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Let's talk about how to take your purpose project and turn it into action with focus sessions ... and how to work with the resistance that comes up.

In this episode, Leo looks at how to set up effective focus sessions, and how to embrace the resistance and fear that inevitably comes with meaningful work.

Topics Covered

  • The importance of "focus sessions" for our purpose projects
  • How to set up effective focus sessions & accountability
  • The most common obstacles that block us during focus sessions
  • How “passive resistance” works
  • How to embrace the unknown and fear that comes with meaningful work
  • The importance of not trying to eliminate fear, but working with it


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.

Hello, my friends. It's good to be here with you. In this episode, I'd like to look at focus sessions and really like diving into doing the work with our projects. So we've set up some structure and so now we have some focus sessions. That's the first thing, and then we'll talk about what starts to get in the way, what we might start to notice, what blocks us, and then how to work with that.

So, focus sessions. So we've talked about structure, and one of the things that we can do with structure is create a session where we can actually focus on the work. And I like to call them focus sessions, you can call them... Pomodoro sessions or work sessions or writing sessions, anything that you want to, but these are all ways to like, say, I'm going to focus on this one thing.

So let's say, you know, use the common example that I've been using in this previous episodes which is that I'm going to write a book. And part of that structure is, you know, I have some targets each week. I have some accountability and I created some sessions, a daily 30 minute session where I'm going to be writing my book.

And so in those daily 30 minute sessions, that's what we would like to look at, is I've set up some time, maybe I do it with others, so I jump on Zoom with a friend or a few people and we all focus on whatever we're going to focus on on mute. This is something I do at my Fearless Living Academy. If you're interested in doing that with me, I do a weekly one with people, but we also have other sessions where people just meet up and do some work together.

But however you do it, whether it's alone or with other people, you set up a session that you're going to be focusing on. And so you show up for that, and then you do the writing. Or do the work, do whatever it is you're going to do. In this case right now, I'm shooting a podcast, I'm recording a podcast.

And so this is a focus session for me, for my podcast project. So I'm actually practicing this right now. So you have the focus session and then, you know, if everything goes great, you wrote, you did awesome and we have nothing else to talk about, just keep doing that. But what typically happens is something will show up that blocks us.

So let me lay out a few ways that this goes. The first way is I set up a session. Actually, the first way is I set up no sessions. I'm like, I'm going to do this project. And then I don't actually set up any kinds of focus sessions, any work sessions to actually, you know, in the case of writing the book, I've never actually set up writing the book sessions.

That's the first one is like, we might just keep forgetting or putting it off just like. Not taking responsibility for making it actually happen. So if you set up no sessions, that's the first thing to notice. Like, that's where you are. And the possibility there is just start to block them off. So let's say you actually move past that first example, and you're like, I've set up the session, but then, you know, the day comes and you aren't actually doing anything with it.

You don't actually show up for that session. So, you know, I set it, I put it on my calendar for 10 a. m. 10 a. m. rolls around and I'm busy doing other things. I, maybe I jump on a call with someone, maybe I answer emails who knows? You know, something will come up and then I'm like, I'll do it at 1030. I'll do it at 11.

And then the day, you know, it goes by and it's end of the day. And I'm tired. And I'm like, I'll do it tomorrow. It's fine. And this is what we tell ourselves. It's fine. It's fine to push it back. We don't even say it. We just think it it's fine to push it back. That just keeps happening. And so if that's where you are, you've actually set up some sessions, but you keep missing it, then this is what a teacher of mine calls passive resistance.

You don't even notice that it's happening, you just find other reasons. You're busy, there's like crisis coming up, and then, you know, two weeks go by and you've done nothing. And so if you set up a session and you noticed day goes by and you didn't actually do that session, and the next day comes and you don't do it, well you might tend to, so you're procrastinating there, right?

You're avoiding Facing some resistance and what people tend to do from that is to like, you know, hold themselves as wrong and they've done something crappy or they will just kind of like, ah, it's fine. It's totally okay. That's, that's what I tend to do these days is just kind of like, it's totally okay, nothing wrong with that.

It's, it's no big deal, which is. Yeah, maybe better than beating ourselves up, but it's just another pattern that's showing up. Okay. So another way that this goes. So the first way is don't even schedule any sessions. Second way is I schedule the sessions, but I'm not showing up for it. I just keep putting it off.

Third way is actually show up. So I'm sitting down here, I'm intending to write, and then something's going to show up that's going to have me feeling, you know, shaky about it and wanting to Google it. Maybe I decide I'm going to take a writing course because I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Maybe I hire a coach to help me with writing, a writing coach.

Maybe I start reading, ordering ten books on Amazon. These are all good signs that something is showing up and you're like, But before I do this, I need to organize my desk. I need to get my whole life organized. You know, clean my kitchen and clear out my garage. And so you show up for the session, but then something shows up that has you looking for a way out.

Maybe you're looking for the right, right way to do it. So you do some Google search. What's the best way to write a book? What are the best writing tools? What's the best system and all of these things. We're looking for some answers here. And the reason we are looking for answers is because we are putting ourselves intentionally.

Into the space where we don't know what the hell we're doing. If you were good at it and you already knew how to do it, then it's not going to, you're not going to have this resistance. But the thing that you are choosing to do that's meaningful, it is in the unknown. Part of the reasons of why it's meaningful is because it's in the unknown.

It's gonna require you to step into the unknown, do something you don't know how to do, be a little bit shaky, put yourself out there, try something new. And that's actually really incredible, right? It's an incredible act of courage and leadership. It's shaky. And so we're in the unknown. If you're only staying in the known, it's not that meaningful.

Just doing something over and over that you already know how to do. It's, you know, you can get good at that, but it's not that meaningful. And so we have to keep pushing beyond the limits of what we know in order to really feel like we are engaging ourselves at the level of I'm really challenging myself or I'm engaging my soul is one way to put it.

So something is going to show up that has us. shaky. Maybe we're actually doing a little bit of writing, but we quickly want to go to Googling or reading about something. And maybe we check our phones, we check our emails. And so we're kind of struggling there in that space. And that's actually a really good space to be in.

You've actually scheduled the focus session. You have dealt with your passive resistance and shown up. You actually sat down and, and shown up for the, for the work, for the focus session, and now you're, you're struggling there. And what's showing up for you is resistance. Another way to put it is fear.

And that fear comes from uncertainty. The uncertainty of the unknown. And this is going to show up. It's required for the work that we're doing here. I think it's amazing. So we can actually celebrate the fact that we are in the unknown. We've put ourselves there and now we're feeling shaky. We're feeling uncertainty.

We're feeling fear. We're feeling resistance. Okay, so that's what blocks us. Now let's talk about how to work with that. So the first thing that we can do is just, first of all, just recognize that there's resistance, fear, and uncertainty there. Just, just acknowledge that it's there. We usually want to just, you know, ignore that, the fact that that's there, and just get stuff done.

And that's fine, you can get stuff done, but as long as you're shaky about this and struggling, then the opportunity is to recognize that it's there. And the where, the place that it exists isn't in the head. The head is where the thoughts are, and they're spinning around about how I need to find something else to do, or find the right answers, get the right book, get the right program, get the right tool.

That's what the head's doing, but the fear is what's driving the head to do that. The head's job is to try and solve whatever problem the fear is afraid of, but the fear is actually down here in this area. When I'm, if you're listening to the podcast, I'm pointing to my chest. By the way, I'm putting this also on YouTube, so I'm recording a video of myself so you can watch me pointing to my chest, pointing to my head.

On YouTube, but if you're listening to the audio version, you, you can touch into your chest, your torso. It's somewhere in there, in the gut area, in the heart area. And that's where fear lives. It sends messages up to the brain, figure this out. I need to figure out how to do this. In the right way, because I'm, I'm afraid of doing it wrong, but the fear is down here in the heart.

And so you might just check in right now as you're listening to this. What do you notice in that area? If you could bring some mindfulness to your torso, you might feel some constriction when you're sitting down to write the book. Fill in the blank for your project. You might feel like your chest is a little bit constricted.

You might feel some, you know nervousness, anxiety, like some kind of shakiness in your chest. Sometimes it's a lump in the throat as well. tension in the jaw. You might also notice tenderness underneath all of that in the heart. And so this is all a practice of noticing. And what we usually do is just act on these things without noticing them.

And so you can do that, but my encouragement is to drop into the body. Bring your attention, the spotlight of your mindful attention down into the heart area. Notice the constricted breathing, the constricted muscles in the, in the chest area, how the The chest feels a little bit constricted and then you might feel a little bit of shakiness and movement kind of anxious kind of movement in the chest.

And this is the brain. This is the body in fight or flight. This is what we feel when we're afraid. We're feeling resistance or uncertainty. You'll feel this too when someone criticizes you or you're in an argument. You'll feel this when someone cuts you off in traffic. You'll feel this when you were just called out for doing something wrong, or you don't have the right answer.

This is the fight or flight response that we get, and the way that we can be with that, where we can bring mindfulness and just stay in this space with that feeling, is through the breath and with a willingness to stay. And then finally with bringing an attitude of warm friendliness to whatever we meet.

So let's try through the breath first. And so we slow down the breath and let it go deeper down into the belly. You can try it right now with me.

You don't have to breathe out, but I'm making a breathing sound so you know that I'm practicing here. Just slow the breath down and have it go deeper. And you notice immediately this might even calm you down. So we're We're actually moving into the fighter from the flight or fight fight or flight mode into the kind of calmer state.

And so the breathing gives us access to that and allows us to stay here rather than needing to run away to exit in some way and ways that we normally exit is by. Trying to do something really fast and going to looking for all the answers and going to our email or social media, going to our comfort foods or whatever it is that comforts us.

But as we breathe, we don't need to run. We can just stay. So that's the first thing we can practice. The second one is just allowing ourselves to just be there just to stay a little longer. Can your attention just stay just for you know, a few more seconds, 10 more seconds, 20, 30, a minute. And as you train yourself to stay a little longer, with a real gentleness, not a forced kind of staying, but gentleness, what you're doing is you're training yourself that it's okay, that you can trust yourself, that it's not anything to panic about.

So you're actually increasing your capacity to stay and be with the fear, resistance, and uncertainty. And then finally, the attitude is a warm friendliness. So warm friendliness is like, instead of like, Oh, this sucks, and I need to get away from it, or Ah, I can't do this, it's too hard, and it's too painful.

A warm friendliness is just like this attitude of it's okay that you're here. It's okay that I'm feeling afraid. It's all right. And you can think about this as like you, you know, same way you would be with a friend who is, who is afraid, or a little kid who's scared. You're just going to give them this warm, loving, kind of gentle, friendly, kind of attitude.

Like, it's okay to be afraid, and I'm here with you. I've got you. And so that's what we're practicing as an attitude. The practice really is to breathe deeper and stay with the feelings that are in the body and then bring a warm friendliness. Now if you have some kind of bodily trauma that prevents you from staying in the, keeping your attention in bodily sensations.

And then the idea is just to focus on the breath and the warm friendliness, but warm friendliness towards whatever you're doing right now is like, I'm feeling really shaky about this and I'm just going to be friendly with myself and the work that I'm doing. Bring attention to the breath and maybe even awareness instead of in the body out into the room wider than yourself.

And so this is like a wider awareness that spreads out into the room around you. Bigger than ourselves and allows us to feel a little more calm and that we're staying here in this moment. So this is something you can practice when you show up for the focus session and you're feeling some shakiness.

Now, you don't want to do that for the entire 30 minute or one hour focus session. You want to actually try and get some writing done. But if you've done this for a minute or so, You might now feel that it's more available to you to just to turn toward, in this case, the writing and actually start to take a shot at it.

What can I write down for, you know, just maybe write down a few bullet points, you know, just a brief outline. Maybe I'll write down a sentence or two and start to take a shot in the unknown, being willing to just practice and play and try something. So that's what we can do when we're. In our focus session, and we're faced with fear, uncertainty, and resistance.

If we can calm ourselves, we can be more willing to step into that unknown. Find the courage to actually practice. Find the play that's available there, the creativity that's there. Make some art, and not need it to be right. Just, just take a shot. See what emerges. Let it be a piece of crap if you want to, and then see if you can just keep going, keep playing there.

And this is how we actually will actually create something, something different is being willing to practice and play and create art in the midst of the unknown. Okay. So that's what I've got for you this week. In the coming weeks, we're going to talk more about this and what might be coming up for us and, you know, continue to dive in.

I'm really excited to dive in with you. I'll let you know, by the way. Then I am also setting up some structure and some focus sessions for my project, which I've shared with you is my grandmother's book. So I'm sharing, I'm setting that up right now. If you go to my YouTube channel below this video, I'll I'll post a comment that will have some of that information.

I'd love for you to follow me in the audio podcast, but also come see my beautiful. handsome face and bald head in the YouTube channel as well. I'd love to talk to you in both places and I'll be putting some extra videos that are specific to YouTube or YouTube only on that channel. So go check that out.

Okay. Thank you for listening. I'll talk to you later.

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 Leo at Zen habits. net. Thanks for listening. And I hope you'll join me every Wednesday for more episodes of the Zen Habits podcast.

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Intro music composition: Salem Beladonna

Editor: Justin Cruz