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How do we choose what to focus on?

We can get caught up in indecision and overthinking things, and decision-making can be really difficult.

In this season, Leo asks you to play along and focus on a project where you'll work with fear and resistance. But how do you choose a project?

We'll take a look not only at how to choose a project, but how to choose anything. And how choosing from the heart (or gut) can be a powerful thing.

Topics Covered

  • The project Leo has chosen to work on in this season: his grandmother's book
  • Some ideas for projects you might choose for this season
  • How to deal with having multiple things you want to do — and how we get caught up in choosing the wrong thing
  • How we are choosing nothing when we don't choose
  • The consequence of choosing multiple things at once, instead of one thing
  • The consequence of choosing one thing, but then doing it because you should
  • The real power of choosing something, devoting yourself and pouring your full heart into something
  • The distinction between choosing & deciding
  • The practice of choosing from the heart
  • Calming your fears
  • Learning to let your heart have what it wants, and what happens when we do that


Welcome to the Zen Habits Podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.

And welcome. This is episode one of season one of the Zen Habits Podcast. And last episode, last week was episode zero, where we introduced the season. So now we're actually going to kick things off and get into it. And this episode is really about choosing. Choosing a project to focus on, to work with something meaningful.

And so we're going to look at choosing a project, but specifically or more generally, we're going to talk about choosing and the distinction between choosing and deciding. So we're going to look at that and I'm going to talk about some common questions about choosing a project. Before we get into all of that, I want to talk about why we're talking about this.

So in this season, as I mentioned in the episode zero, we are asking you to actually play along, put some skin in the game. This is where real transformation, real change, real learning takes place is when you don't yet know how to do it. And yet you still are willing to play. Willing to put things into action.

And so for the season, we're looking at facing resistance and fear and uncertainty specifically around your purpose, work, things that are meaningful to you. And so, you know, we can broaden the scope of that to be anything that's meaningful to you. And we'll talk more about that, but choosing something. To be doing over the course of the season or the course of the next four months is going to be really important.

And if you decide not to play along, that's okay. I I'm hoping you'll still get something out of this, but if you actually choose to play along, you will get so much more, not just like twice as much or, you know, three times as much, but I think magnitudes more. And that's true of anything. If you're playing along, if you're putting some skin in the game, if you're actually putting things into action before you know how to do it.

That's when you're actually going to create some real change and transformation. Okay. So choose a project. So I've gotten a lot of emails from people who are asking about what kind of project to choose. And it ranges anywhere from, I want to, you know, improve my health and fitness at one level. I have you know, the next thing in my career that I want to be doing.

And all of that is great. So you can choose anything. As I mentioned, that the choice that I'm making is to, to write, to finish writing my grandmother's book. Now, to be honest, I've already worked on it a bit. So. It's a lot, you know, there's some progress, but I haven't done any work this year. I think the last time I worked on it might've been last year, late last year.

So there's some resistance there and it's something that's meaningful and I really want to actually get it to done. So that's what I'm working on right now. And or I'm not working on it yet, but I will be working on it during the season. So that's my project that I'm choosing, but for you, it could be anything.

So let me list a handful of ideas. Just so that you know, there's a range and you're not limited to these ideas. So one is I know, talk to someone who wants to start a website and a online presence around drawing cartoons. And so he's putting that into practice and that's what he's going to be doing.

And this is someone who recently lost their job. And so they're in a space of, ah, I've lost my job and that can be heartbreaking and disappointing, but it can also be A new space to enter into where you're creating something new. You have an opportunity to finally take on the thing that you've been wanting to take on.

And so that's one choice. But another person wants to finally write a book. They they're 70 something years old and they they actually had two things they were looking at. One is improve my health and fitness. And the other one is finally write a book. All the things that I've learned in my 71 years.

And I think that's amazing. So health and fitness is also a good thing. If this is, if this is where you are in your life, where health and fitness is going to make a really big impact and it would feel really meaningful to be on that health and fitness journey, then choose that if you're someone who wants to reduce clutter or improve your finances or you know, what are some other common ones, be more mindful during the day and do meditation.

Great. You can change your habits. If that feels meaningful and if that will have a really big impact on your life, that could be what you choose. But for others, I'd really love for you to create something. You know, I'm going to create a book. I'm going to create art. I'm going to create music. I'm going to create videos and put them on YouTube.

I'm going to create an organization. I'm going to create change in the world. I'm going to create connection amongst people. So that's all great. Or maybe you're creating and you want to actually launch it, put it out in the world. That might be the place where your project goes, or you're going to market it if you're resisting marketing.

So these are all places that. You could be working on. So even if you've already written the book, what's the next project beyond that? What else, you know, does it have to be creating? Does that have to be a business? No, like it could be something that you're working on at work. You know, I want to take my sales to the next level.

I want to improve the revenue of. I want to launch a new internal project that's going to help people in the company with mental health. It could be something you're doing at home with your family. You know, I talked to someone recently who wanted to create some rituals with her family specifically around cleaning up things that you want to do.

You might do individually, but you could also bring it together and create a ritual around cleaning and, and creating connection and bonding together, having fun together. So these are, these are some ideas. And so I'm asking you right now to choose something that leads me to the next thing I wanted to talk about today, which is how to choose.

So let's say you're someone who has Four or five possibilities, maybe 10. You might be someone who has lots of possibilities and you're like, well, I don't know how to choose. I want to do all of them. Great for this exercise. I invite you to just choose one and that can be really tough. We can get caught up in what's essentially fear, which is how do I choose?

What if I choose the wrong thing? If I choose this and commit to it, then am I saying no to all of these other things? And. There's nothing wrong with that fear. That is natural. And so I want to just acknowledge that that fear is there. If you're not able to choose that fear is there and what we tend to do when that fear comes up this fear, by the way, it's really good that we're looking at it right now because we get to take a look at how it plays out in our life and not just here in this moment with this particular project that I'm asking you to choose, but probably in lots of other places.

So as you take a look at this, what we're gonna look at is When you have this fear of choosing, I'm going to choose this project over that one, I'm going to choose this one over all the other possibilities, I might choose the wrong one. When that fear comes up, what do we tend to do? And so one thing that we tend to do is just not choose.

I can't choose, there's too many. That's actually a choice. We don't, aren't intentionally making it, but we are making a choice to choose nothing. And this is actually what a lot of people do. You see this for people who have a lot of things they want to do in their life, but they don't actually choose into any of them.

And so then they, you know, two years will pass five years, 10 years will pass and they've done none of them. And this is what happens. This is the consequence, the impact of not actually choosing anything. Now that's not bad. It's not like you're a terrible person for doing it. That's just. One way that this goes, and it's really good to like, take a look at that.

Another way that it goes is I decide I'm going to choose multiple things. Maybe I'm going to choose five things at once. And again, not bad, nothing wrong with that. That's like, let me see if I can actually do that. And you might actually make a lot of progress. What tends to happen when you choose a lot of things, because you can't choose one is that you spread your focus amongst all of them.

You're diffused, you're not devoted to any one thing. And then things start to fall apart. You're just like, ah, that one's not going well. And this one's not going well, and that one's not going well. And like, I knew I couldn't do it all. And so then you really, what you're, what you might be teaching yourself is.

I can't trust myself. I can't do anything hard. And there's, again, nothing wrong with that, but that's one way that it goes, and it's good to see, like, does that play out that way in your life? Another way it goes is that people will choose one, but really think, Ah, I should be doing the other ones, but I'm just going to do this because I said I would, and I have to, and I chose it, and I should.

You're doing it from that place, which is a really disempowered place. But you're all the time you have your eye on the other ones that you should be doing. And you know, the impact of that, the consequence of that is that we tend to not do our best. We're not really putting our full power into that one because we keep thinking about the other one.

Another way is that we switch between all of them and don't really put anything into any of them. And so all of these you can see is, is really lacking in the real power of choosing something, devoting yourself and pouring your full heart into something. Imagine if you put all of yourself into one thing.

What could happen? Now, I'm not saying you have to always do that, but look at that possibility and see what would happen. And that's what I encourage you to practice with here. I'm not saying you can, can't do anything else in your life for these next four months, but have one project that you're really going to devote yourself to.

Think of it as a passion project or a heart project or something that you're really going to practice focus and your full power, and then see what that's like, try a different way of doing something. So that's what I'm inviting you to do. But how do we choose? We have a bunch of things, maybe a five to 10 things, or maybe it's three, maybe it's two, but you have a number of things.

How do we choose? And so for that, I'd like to. talk to you about a distinction between choosing and deciding. Deciding is what we usually do. We think about it and we try and figure out the answer, the right answer, and then we, then we like decide this is it. But this is coming from the place of there is a right answer and really what there's a fear of when we're in deciding mode is Getting it wrong.

What if I choose, what if I decide on the wrong one? And so from that fear, we start thinking a lot. And this is where people get indecisive and they start thinking and thinking this motion. If you're watching the video version of this podcast, I'm making a circling motion around my head, which looks like I'm saying crazy.

But yeah, that actually is kind of what it, what happens is we spin around in our heads about this because there's a lot of possible possible outcomes. We don't know which one is going to lead to the best outcome and we're going to get it wrong. And so we try and think about everything. This is deciding is what happens in the head.

And it happens when we are indecisive or overthinking. And so you think about if this is something in your life, if you overthink things, if you're indecisive. And so if that's true, then you're in the realm of deciding, which is in the realm of the head, thinking, trying to get it right. This is all distinct from choosing.

Choosing is, I want to, I want to do this. This is what my heart wants, or my gut wants. It's choosing from intuition and from trusting yourself. It is not overthinking it. So it's like, if I asked you right now, would you like chocolate ice cream or strawberry? And you're like, wow, let me think about it. That would be deciding.

And so you might like make a pros and cons list. You might do risk and reward value analysis. You might do a lot of different things like that. There's a lot of logical ways to decide. The problem is that there is no right answer to strawberry and chocolate. There isn't a logical answer. There's no way for your brain to solve it.

Your brain will try to out of fear because when fear comes our brains try, our brains try to decide, try to think out the problem, try to figure out how to solve the problem of fear. And there is no answer to the problem of fear. And so the brain can't. It's an unsolvable problem. The brain will just spin and we'll put it off and we won't decide.

So choosing is Which one do I want? Strawberry or chocolate? There's no right answer. Oh, I just freaking want chocolate. And then you've choose chocolate and then you may taste the chocolate and you might choose out of chocolate later and choose into strawberry. Or I'm going to go on a search for the best ice cream in town, but you just choose and then you choose again.

And then you choose again, choosing from the heart. And this is a practice of trusting ourselves. And so this cuts through indecision and overthinking. There's no thinking needed. You don't have to think about it at all. If I ask you to choose from the heart or from the gut, from the instinct, from, from what you're feeling called to do in the world.

There isn't a right answer. You don't have to think about it. You just choose. What do you want is another way to ask it. If I trusted myself, what would I choose? And so that's the question I invite you to feel into right now, for the lack of a better phrase, feel into right this moment. Look at the things that are on the table for you to choose from as a project for the next four months.

And then ask yourself, what would I want? What would I choose if I trusted myself? And if you can feel what comes up for you and just trust what comes up and you might notice fear comes up as soon as you get an answer like, Oh, but what about, but what about, what about, I don't know if I know if I can do it.

You know, what are people going to think? These are fears that come up when we choose something. So that's on the other side of choosing. is when you choose, fear will come up. And what we want to practice is just, you know, giving a little bit of love to that fear. We can get more into that later, but for now, I really love for you just to like notice that there's fear that comes up after you choose something.

Give it a little bit of love and calm it down, like you might calm down a little kid, and then simply trust the choice. Whatever your heart chose, yeah, there's fear there, but can you just trust that choice? And then practice with it. Go forward with it. Move forward. Don't, don't overthink it. Don't think about the other choices that you're leaving behind.

You're saying yes to this because your heart wants it. This is what you want. And if you'd like to take on a choosing practice. Find the other places in your life where you're overthinking it and getting indecisive and spinning around in the deciding mode, trying to logic it out. And when you notice that practice choosing, and it could be little things, you know, strawberry versus chocolate is a good one.

Do I want to watch this show versus that show? Do I want to do this task versus that? And you just choose, choose from the heart and trust, trust whatever you choose. And you can fall on your face sometimes, and that's okay. Trust is not, not trusting that we're going to get it just right and everything's going to turn out perfectly.

But trust is that we could actually deal with whatever happens on the other side of choosing. So yeah, when something happens, just deal with it. And if you get into this choosing practice, choose this versus that. You will actually learn to trust yourself more decisions will be so much easier cause you're not deciding you're choosing and you start to give yourself what you actually want.

Do I want to do this really hard task or do I want to go eat ice cream? Ice cream seems to be a theme here. And so. You know, you might choose having ice cream over the hard task in the end. What you're really doing is you're telling yourself I can have, it's okay. I can have what I want. I give myself permission to have what I want.

And if you do this, you might actually choose a bunch of unhealthy things for a while. Not just food, but you know, like all of the things that we do that aren't necessarily the healthiest for us, but you're giving yourself what you want. And over time, you don't actually you trust that you will actually be able to get whatever you want.

And you'll want that less. And you might want to actually do something else after a while. So that's kind of the practice of choosing. You trust yourself more. You trust that you can have what you want and having what we want is something that most people that I know actually don't let themselves have, not all.

There's some people who are like, yes, I'm going to have whatever I want. And they've got a different set of problems to deal with. But for a lot of us who are looking to be disciplined and focused and on purpose, we actually don't give ourselves what we want very often. And this is a really beautiful thing is to give ourselves what we want.

And then after we've relaxed that, like, it's okay to have what we want. We start wanting other things other than the immediate gratifying ice cream or whatever it is, cigarettes or booze or drugs or, you know social media or other comforts. Okay, so that's, that's choosing versus deciding. Choose a project from the heart and then commit yourself to it.

And what that might look like until the next episode is. thinking about what do I want with this project? What does my heart want to do here? What are some of the things that I might start to take on if I was to choose into this project and how could I be fully devoted, put the full power of myself into this?

Okay. That's what I've got for you this week. Next week, we will start to get you set up with this project and actually have you pouring yourself into it. We're going to talk about structure, commitment, and rituals. Okay, thank you for listening.

If you haven't already, please subscribe to this podcast in your favorite podcast app. If you found this episode useful, please share this podcast with someone you know who cares deeply. That would be really meaningful to me. And if you'd like to dive deeper with me into this work, please check out the blog at or get in touch at [email protected]

Thanks for listening. And I hope you'll join me every podcast.

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Intro music composition: Salem Beladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz