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In life, we often find ourselves navigating the delicate balance between openness and concreteness. How can we embrace both sides and unlock the full potential within us?

In this episode we'll uncover the power of finding wonder in the mundane, the joy in structure, and the magic of blending these seemingly contrasting qualities. Join me as we dive into how to create a more empowered and joyful way of living that integrates the best of both worlds.

Topics Covered

  • Understanding the interplay between openness and concreteness in daily life
  • Embracing the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches
  • The importance of finding joy and wonder in structure and concrete tasks
  • Strategies for open individuals to manifest goals and handle finances effectively
  • How concrete individuals can infuse openness and creativity into their daily routines
  • The significance of achieving a balance between the two approaches for a more fulfilling life


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. Today we are going to talk about openness versus concreteness. So, these are not necessarily two mutually exclusive things, but they're something that I've noticed people are usually in one place or another. Let's talk a little bit about what we're talking about. Openness is like you're feeling open to the world, open hearted, in love with life, just spaciousness, joy, this kind of open qualities.

And some people are just naturally like this. This is the way that they tend to show up in the world. This is someone who, when they walk into a room, we might feel a little bit lit up because they feel happy and joyful. They might feel really open hearted in a relationship. Maybe they are moving through the world with creativity and this feeling of spaciousness in their life.

And if you ask them, they feel very open about life. They feel wonder. and they can feel very ethereal sometimes. These are this ethereal kind of beings. And there's something really beautiful and magical about people who are in the world, in this place. They're such open hearted, loving people and loving life.

You might check in to see, is that how you show up in this way? On the other side are the people who are concrete. These are people who have plans, schedules, routines, structure. They're really good with managing time or calendar. They're good with goals, setting milestones for themselves or, concrete targets.

You might check in, are you one of these people? You're good with this kind of thing. It's not that you have to be one or the other, but there's a lot of times when you can notice, oh yeah, I'm more, at least in this point in my life, or maybe just in general in my life, I'm much more of a concrete person. 

There's good things about each side. There isn't a right way to be. There isn't one of them sucks and one of them is great. Although you might check in to see which one you would rather be. But let's talk about what's good about them and then also the downside, the kind of shadow side of each of these.

And how we can actually create a lot of powerful shifts by moving towards the middle. Let's take a look at these. So the people who are open, they're more open with life. These are people who like to be in flow and they're creative and they make art and they're just more just like an open place.

These people, great thing about it is they tend to be very creative, they tend to be more lit up about life, more wonder, and just feeling a sense of openness. The downside, the shadow side, is that they often have a hard time actually manifesting goals. So these people might tend to not have a lot of money.

They're very ethereal about their finances. If money comes, great. If not, they have a hard time actually creating that money in their lives. They're great good at creativity, but they're really hard when it comes to detail-oriented things. They have a hard time with that They have a hard time with structure, which means that they're at the mercy at the whim of the world around them So if I you know, if I can have a lot of spaciousness I can create but otherwise I'm just being pushed around by everybody else's external requests Or what I need to do, but I'm not actually able to create what I want to create in the world.

They might be very open hearted in a relationship, but they might have a hard time actually working with the details of the relationship, which might mean they can cause frustration in people around them. Not just in romantic relationships, but in their friendships. They might not show up on time, which means they can show up as flaky, and it's hard to trust someone like this.

It's hard to work with them on a team, and so they might get fired or might not get hired if what's required for the team is working with things in a very concrete way. We'll come back to these people. We can call them ethereal. Open and ethereal, but hard, hard have a hard time with concrete stuff.

And you might notice, actually, you might be... this in some areas of your life, but not in others. It's not just a one note kind of thing, but let's look at the other side. Maybe you're someone who is more concrete. You like things to be rational and logical, you tend to be good at working with the details and all of those things, the things that the other people can't.

You can create structure and accountability and goals in your life. But the downside of it, the shadow side, is that you are often feeling not a lot of joy, not a lot of openness. Everything feels very tight, and you need to be on top of things, and you might feel overwhelmed by all of it, and really feeling like you're drowning and trying to stay, just trying to stay above water.

Or things can feel very dull and lifeless. You feel burden a lot of times, but not a lot of lit up ness. And so that's the shadow side of this part of the way of being. The opportunity actually is to find what the other side has in what you're doing. We could say, Oh, it's terrible to be so concrete.

It's greater to be, it's better to be in our openness and wonder and loving life. That's really missing the opportunity, the power that is in the concrete side of us. On the other side, we can say, Oh, so it's terrible to be ethereal because you can't actually make any money or achieve goals or do anything really powerful, which is true.

They tend to get relegated to. Sometimes irrelevance or not able to create big things, just staying small because they can't manifest the concrete side. We could say there's something sucky about each side. I don't really hold it that way. It's more that they are, there's opportunities to shift that would create something really powerful for them.

The ethereal and open and joyful and wonder side, we can really, hopefully, you can get how there's something really beautiful about that way of being. And yet, the opportunity for people who are over here is to actually start to bring that to where there's concrete stuff. Could they bring their openness to managing details, working through those details?

Could they bring their openness to concrete tasks and structure? Could they bring their openness to setting goals and milestones? Could they bring their openness to accountability and structure and, consequences and all of that? Those don't have to be closed things. For these people, often it can feel restricting and tight.

Punishing, sometimes boring, burdensome, to do these other kinds of concrete things. But what if they could bring their same openness and wonder to these concrete things? If that's you, and you could see the power and what you could create in your life by working with money and goals and structure, routines.

What if you could practice being in these spaces that you're usually feels You know, suffocating and tight and restricting. What if you could bring your openness to that? And for that, you might see a way to look at these concrete things, goals, details, all these places where you're like, ‘Ah, I feel suffocated and restricted’. 

Look at them in the same way that you look at nature. How could you find wonder with goals? How could you find wonder with working with your budget? How could you find love and openness and spaciousness in these places that I've previously felt tight? How could you find creativity in the places that feel like, ‘Oh, I can't ever have creativity in these places, they're too boring’.

And that is you limiting yourself by viewing it as boring, limiting, restricting, suffocating, all of these kinds of things. What if you could find the art and nature and love in these places? What if you could find joy and play and adventure in these places? You have to look for that. How could I find it?

You have to actually try and create that for yourself, generate it. So that would be the practice for people who are more on the ethereal and open side. And if you are. Instead, on the concrete side, you're actually good at that, and goals and details and all of that stuff. Then, the practice for you would be, the powerful shift for you would be to find the openness in life, find the joy in life, without dropping your concrete side.

What if you could say, Oh my God this world is incredibly lit up. The incredibly open and spacious. What if you could, in the day-to-day things that you're already doing, find that spaciousness and find the reason to be lit up about what you're doing? What is the thing about what you're doing that would actually light you up?

For example, is this in service of people who you care about? Is this creating a new possibility in the world? Is this going to lead people into something amazing? That's what we're looking for. Finding that in what you're doing in your life is the powerful shift. You have to actually look for, where can I find openness in my life?

How can I be more lit up by these concrete things? And you can see, actually, this is the same exact practice in both sides. It's just that you might have a tendency to one, and you have to look for the openness and the lit-up ness. How do I bring that everywhere in my life, this openness and lit up ness?

And you have to look for it. You have to find the wonder in every single moment. And it requires you to actually be looking through the lens of that. As I do the thing that... I usually do instead of doing it with a sense of burden or I have to, or I should find the reason to actually be empowered by it.

Find the reason to be joyful and feeling adventure in it. So that's what I recommend is to look for. What you're creating in life and without dropping the powerful thing that you already have could you add in the other side? and that means that we have to marry the two and Whichever side you're on there's a powerful shift for you, and I encourage you to look like ‘What am I creating in my life?’.

Do I want to only be ethereal and never have concrete detail type stuff, or would I like something else? I'd like a different experience of these things so that I could actually hold myself accountable for things. I could actually have goals that I could actually, work with my finances. For the concrete people who are already good at that, could you find the openness and joy in the place where you already are so that you don't have to have a dampened experience of life.

Life doesn't have to be dull and muted. You can actually feel joyful and loving and open in every single moment, or at least in more of them. So that's what I have for you right now. I just got back from a retreat in North Carolina. I led 24 people through this retreat and it was quite breathtaking, quite beautiful to have people come into the space.

And I saw people on both sides of this. I saw people who tend to be very open and ethereal, but they struggle with getting to places on time. I had them work with actually getting there on time. I had them work with meticulousness with their stuff, actually putting things where they belong and really caring for their lives. 

I had them working with the things they're afraid of and avoiding so that they could actually turn towards it and create some openness there. On the other side, I had people who will show up very much okay, tell me the facts. I need to know the steps and tell me all the things so that I can work with it in my concrete way.

And for them, I had them starting to open their hearts. It was really quite beautiful to be working with people in this way at my retreat. And I thought it went amazingly well and I'm really in love with that and soon we're going to be opening up another round of my Fearless Mastery, which is a mastermind/coaching group where we work with about 20, 15 to 20 people over the course of months and work with this kind of stuff. 

If you're interested in that, reach out to me. If you have questions about the podcast, please do reach out as well: [email protected]. I will receive it. I will respond maybe not right away to every single email, but I will. And I'd love to hear from you. Share with me your questions, struggles that you're having with your project.

Let me know if you're making progress. Let me know if you'd some kind of coaching around it, or at least a question that I can answer here on this podcast, I find it deeply meaningful to be working with all of you and the projects that you're bringing forward, the great things that you're working with.

I've had some amazing feedback from all of you. I love hearing from you. Even if it's just like you're doing a great job, Leo reply to me or email me. and reply to the emails that I send out about the podcast. That's really important as well. Just stay in touch. Please be engaged. I love hearing from all of you and love doing this podcast.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being a part of this. Thank you for being you. 

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 Wednesday for more episodes of the Zen Habits podcast.

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Music composition: Salem Beladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz