Zen habits are simple lifestyle habits that have the potential to radically alter the efficiency of our minds and the potential of our lives. We can easily integrate these habits into our daily routines to keep our minds sharp and efficient for years to come. Here are seven ways to keep a great head on your shoulders:
First we form habits, then they form us.
– Rob Gilbert
1. Challenge your mind with new activities, skills and information.
The primary function of the human mind is its ability to absorb information and adapt to challenging unfamiliar environments. Do you remember the old saying ‘use it or lose it?’ Nothing could be closer to the truth. If you don’t use your mind, you will lose your mind. So broaden your horizons, learn new skills and challenge your mind every single day.
2. Your mind is part of your body. Fuel, exercise and rest your body properly.
The human brain accounts for roughly 2% of the total mass of the human body, yet it consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients the human body intakes. Therefore, it makes sense to fuel your body with healthy food and keep your blood oxygen levels high with regular exercise. Also, a tired mind is rarely productive, so get yourself enough sleep every night. For a practical guide on maintaining a healthy, fit body I recommend The 4-Hour Body.
3. Pay attention now. Concentrate on the present.
People often obsess themselves with the past and the future. But life is happening right now. You can’t learn something or remember something that’s happening now if your mind is stuck in another time.
It takes about eight seconds of intense focus to process a new piece of information into your long-term memory. So don’t let your life and your mind slip away. Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, practice being and living in the present moment. Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Don’t miss it. The Power of Now is a brilliant resource on this topic.
4. If something requires your attention in the future, write it down in a trusted location.
The more miscellaneous commitments you try to juggle in your mind, the less efficient your mind becomes. There’s absolutely no reason to memorize to-do lists, general reminders and most supplemental information. That’s a huge waste of brainpower that could be spent more wisely on learning something new (see bullet #1). So put your mind at ease by writing down these bits of information in a trusted location that can be easily accessed in the future.
5. Rehearse information frequently – ‘over-learn.’
In a nutshell, over-learning is the continued practice of material or skills long after the material or skills have been mastered. The primary goal is information retention – to practice something until it becomes second nature to you, like an automatic function of who you are.
Over-learning is frequently used by people who make public speeches or those who must perform certain functions on the spot with little support or external assistance. For example, a concert pianist doesn’t stop learning a piece of music she will perform once she initially masters it. She keeps practicing it so that it’s automatic and there’s little possibility of forgetting it when she performs in front of a large audience.
You can easily apply the concept of over-learning in your own life by reviewing what you’ve learned the same day you learn it and at regular intervals thereafter – something researchers call ‘spaced rehearsal.’ And once you over-learn whatever it is you’re studying, you’ll always be prepared to employ the information or skill at a moment’s notice.
6. Develop and nurture long-lasting, stimulating relationships.
Human beings are social creatures. Regular interaction with close friends and family is regarded by most mental health professionals as the number one source of happiness in a human being’s life. When the human mind is happy, it is less stressed. And a less stressed mind is a more efficient mind.
7. Be motivated, keep a positive attitude and find something to smile about.
Each one of the six points above has the ability to make your mind more efficient (and change your life). But when you combine them with positive thinking their beneficial effects increase exponentially.
Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story. The mind must believe it can do something before it is capable of actually doing it. So be aware of your mental self-talk. We all talk silently to ourselves in our heads, but we aren’t always conscious of what we’re saying or how it’s affecting us. Start listening to your thoughts. If you hear negative thoughts, stop for a second and replace them with positive thoughts.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful.” For some practical positive thinking guidance, I recommend reading The Power of Positive Thinking.
Now remember, what counts the most is not what you learned by reading this article (or any article for that matter), but how you apply this knowledge. You must take action. So start small, but start now.
Choose one of the seven bullet points above that speaks to you the loudest and practice it for a few minutes today, tomorrow and every day for the next several months. Eventually, one day, without even thinking about it you’ll start doing it automatically. And you’ll suddenly realize that these short practice sessions have evolved into a permanent, internalized, zen habit.
Photo by: Epi Longo
One small suggestion. The Power of Now is a good book, but some might find it a bit dry.
For a more rational, easier read to “Pay attention now” I recommend Wherever You Go, There You Are or Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books are a beautiful blend of science and philosophy however, if someone prefers a more traditional spiritual book about focusing on the present, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello is quite wonderful.
Some simple and wise words of advice. Perhaps some see it as common sense but ultimately it’s good to be reminded of these techniques.
Writing things down is what I need to get better at. Sometimes I have so much going on in my head that if I don’t write something important down, chances are I’ll forget it.
Getting better at it though! Always keeping a journal in close reach helps a lot, especially when a new idea for a blog posts pop up. 😀
Bryce Christiansen says
Well written post once again. Point 4 about keeping future tasks written down in a trusted location was an interesting point for me. I’m always having more to do’s than I can possibly complete in a few days, but expecting myself to remember all of those is not possible. Keeping them written down in a location you can always return to and recall what you needed to do is important.
You provide (as usual) a compelling list for effective living, however linking “Zen” and habits is difficult to because Zen is provokingly evasive, provocatively elusive, and defies most all concept-making, at least as far as outward aspects are concerned.
The human tongue (or pen), and carnal mind is simply not adequate for expressing or explaining the deepest truths of Zen. It cannot be made the subject of logical exposition; it can only be experienced in the inmost soul.
Zen persistently insists on an inner experience that is intensely personal and profoundly spiritual, therefore one persons experience (and habits) will differ from another.
Just my 2 cents …
Helpful ideas. I especially need to stay in the present. I didn’t know that it takes 8 seconds of focus to put something into long-term memory. I don’t do this very often which could account for why I have a poor memory.
Also thanks for the book suggestions for most of the points.
Wonderful piece… I so appreciate having read this.
I am 51… I’m married 30 years to my best friend… we have my 92 year old mom here living with us in five rooms in Queens so I literally read everything inspirational I can get my hands on.
I am blessed to have found you in my search.
Excellent advice as always.
I recently stumbled unto your website (literally on stumbleupon.com) and I love it. It’s what I’ve been looking for after googling “thought provoking website” and “website with tips to live better.”
You guys are great, and I love and respect your blog. I will be back just like I vote “early and often.”
Living the Balanced Life says
Such great words to help us live a more mentally present life. You always have something to challenge me.
Over-learning is something I need to focus on. Exercise had been a daily habit for me, but due to being out of town at a conference last week, I did not do my daily routine of treadmill walking (I did get a lot of walking thru the week!). Now I am having difficulty getting back into the habit and feel like I am starting at day 1 again. I know this is not true, all I have to do is just begin again, and it will be like riding a bike. I just don’t need to let too many days pass!
Be authentic, be engaging, and be ready for change
Thank you for this great article!
Some of the points here remind me of that book, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” which I think is brilliant and challenging.
Regarding no.7, that’s the one I’ve been trying hardest at, finding ways to be positive especially when negative thinking is such a life-long habit. (Though I’m only 16 so not that long!)
I didn’t realise how negative the thoughts I had were, and how they constantly worsened my self-esteem. Now I’ve found a great way to help me deal with difficult situations- Imagine you have all the confidence and positivity in the world. Just don’t get presumptuous and all 😉
“Pay attention now.” So many people could use this; some people don’t even read the post when commenting! How can you expect the author to value your comment when you haven’t read his/her work?
Love the quote btw, it’s got me thinking about my bad habits. Perhaps its time for an early spring clean of my habits…
John Sherry says
I remember reading or hearing somewhere once on this subject – ‘do less, think little, centre yourself more’, which has always stayed with me. This means it won’t be when but zen you have peace of mind.
i love the post, its title and each of the points you mentioned mark especially point number 2, its so true. keep it up 🙂
@Peter: Thanks for the additional book recommendations. I love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work. But I must admit, The Power of Now is still my favorite book on living in the moment.
@Contrarian: I suppose you’re correct if you define the word ‘Zen’ by it’s original definition. But in recent times I’ve seen the word ‘Zen’ written in lowercase (‘zen’) and somewhat redefined with a more generalized meaning. Something like: Zen is a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being and a state of mind.
@All: Thank you, as always, for the added insight and kind remarks. We love reading everything you have to say.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga says
Great post, Marc. I love love love #3. The Power of Now is one of my favorite books.
Abhishek Sainani says
Thank you for the 7 Zen Habits of Highly Effective Minds!! 🙂
I always look forward to your new posts and they’re all a learning experience.
what awesome suggestions. they’re all so simple and make so much sense that it’s funny we need to be reminded of them! thanks for sharing : )
I see no point in being a pessimist. Good read!
William Lee says
Nice sharing! Loving it!
Excellent tips… very well written. Thanks for sharing.
GREAT! This write-up is inspiring and helpful. Thanks.