By Leo Babauta

I got a couple of great questions this month, and am excited to share the questions and my answers with all of you!

Question 1: Unproductive

Q: My challenge this month was that I wasn’t feeling very productive. Feeling like I’m slacking off and making little or no progress on my work assignments. I have this come up in cycles throughout the year, and I feel it’s very hard to ‘tweak’ myself out of it, by various habit ‘tricks’.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you always productive? Is it a natural/normal human tendency to have periods of great productivity and then periods of ‘quiet’? I don’t want to have these times, they make me sluggish, not refreshed. Any tips?

Leo: Yep, this is entirely natural and normal. Most of us, myself included, go through ups and downs of productivity and focus. I have times when I’m completely on, and then I can go a week or more without very much focus. Often this comes because of one of a few reasons:

1. You were super focused/productive for awhile, but then the mind and body need a break. It’s normal to need a break, and we’re not always good at recognizing when we need it.
2. You are low on energy because of illness, social engagements, a huge project at work or home, family crises, difficulty in your relationship, problems with sleep, etc.
3. You are disconnected from the work — maybe you’re not feeling excited about it, not feeling energized by your mission, etc.
4. You’ve hit your “edge” — you’re facing a very difficult/scary/overwhelming task, and it’s too much for you, so you feel the need to retreat from it for awhile.

There’s no easy way to deal with these issues, but it’s good to see your mind’s habitual tendency when these difficulties come up. It’s also good to see that you don’t find the cycle of retreating to be useful — you feel sluggish, not refreshed. If you were feeling refreshed, I’d say there’s no problem!

Some ideas:

* Monitor your energy levels. If you are low on energy, find ways to get rest and feel more refreshed (spend time out in nature, time disconnected from technology, etc.).
* Notice if you need a break. This could just be a 30- or 60-minute break, a weekend off, or even a week off. Allow yourself to fully take a break and get refreshed.
* If you’re just up against your edge, and facing something scary or overwhelming … stay with it and see if you can play with that edge. That might mean clearing away other things so you can focus on the scary project, or breaking it into small tasks so it feels more doable, or just sitting in stillness while you allow yourself to feel the fear and give yourself compassion, and then dive into acting on that scary task.

It’s also good to let go of guilt and judgment from not being productive. Be curious about what’s going on, learn from it, experiment with it, play with it, but don’t let yourself feel bad about it. If you are, practice self-compassion, then let go of the guilt.

Question 2: Difficulty with Practice

Q: April’s habit focus is to be meditating/being with: Falling in love with life as it is. Falling into Love, and Life itself. Opening and Expanding into Life. Noticing judging complaining wrong resistance things not how “I” want them to be…

Naturally, this is easier to do in meditation, and more of a practice through the day. However, today was a real challenge, and great example of something. Tree cutters with their machines, children shouting and screaming.

With the doors shut to keep down the noise from the tree cutters, I was able to practise letting go of various resistances into the present moment.

However, when outside later, there was sense overload with the children shouting and screaming. There seemed to be more than simply resistance. And found it hard to practise letting go into what is here, falling into loving, and life itself, as the whole body system was going nooooo!

Any thoughts…

Leo: Yes, absolutely! There will always be the edge for each person — maybe just sitting in meditation with the idea of loving the present moment is an edge for one person, but for another it’s the children screaming, and for another it’s dealing with the chaos of a natural disaster. No one is completely perfect at this practice.

First, acknowledge the beauty of your practice. You are working with something that most people don’t even undertake, and you’re doing it whole-heartedly. Acknowledge the effort you’ve put in, and the loving intention that you have. Be grateful for all of that.

Second, when you find your edge — the screaming children and loud tree cutters, or something else that comes up for you — notice your body saying no and wanting to shut down or get away. Notice your mind’s habitual tendency, because that comes up at other times in your life. See this as your Beautiful Practice Ground, and see if you can stay with it even for a moment or two. See if you can open up even just a tiny bit, before engaging in habitual tendencies and shutting down. See if you can even *think* about gratitude, about love, in the middle of being with your edge.

It can feel like a failure to shut down to life’s more difficult moments, but actually it’s a victory to even notice the tendency to shut down to certain stimuli, because now we’ve brought awareness, now we can start to work with it. Our old tendencies aren’t easy to overcome, and it takes small steps, so celebrate those steps and be grateful to be taking them.