing in time to come. Sending lots of love to you, and remember that whatever life challenge you’re facing, you have it in you to overcome it. I’ll talk to you guys soon! 🙂

biggest method fan !

With quarantine limitations still in order here in the US, spending so much time at home has brought up some interesting challenges.

Even though I’ve worked from home for two years, this period of time has taught me that working from home can easily blur the lines between work and self-care.

When your home is also your office, bringing work into your self-care space can create some hazy boundaries. This makes it hard to a) find the motivation to work and/or b) switch off from work.

Working from home can blur the lines between productivity and self-care. Here's how to balance work and self-care when you work from home.

When I was working in an office, I found it easy to mentally check out from work as soon as I left the office at 5pm. But now, I’ll catch myself making dinner at 5 then going back to my computer while I eat (so bad, I know).

Working from home means the same place where you eat, relax, and socialize becomes associated with work.

If you’re on regular Zoom calls, your work meetings are now in your sacred space. It’s almost like inviting your co-workers into your living room for a meeting.

To add to this, your typical forms of escape from work might not be available with quarantine limitations still in effect. For example, the yoga studio, the gym, your local pool, and the coffee shop where you would catch up with a friend.

The places and activities that you associate with self-care aren’t available right now. This can make it hard to disengage from work while simultaneously making you feel like you’re resting too much.

In this post, I’m sharing a few tips that have been helping me to set boundaries so I can better balance work and rest from home.

How To Balance Work & Self-Care When You Work From Home


Working from home can blur the lines between productivity and self-care. Here's how to balance work and self-care when you work from home.

1. Create a ritual to bookmark the start and end of the day

When working in an office, your commute might have been your signal that the workday was starting or ending. Working from home makes it a little harder to keep a similar structure.

A friend of mine said during the first few weeks of working from home, she would roll out of bed at 7:55am to check in on her computer at 8am. She was enjoying getting the extra sleep knowing she didn’t have to commute.  After doing this for a while, she started to crave some time to herself before work. She began getting up around 7 instead to make time for a cup of tea and journaling, which gives her a chance to get ready for the day ahead.

Be intentional with how you want to start and end your day. Think of the time before and after work like your wind-up and wind-down time.

At the end of the day, do whatever you can to get out of the work mentality. Turn off your computer screen, close your laptop, and get away from your desk. I also find that going for a walk around the block at the end of the workday helps to decompress, and it almost feels like a mini-commute (but much more enjoyable). 


2. Set a time to stop working and checking notifications

When you’re spending most of your time at home, it’s tempting to check your phone or computer after hours. Since they’re always in close proximity, you might find it hard to resist checking in if you find yourself with nothing to do. 

Create a boundary to help you maintain this separation between work and rest time. That might look like not checking emails before 8am or after 5pm, or setting app limits from 6pm until 8am the next day.

On the weekends, it can be tempting to work when you have the resources right in front of you. If you want a work-free weekend, try putting your laptop out of sight, keep your office door closed (if you have an office), and delete your email app from your phone until Monday.

The thing is that you have to set these boundaries for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.


3. Separate your spaces for work and self-care

Try to create separate spaces, even if they’re small, to separate your work and self-care areas. For example, I have a corner in my living room that I’ve dedicated as my workout spot (which just means it’s where I put my workout mat). It’s not very big, but it’s enough space to do what I need to do.

Another example is sticking to doing work from a dedicated area. If you’ve been using your couch or bed for both work and relaxation, it might be sending confusing signals to your brain. I find that when I work on the couch, I’m less productive and it’s harder to concentrate (even if I’m not watching anything on TV). My back and legs also tend to hurt more because my coffee table isn’t tall enough to work from. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with working from these spots sometimes, but it’s better to have a desk and chair set-up that you use exclusively for work.

If you don’t have the space to separate your work and non-work life, try to create different moods in your home.

For example, you can use scents, sounds, and textures (from clothing) for different times of the day. You could use one essential oil during work and another one for after work. Or you can wear form-fitting (but still comfy) clothes during work and change into your comfiest, loose clothing afterward. Subtle changes like this can create the illusion of separation when you don’t have much space to work with.


More Tips to Balance Work and Rest

If you feel like you’re working too much and not getting enough rest, check out these posts:


If you feel like you’re resting too much and not being productive at home, check out these posts: 


Share your thoughts! How have you been maintaining boundaries while working from home?

The post How To Balance Productivity and Rest When You Work From Home appeared first on The Blissful Mind.