A Guide to Developing the Self-Discipline Habit

By Leo Babauta

One of the most important life skills to develop, for those just starting out in life (and everyone else!), is the skill of self-discipline.

It’s like a superpower: when I developed some self-discipline, I started exercising and eating healthier and meditating and writing more, I quit smoking and ran marathons, I started a blog and wrote books, I read more and work earlier, I decluttered and transformed my finances. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve learned a lot.

But if you don’t develop self-discipline, it causes problems: health problems, distraction, procrastination, financial problems, clutter, things piling up and overwhelming you, and much more.

So it’s such an important skill to develop, but most people don’t know where to start. This guide is aimed at helping you get started.

I’m writing it for my kids, and for anyone else who would like to develop a superpower.

Finding Motivation

The first question is, how do you even get motivated to start? Most of us don’t want to think about our lack of discipline, let alone take a bunch of actions.

For me, the motivation came from realizing that what I was doing wasn’t working. Ignoring the problems only made things worse. Trying to be disciplined but doing it half-assedly only resulted in me feeling bad about myself. Being wholly undisciplined was causing myself a bunch of pain.

Once you realize that you’re causing yourself pain … you might develop a whole-hearted intention to stop hurting yourself. You might say, “OK, that’s enough with making my life worse. Let’s try to make it less worse.”

With that in mind, you can tell yourself that you are going to:

  • Start taking small actions to make things better
  • Do the things that hurt you less
  • Push yourself into discomfort a little bit, so you can get better at this over time
  • Get good at self-discipline with some practice

Keep these things in mind as you practice, as you get the urge to not practice, and as you make mistakes and then want to give up.

There are other good motivations as well:

  1. Wanting to help others — if you get better at exercise or healthy eating, for example, you can help your aging parents who need to get better at these things. If you get better at not procrastinating on your life’s work, you can help more people with that meaningful work. More on this below, in the “Focus on Others” section.
  2. Appreciating life — we have a short time here on Earth, and the life we have is a gift. When we procrastinate and give in to endless distraction, and don’t make the most of our time, we are not fully appreciating the gift we have. Instead, we can appreciate it by being present, being grateful, and being purposeful about how we spend our time.

With these motivations — or whatever motivations move you the most — we can start to practice.

Small Actions

One of the most important things you can do to get better at self-discipline is to take small actions. It can seem overwhelming to tackle huge, intimidating projects … so don’t. Instead, tackle easy actions, things so small you can’t say no.

Have some taxes to do? Just do 5 minutes. Want to run? Just run for 10 minutes. Have a report to work on? Just do the first few paragraphs. Want to declutter? Just find 5 things to declutter.

You’ll get better at self-discipline if you focus on small tasks, and break bigger projects into small tasks. Read more.

Discomfort Training

One of the reasons we don’t have self-discipline is because we run from the hard, uncomfortable things. We would rather do the easy, comfortable, familiar things.

So instead of facing our hard, uncomfortable projects or finances, we run to distractions, videos, games. This running from discomfort is ruining our lives.

What you can tell yourself is that you’re done running. You are going to push into discomfort, a little at a time, and get good at being uncomfortable. This is another of your superpowers. When others run, you’re OK (even if it’s not always fun).

One small task at a time, push yourself into discomfort. See how it feels. See that it’s not the end of the world. See that you are awesome enough to handle discomfort, and that the results are well worth it.

Mindfulness with Urges

You’ll have the urge to quit doing something hard, or to put it off for now. Those urges don’t serve you well.

Instead, develop mindfulness around those urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

A good way to do that is to set a time for yourself where you can do nothing but X. For example, for the next 10 minutes, you can do nothing but write your book chapter (or exercise, meditate, etc.). When you have the urge to procrastinate or run to distractions, you’ll easily see it, because you’re either writing the book, or you’re not. When you have the urge, tell yourself you can’t follow it, you have to either write your book chapter or sit there and do nothing.

Raymond Chandler used that as his simple writing system: “Write or nothing. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else.”

The reason it works is that you are setting up a time where you do nothing else but that one specified task, and you can see your urges to run away. Use this to learn to be mindful of your urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

Interval Training

If you combine the above items into a system of bursts, or intervals, you can train yourself using interval training:

  1. Set your intention to practice self-discipline and not hurt yourself anymore.
  2. Set a task to focus on (writing, drawing, strength training, meditating, etc).
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Five minutes is also fine if 10 is too long. Don’t go longer until you get good at 10 minutes, then increase to 12 and eventually 15. I don’t find I need to go beyond 15-20 minutes even when I’m kicking butt.
  4. Do nothing but sit there and watch your urges, or push into your discomfort by doing the task.
  5. When the timer goes off, give yourself a 5-minute break.
  6. Repeat.

You can train for several intervals, or potentially for an hour or two. Then take a longer break, and do another set of intervals after that.

This kind of interval training is fantastic, because it’s not that hard, you really train yourself in discomfort and watching urges, and you can get a lot done this way.

A Focus on Others

When you find yourself struggling, dig into deeper motivation: doing your work/exercise/meditation etc. not for yourself, but for others.

For example:

  • I’m writing this article to help my kids, and anyone else who might benefit.
  • I work out to be healthy, not only for myself but as an example for my kids and others who might benefit.
  • I meditate not only for my own peace and sanity, but so that I can help others find their own peace and sanity.
  • You might draw or write or play music to inspire others.

In each example, you might benefit … but you’re also doing it to benefit others. And this benefit to others is much more motivating than doing something just for yourself.

Try it … try doing a difficult task for someone else. Tell them you’re going to do it for them beforehand, then keep them in mind as you do it. See if you feel more motivated.

Victories in Success & Failure

A huge mistake that a lot of people make is that they mess up, and get discouraged by this. They feel bad about messing up. This causes them to give up and not want to think about developing self-discipline.

Here’s the thing: failure is actually a victory.

Failure means you tried. So it’s a victory from the start.

But it also means you learned something — you now know that what you tried didn’t quite work. Next time, you can try something a bit different. Add more accountability, try it at a different time, unplug your wireless router, get a workout partner, anything. Because of your failure, you have new information. You’ve learned, and that helps you get better.

Failure is a victory. Success is also a victory. No matter what your result, you can see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to get better.

Drop any ideas of being perfect at this, and just keep trying.

The next time you fail at whatever you’re trying, instead of letting it get you discouraged, see it as a victory. Then keep going, no matter what, because giving up is only going to hurt you some more.

Getting Support

You’re not in this alone. You have family, friends, online strangers who can help you. Form a support team by reaching out to the people around you, and asking for their help.

Lots of people skip this because they are embarrassed by their lack of discipline. They feel that the way they behave is shameful. That’s not true. Actually, we all act like this, but we’re just afraid to show that side to each other. But the truth is, if you show your “dark” side to people, they actually love you more, trust you more, relate to you more. So don’t be afraid to connect with others in a vulnerable way.

Find the courage to ask for help. Then let yourself be supported as you work on pushing yourself into discomfort and hurting yourself less.

If you need help from me, try my 44 Training Program – Turning Uncertainty & Discomfort into Mindful Openness.

You can do this.

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7 Life-Changing Truths Most People Are Too Scared (or Too Stubborn) to Admit

7 Life-Changing Truths Most People Are Too Scared to Admit

“So you’re always seeking the truth?” she asked.

“I do my best to be,” I said. “Don’t you?”

Her gaze shifted downward.  “No, I don’t.”

“Well, that’s good to know.  I mean, it’s a good start,” I said.  “Just admitting this is a step forward…”

She quickly interrupted me, “I’m not saying I like lies and liars!  At least that’s not how I meant it, anyway.”

I smiled and continued, “I’m smiling because I know what you mean.  But I also want to hear it from you, in your words.  So tell me, how do you mean it?”

“I…I just…I just don’t always admit the truth about what I think and how I feel, and I don’t always seek the truth when I probably should.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s easier not to,” she said.  “Because the truth is often scary, and it hurts pretty bad sometimes…and sometimes it even changes everything.”

“Yeah, it does.  But lies and ignorance usually hold people back and hurt them even worse in the long run,” I said. (more…)

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Small Actions, Huge Impact

By Leo Babauta

Most people get hung up because of a few reasons:

  1. A task or project is too intimidating/overwhelming, so they put it off.
  2. Sticking to new habits is hard, so they fail after a week or two.
  3. Life becomes overwhelming, because there’s so much to do, so many choices.

The problems with these common situations is that we take the big picture, the overwhelming nature of it all, and use it as a reason to not do anything.

Instead, I’ve found it useful to pick one tiny action. It can change everything.

Some examples:

  1. I have too much to do right now, I’m overwhelmed — so I do one tiny thing. I just start a task. I just move a project along in the smallest way. I just make a list. Something that takes a minute or two — I can do that!
  2. I’ve fallen off a habit I was trying to start, such as meditation or exercise … and it’s causing me to not want to even think about the habit. So I just do the smallest version of the habit — can I pause for a few moments and meditate right now? Can I do a few pushups? This gets the ball rolling, and now the habit doesn’t seem that difficult. I just keep starting again, in small ways.
  3. I’ve been putting off a project, and I feel pretty bad about it — so I just do one small thing with the project, and now I feel a lot better. All of a sudden, I can get the project moving with small movements, small victories.

Each of these examples is so simple, so tiny — and yet their impact is bigger than most people realize. The action is small, but the impact is huge. The victory might seem trifling, but it’s actually a profound shift.

What are you stalling on? What are you overwhelmed by? What can you take a tiny action on right now?

Get an infinitessimal victory now, and see what it changes for you.

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One Surprisingly Simple Rule that Will Make Your Goals Happen Faster

One Surprisingly Simple Rule that Will Make Your Goals Happen Faster

Like many people, Angel and I spent years struggling to make even the slightest bit of progress on the goals we had set for ourselves.

We started new workout programs with incredible optimism at least a couple dozen times.  We threw away all the junk food in our house more times than I can even remember.  We tried waking up earlier, meditating, reading more often, writing a book, getting out of debt, running a business, and more…

But, for the longest time, we failed on all fronts.

We’d get started with a new goal, and then we’d get derailed.

And boy did we feel horrible!

We often felt like losers … like no matter how hard we tried, our goals were out of reach!  And we’d berate ourselves constantly for not being stronger, smarter, and more disciplined.

But what Angel and I didn’t realize, until we started successfully achieving our goals a few years later, is that it was never a matter of us not having enough strength, intelligence, or discipline.  It was a matter of us focusing on our goals in an ineffective way.

In fact, believe it or not, we were actually focusing on our goals too much.

Yes, you read that right.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the truth. (more…)

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The Magic of Being Held By the World

By Leo Babauta

Right now, as you read this article, you are being held up by an invisible, magic web.

Consider the following, with gratitude in your heart:

You are reading an article written for you by me, sent across the Internet thanks to the work of thousands and thousands of engineers and power workers and workers in computer factories, using a computer device produced by thousands of people around the world.

You are alive because you ate food and drink produced and delivered and served by thousands of people. You have shelter built by thousands of people (when you consider the manufacturing process), powered by a power system where thousands of people work every day, with water coming to you produced by thousands of people, cable (or Internet) entertainment streamed to you that was produced by millions of people. Your furniture, clothes, appliances, car, roads, work buildings, city were all built by millions of people.

When you were born, you were incapable of living without the support of your family, who fed, clothed, sheltered you, changed your diapers, kept you alive every single day. They were supported by many others, and then you were educated by many more. You were raised by a village, no matter what your childhood was like.

Your entire existence has been supported by millions of people, for your whole life, including right now.

And it’s not just your physical existence: your thoughts have been influenced by writers, pundits, TV shows, films, music, educators, friends and family, the work you do with others, politicians and government, philosophers and religious figures, the environment you live in. What you think and who you are is not something you just invented, it has been created by everyone and everything around you.

You have been co-created by every other human being alive, by the entire world. And your actions have co-created those around you as well.

You are held up by an invisible, magic web of human lives and thought, of food and shelter and electricity and devices, of human creation and nature and the cosmos around you.

We co-create each other, every moment. And we take it all for granted.

The only reasonable response to this realization is gratitude. Applause. Joy.

We are all connected, and our actions matter. How can you co-create the world around you today? What loving action can you take right now, to care for others around you, to make their lives better? What can you do to appreciate and show gratitude for those who have supported you?

Fill your heart with love for those who have created you, and fill their lives with your love so you can create something amazing for them.

My 44 Training Program

I just wanted to remind you of my free training program, that you can still sign up for:

The 44 Training Program: Turning Uncertainty & Discomfort into Mindful Openness

Again, it lasts 44 days, is entirely free, comes with a dozen videos I’ve created for you, and is my gift to you.

It’s about training in mindfulness, uncertainty and discomfort to create joy, gratitude and openness in your life. I hope you check it out.

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Sharing These 20 Truths with Your Child Could Change Their Life

Sharing These 20 Truths with Your Child Could Change Their Life

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
― Margaret Mead

Our children grow up so fast.  Before we know it they’re out there somewhere in the real world, and we’re left hoping that we’ve done enough to prepare them for everything they’ll encounter.  Angel and I talk to course students and coaching clients on a regular basis – mothers and fathers alike – who share these sentiments.  They worry about their children.  They wonder if they’ve done a good enough job parenting up to this point.  And Angel and I totally get it too.  Oftentimes we feel the same way.  We’re concerned about our son Mac’s well-being and education, and we discuss it frequently, just like most parents.

In fact, from what we’ve researched and studied, the well-being and education of their children is more important to most parents than just about anything else – health care, cost of living, public safety, and even their own well-being.  And believe it or not, most non-parents also say they’re concerned about the well-being and intellectual growth of society’s youth; this concern seems to cut cleanly across gender, ethnicity, age, income and political affiliation.  So the reality is, to a great extent, we all collectively care about our children.   And that’s a really beautiful thing when you think about it.

Anyway, I awoke this morning thinking about all of this – especially the miraculous, life-changing responsibility of parenthood – and two related thoughts immediately crossed my mind:

  • Whoa!  Time flies.  How in the world did Angel and I suddenly become parents to a little boy that’s running all over the place and asking questions about everything under the sun?
  • There are so many important truths I want to share with Mac … before he’s in high school with his friends and too cool to listen.  And before Angel and I go from “mommy and daddy who know best” to “mom and dad who couldn’t possibly understand.”

So I’m writing this post as a reminder to myself, and to all parents… (more…)

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How We’re Harmed by Our Dissatisfaction with Ourselves

By Leo Babauta

Over the last five years or so, as I’ve worked with thousands of people on changing their habits, I’ve come to a realization: dissatisfaction with ourselves is a pretty universal phenomenon.

We are unhappy with who we are, sometimes in small ways but often in very fundamental ways.

We doubt ourselves, feel inadequate, dislike our looks, criticize our failing harshly, feel uncertain about whether we’re worthy of praise or love.

The result is anxiety, procrastination, fear, and the inability to change our habits. I’ve seen so many people who are unable to stick to an exercise program or healthy diet changes because they don’t believe in themselves. At the heart of their failure to make positive changes is a deep feeling of unworthiness and inadequacy.

Every time we fail, we are harsh with ourselves, and we see it as just more evidence that we suck. Every time things are less-than-ideal, we blame ourselves (or, if we don’t want to be blamed, we blame other people).

What if, instead of beating ourselves up (or blaming others), we just accepted what happened and then took appropriate action? What if we took this as an opportunity to see our humanness, to love ourselves, to see ourselves as innately good?

This dissatisfaction with ourselves doesn’t just hurt our health habits … it hurts our productivity and ability to focus on meaningful work. We doubt whether we’re up to facing this task filled with discomfort and uncertainty, so we look for relief from all of it instead of just trusting that we’re up to the task. We procrastinate, seek distraction, try to run from the uncertainty.

Our relationships are also harmed by this dissatisfaction with ourselves — when we don’t believe in ourselves, we are insecure in our relationships. That can result in jealousy, anger, fear of losing someone, and treating the other person with distrust. That’s not a good recipe for a good relationship, and if the relationship becomes shaky, we often either blame the other person or see it as more evidence that we suck.

Our happiness is marred by this dissatisfaction with ourselves— if we don’t like ourselves, don’t trust ourselves, don’t see ourselves as worthy of love … then how can we truly be happy in each moment? Underlying each moment is a dissatisfaction, a lack of contentedness, a wish that things would be different.

These are just a handful of ways that dissatisfaction with ourselves is harming us. This problem actually affects every area of our lives, from jobs to finances to parenting and more.

The Way Out: Loving Ourselves

Instead of harming ourselves with this self-doubt, this constant feeling of inadequacy … what if we loved ourselves instead?

What if we trusted ourselves, believed in our basic worthiness, believed that we would be OK even if things didn’t work out as planned, believed that we are loving, kind, and innately good human beings?

That would change everything: we’d be more trusting in relationships, we’d procrastinate less because we knew we could handle uncertainty and discomfort, we’d become healthier because we would see healthy food and exercise as just two more ways to love ourselves. We’d seek ways to love others, to serve the world with meaningful work, to enjoy the basic goodness of every moment. We’d be happier, and in the times when we’re not happy, we’d still be able to find contentment in the middle of difficulty.

Of course, that’s much easier said than done. We have so many years of experience in disliking ourselves, in being harsh with ourselves, that loving ourselves can seem impossible. It’s not. You can do this.

It starts with the simple intention to love yourself, to see yourself as adequate and worthy of love, to wish for your own happiness and the relief from pain and stress.

Once you have this intention, you can practice a daily session of wishing for your own happiness, wishing for an end to your pain. A daily session of gratitude for the good things about yourself.

You can start to see the basic goodness in everything you do, even if it’s less than perfect (as all humans are). You can see the good hearted nature in every one of your actions, even the ones that are harmful. You can start to see the good-hearted nature in what everyone else does as well.

This is the practice, and it takes lots of practice. But loving yourself might just be the most important project you’ve ever undertaken, because it will change your world.

My New Course: How to Love Yourself

I’m happy to offer a new course, called “How to Love Yourself,” as part of my Sea Change Program.

I invite you to join us in this 4-week course, by joining Sea Change today.

Sea Change is my monthly membership program for changing habits, learning mindfulness and changing your life. Each month, we focus on something different, and this month it’s procrastination.

What you’ll get with this course:

  1. Two video lessons per week
  2. A challenge to do a short compassion session six days a week for the whole month
  3. A weekly check-in for the challenge so you stay accountable
  4. A live video webinar where you can ask me questions

I encourage you to join me and have your efforts to change your old patterns be supported by me and more than a thousand other Sea Change members.

Join Sea Change today and start the course.

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3 Little Reminders that Will Make You Feel Way Less Alone

3 Little Reminders that Will Make You Feel Way Less Alone

In the midst of bad days and hard times, it’s easy to look around and see a bunch of people who seem to be doing perfectly fine.  But I assure you they’re not.  We’re all struggling in our own unique way, every single day.  And if we could just be brave enough to open up about it, and talk to each other more often, we’d realize that we are not alone in feeling lost and alone with our issues.

So many of us are fighting a similar battle right now.  Try to remember this.  No matter how embarrassed or pathetic you feel about your own situation, there are others out there experiencing the same emotions.  When you hear yourself say, “I am all alone,” it’s just your troubled subconscious mind trying to sell you a lie.

There’s always someone who (more…)

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The 44 Training Program: Turning Uncertainty & Discomfort into Mindful Openness

By Leo Babauta

Today is my 44th birthday (thanks mom!) and I have a gift for you, my beautiful readers:

It’s called The 44 Training Program: Turning Uncertainty to Find Mindful Openness.

What the heck is that? It’s a video training program that I’m offering for free, to help you:

  • Overcome uncertainty, anxiety, fear, discomfort and procrastination
  • Find peace, mindful openness, gratitude and joy
  • Transform your difficulties and pain into growth and beauty
  • Overcome any struggle you’re having right now

Wow, can it really do all that?! Yes. Yes, my friends, it can. If you put in the effort to train.

What It’s About

In our lives, we have lots of difficulty: stress, anxiety, anger and frustration, plus the pain of loss and heartbreak and massive change, not to mention major illness and chronic pain and depression.

How do we deal with all of this? We can use it, as the place of transformation to happiness and peace. We can use it, as a way to awaken, to touch our inner goodness, to connect with the pain of others.

The place we find peace and mindfulness and happiness isn’t somewhere away from the pain and struggle … it’s right in the midst of it.

This program is about training ourselves to be mindful, to find peace in the midst of chaos and pain, to get good at dealing with discomfort and change and uncertainty.

This program is about simple practices that train our minds and our hearts. It’s my life’s work.

How It Works

So how does it work? It’s simple:

  • You train with 11 different practices, 4 days each. So 44 days total.
  • The daily practice sessions should take only 5-10 minutes a day.
  • If you sign up below, you’ll get an email every other day, with videos for each practice and a short article to encourage and inform your practice.
  • With each practice, I just ask you to give me a little feedback on how it’s going, to help me make the program better.

It’s mind training, training in uncertainty and discomfort, training in transforming our struggles and fear into openness and joy (as I shared in my mission a couple days ago).

Sign up below, and get started with the Intro video today!

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Questions

You might have a few questions, here are the answers:

Question: Is this going to take a lot of my time?

Answer: It should take about 5-10 minutes a day, for 44 days, not including watching the short instructional videos.

Question: Are you going to try to sell me something if I sign up?

Answer: No. There are no “upsells” or soft sells or anything else. No spam. No marketing. Just short videos and short articles.

Question: What do I need to do this program?

Answer: A quiet place to sit for a few minutes would be ideal, but you could make it work on your commute, on the toilet, walking outside. An open mind is also great. And the willingness to commit to the practice for 44 days.

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My Mission: Help the World Transform Fear into Openness & Joy

By Leo Babauta

When I started Zen Habits 10 years ago, I simply wanted to share what I’d been learning about changing my habits and simplifying my life with others.

Then something magical happened.

Over the next year or two, people took some of my tips and changed their lives. They were able to finally stick to some new habits, simplify their lives, even find a mindfulness practice. As they changed their lives, it changed me.

Now I didn’t just want to share life tips. I wanted to help. I wanted to serve my readers, help them find contentment and happiness and gratitude and joy. That meant I had to dig into their messy problems, meet them in the middle of their struggles.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been honing in on what I can do to help people, and I’ve been honing in on my life’s mission.

I think I have it now: my mission is to help people with their struggles, and find mindful openness, gratitude and joy. My mission is to transform fear, uncertainty and discomfort into this place of peace and contentment. I’ve been working on how to state that mission in a succinct way, and I’m still working on it.

But I’m going to own my mission statement as it is right now: Help the world transform fear & uncertainty into mindful openness and joy.

Transform fear and procrastination into joy and gratitude.

Transform struggle and frustration into growth and love.

Transform uncertainty and change into peace and openness.

That’s my mission, and I’m sharing it with you because over the next couple of years, you’ll see me write more about this, but also offer books, courses, webinars, workshops and retreats to try to accomplish this mission.

That’s why I offered the Dealing with Struggles Course (which is still open right now), why I offered the Zen Habits Mindfulness Retreat (just finished this past weekend, went brilliantly!), why I continue to offer new video courses in my Sea Change Program. I’m not doing these to make lots of money, but to fulfill my life’s mission.

This Sunday (April 30) is my 44th birthday, and I’m going to be offering a free video training program on that day, as a gift to all of you. I’ll tell you more about it on Sunday, but for now just know that’s it will be completely free, I won’t be trying to upsell you on any products or services, and the only reason I’m offering it is because I am driven to serve you and my mission.

It be called The 44 Training Program: Training in Uncertainty to Find Mindful Openness. It will be a 44-day training program, where you commit to practicing for just 5-10 minutes a day. You’ll get good at uncertainty and discomfort and change, and learn to find joy and openness in the midst of it all. More on Sunday!

For now, I just wanted to share my mission with you all, because I love you guys, and you have changed my life in a profound way. I’m deeply grateful for your support over the years, and just know that I’m committed to serving you with love and joy.

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