Why I Don’t Like Zen Habits

July 13, 2008

Is your nose permanently stuck in self improvement books? Have you read every single post on Zen Habits at least twice? Or do you find any reading materials that tell you how you should be living your life just a tad irritating?

I was reading this post by Skellie and I was surprised to find myself admitting that although some of the posts on Zen Habits were good, I wasn’t keen on others - I found them repetitive. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Zen Habits, it’s Leo Babauta’s amazingly popular self improvement blog.

Later that day, I found myself pondering on why I didn’t like many of Leo’s posts. For a start, he’s an interesting writer and he covers many topics I enjoy. Plus, I prefer to read information that is repeated in varied and interesting ways, as repetition is the easiest way to learn. In fact, the most useful self help books I’ve read repeat the most important points throughout the book.

So there had to be another reason. And while I was reading this post, by Dr Cason, it finally dawned on me. The reason I dislike some of Leo’s posts so much is because they make me feel completely hopeless. It’s kind of irritating when some perfectionist rams their organised and healthy morning routine down your throat, when your average morning consists of 20 cigarettes and a dozen cups of coffee while you try to complete work you should have done last week. And it’s even worse when they remind you that you still suck at time management, even though you’ve read a dozen books on the subject.

My reading avoidance doesn’t just apply to self improvement. When I was going through a particularly unhealthy phase in my life, I began to avoid two of my favourite health blogs - Vegan Momma and The Fit Shack. I really enjoy the content but I could no longer look at pictures of Opal Tribble glowing with health, or read JoLynn’s motivational posts without feeling guilty. I was reading all this great advice and ignoring it, in favour of carrying on with my extremely unhealthy and dangerous ways.

Thinking about it, it would be far better to read less and do more, so no more self improvement books for a while. Oh, but first I have to read Steve Pavlina’s new book and I’ve been promising myself Eckhart Toll’s latest for quite a while.

Are you like me - do you read far too many self improvement materials and fail to use much of the advice to improve your life? Do you avoid reading things that you know would help you, because you feel guilty about the way you’re living?

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38 Responses to “Why I Don’t Like Zen Habits”

  1. The Wife on July 13th, 2008 1:47 am

    I know just what you mean; I’ve unsubscribed from that and similar websites for this exact reason. If only there were a blog where people talked about the idiotic things that they did… ;)
    The Wife’s last blog post..Quick Tip: Keeping Comfortable At Night With Frozen Food

  2. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 1:54 am

    Good point, The Wife - when it gets too much there’s always you and that donkey you’re married to to cheer us up.

  3. Dr.Cason on July 13th, 2008 3:48 am

    Hi! It is kinda nice to realize that we all haven’t got it all figured out huh?

    I always nod my head and tell my patients the things that I do that don’t quite follow AAP recommendations. I think they feel a little better and we get to have a good laugh over how imperfect parenthood is!

    Dr.Cason’s last blog post..Plumeria Raindrops

  4. Jamie Harrop on July 13th, 2008 8:31 am

    Hey Cath,

    I don’t read more self improvement books, although I do read plenty of blogs.

    Like you, I don’t enjoy reading self improvement blogs that make you feel awful. I’m all for “tell it how it is”, but there’s a way to do it so that it still helps and motivates the reader, rather than putting them in to a spiral of self-decline.

    Craig Harper ( http://www.craigharper.com.au ) does this perfectly. He tells it how it is all the time, but by the time you get to the end of the post you feel motivated and ready to take action.

    When self improvement blogs only make you feel bad, it sometimes feels like all the author is doing is showing us how good, great and fantastic he or she is. That shouldn’t be what a self improvement blog is about, in my opinion.

    Jamie Harrop’s last blog post..Week 26 Round-Up & Comment Awards

  5. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 10:01 am

    Hi Dr Cason - I’m glad that doctors don’t claim to be perfect. I’ve been lucky with GP’s, they really haven’t been judgemental at all and they don’t criticize me for my weaknesses. It’s a whole lot easier to go and see a doctor when they don’t preach to you.

    Hi Jamie - Thanks - I’ll check out Craig Harper. I think the trouble was, when I was reading some of the posts, I probably didn’t have the slightest intention of changing my ways - especially the health improvement ones.

  6. Opal @ Vegan Momma on July 13th, 2008 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the link, at times I’ve avoided reading them because I knew what I did was wrong; however, nonetheless it constantly nagged me so I eventually cleaned up and moved on.

    On my websites, I try to write in a way where I don’t make anyone feel badly I’m just writing about my life I reveal my shortcomings also, but I do feel regardless of how nice you are if you are slacking in a certain area a person can still feel guilty. I’m thinking of the blogs that have made me feel guilty for a variety of reasons it wasn’t their intention, but their posts did make me think of areas I knew I needed to improve.

    Over the course of my blogging I’ve written about what has made me feel guilty. It has brought about some interesting discussions.

    Opal @ Vegan Momma’s last blog post..Mommy‚Äôs night out; Bonding with an old friend, while soaking up culture & classical music

  7. Kelly@SHE-POWER on July 13th, 2008 1:10 pm

    The title of this post instantly got my attention because I have found my previous love of Zen Habits wane to mild boredom. I have even looked at it on my blogroll and been unsure whether I should still have it there.

    The crazy thing is I actually feel bad saying this. From my dealings with him Leo is a really nice guy, he values his readers and he’s a good writer. But there is definitely an element of the man on the mountain preaching to us. Maybe it’s because we don’t hear about his failings, his worries. He seems almost super human.

    I’m also sick of How-to and list posts from everyone. They are so overdone. I realize lots of people have a short attention span, but as a writer I like to read someone who can spin a bit of a yarn. Someone like you!


    Kelly@SHE-POWER’s last blog post..It’s official: Australians are Fat and Badly Dressed

  8. Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map on July 13th, 2008 1:18 pm

    As a self improvement junkie myself, I can’t also say that I find every post on Zen Habits appealing. Neither do I profess that every of my post will appeal every single time to all of my readers. Sure…I do try to make my site interesting but whether I succeed or not, I am not too sure.

    I also highly recommend Craig Harper’s blog. He presents the same info in a variety of different ways. He makes his point; sharp and clear.

    Repetition in the areas I need help in, is important for me. Sure I may feel bored sometimes. But repetition is key because I need the drill. I have often found myself having the “Aha…” moment, when things finally sank in. That is when I am provoked to take some action!

    Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map’s last blog post..Draw Inspiration From Never-Give-Up Success Stories

  9. vered on July 13th, 2008 2:07 pm

    I don’t read self-improvement books. I am happy enough with the way things are that I don’t feel another person can teach me how to live my life better.

    I do read Zen Habits regularly, for the same reason I read Dooce: to me, those blogs are a phenomena that makes them interesting to follow, almost regardless of their content. Dooce publishes plenty of boring posts, but I still skim through them quickly, just to keep tabs on what she’s up to. :)
    vered’s last blog post..Google Search Terms: The Funny, The Sad, And The CREEPY

  10. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work on July 13th, 2008 2:11 pm

    To Kelly@SHE-POWER I agree with you. I’ve become so not excited with top 10, 5, 6, 7 8 or 3 ways to do anything. List posts are really rubbing me the wrong way these days. Who talks like that?

    To Cath before reading this I never delved into why I don’t like reading certain blogs. I must admit that some of it is bias against popular blogs. I’d much rather support folks on the way up like myself. Yikes I have to watch that belief for when I get popular.

    I’m a life and career coach so I love having my mind poked. Yet at any one time I have at least a dozen non-fiction books partially completed. Perhaps there is a little avoidance coming into play. But I prefer to just say that I’ve chosen not to read this and work on it at this time.

    It’s funny though I neither read the productivity blogs or the anti-productivity blogs. To me it’s much ado about nothing. When you totally enjoy your work who cares about how productive you are?

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work’s last blog post..A New Way to Find Work that You Love

  11. Scott McIntyre on July 13th, 2008 2:25 pm

    Hi Cath,

    While I personally like Zen Habits- for the same reasons as you- I do actually see what you mean regarding self improvement blogs.

    In life, generally, there is nothing guaranteed to make one feel more inadequate than being lectured at by someone who portrays themselves as being perfect.

    The same applies to blog ‘experts’ in any genre.

    It is more empowering for the reader to learn from the blogger’s acknowledgement of their own frailties and mistakes, than it is to be dazzled by superhuman powers.

    That way, both can grow together as they seek to learn from those errors.

    No one likes to admit that we sometimes get it wrong- but, it is from doing so that we stand to learn our most valuable lessons in life.

  12. Marelisa on July 13th, 2008 3:38 pm

    Lately I’ve been rather bored with zenhabits. I’m making a list of 100 books that I want to read–the Steve Pavlina book is included, as well as two books by Eckhart Tolle–and then I realized that I hadn’t included any novels. I quickly added a couple of “I’m lying on the beach and don’t want to have to think” books. I think the trick is balance (like for everything else :-) ).

    Marelisa’s last blog post..Inspiration Sunday, July 13, 2008

  13. Ian Denny on July 13th, 2008 4:41 pm

    Eckart Tolle’s book on the Power Of Now is a great read.

    Ironically if you can get around to ordering it!

    I do agree with self-help-fatigue.

    We need to get a real-world perspective on s*it like this.

    And I suspect Cath you’ll do it for all of is disillusioned people.

    Ian Denny’s last blog post..Service Targets - 17th June 2008

  14. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 5:27 pm

    Hi Opal You’re welcome. I don’t think you write in a way that makes people feel guilty. But if you’re feeling really unhealthy and can’t be bothered to exercise, it’s difficult not to feel guilty reading about it.

    At least lately, when you ask what exercise your readers are planning to do that day, I can actually respond, instead of making excuses about why I’m doing none.

    Hi Kelly - I used to do quite a few list posts, but I got bored with them and felt really lazy writing them. I see what you’re saying about the preaching part though. Maybe every now and then Leo could show us how to do things he was once hopeless at and share how he managed to overcome those difficulties. That way we wouldn’t feel total feckless when we are struggling.

    Hi Evelyn - that’s a great point - you can’t appeal to everyone all the time. And that’s the second recommendation today for Craig Harpers blog, so I’ll definitely be taking a peek.

    Hi Vered - so I guess you’re watching to see how they do what they do. That’s a smart idea. I haven’t read Dooce before so that’s another one I’ll be checking out.

    Hi Tom - what do you mean when you get popular - you already are. Your last point about enjoying your work being more important than productivity has made me feel a whole heap better about my bad time management. I like you life coach people.

    Hi Scott - Reading about people’s mistakes and how they improved a situation is definitely more interesting isn’t it? I sometimes wonder if people are put off sharing a mistake because they feel as though they’re re-enforcing some past negative belief if they put it in writing?

    Hi Marelisa - It sounds like your book wish list is similar to mine. It’s difficult to fit everything in isn’t it.

    Hi Ian - I’m guessing it would be best to read that one before the latest one. I suppose I’ve definitely made plenty of mistakes, so that’s a start.

  15. John on July 13th, 2008 8:16 pm

    The problem is that self-help improvement is only as good as the person reading it (assuming it is worthwhile in the first place). That person still needs the proper motivation to begin the process of change. While there is a certain amount of will involved in that process, much of it involves life changing events that more of hit us then we hit them- if that makes any sense. For an example just see my about me page.

    John’s last blog post..Saturday’s Run?

  16. chris on July 13th, 2008 9:18 pm

    I’m laughing as I read through the comments because some of the people here are my friends in the blogging world. The funny thing is that I read Leo’s Zen Habits everyday not because he is saying some revolutionary stuff or that his posts are awesome. I follow him because I’m interested on how people are commenting.

    I like Leo because he is a very nice and caring guy (can you hear the violins playing in the background?). He is helpful to me because of how he manages his blog. While we certainly have a different writing styles, I like the way he simplifies things for his readers.

    It’s true that his posts have been repetitive and somewhat over-simplified but there’s also something to be said about a blog that has many followers.

    I would love to be in his situation where a lot of people are praising you and criticizing you with regards to your work.

    chris’s last blog post..My Achilles Heel

  17. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 10:13 pm

    Hi John - I know what you mean. Often something major has to prompt us before we attempt to consider taking any positive action.

  18. cathlawson on July 13th, 2008 10:16 pm

    Hi Chris - that is so funny that you’ve wound up where many of your blogging friends are. I know what you mean re: Leo’s blog. It’s nice when you can go somewhere you can hang and feel like a part of the community.

  19. Barbara Swafford on July 14th, 2008 6:17 am

    Hi Catherine,

    I’m not a Leo follower although he does have a great blog and following.

    I do think we can get “self helped” out. I like to read about a variety of subjects to expand my brain in more than one direction.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..A Day In The Life Of A Blogger

  20. cathlawson on July 14th, 2008 9:44 am

    Hi Barbara - That is a great point. Reading a variety of things is definitely going to be far more useful than just one topic. Often, a solution to your problems comes when you’re not actually looking for one.

  21. JoLynn Braley | The Fit Shack on July 14th, 2008 6:05 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    I don’t read Zen Habits every day but I like the simplicity of it.

    As far as my own writing, anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m not perfect even though I’m very focused on experiencing more joy in my life every day and living life at an optimum level. I don’t have a problem sharing my own ups and downs with my motivation and such because my goal is to show that if I can come back from a motivational slump, anyone can! I’m not a perfect specimen and I really feel like if I can “do it”, then anyone can.

    However I think that if someone is writing from a “higher than thou” place then they aren’t coming from a space of truly caring about helping anyone else, and are instead motivated by ego. In fact, Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth is an EXCELLENT read on that topic, but……what all of this comes down in IMHO is that you’ve got to be ready to take action.

    I was thinking about that topic last week and wrote about it (a lot of it is in my video) saying that I don’t think it’s a good idea to read my blog if one isn’t ready to take action, and I totally understand feeling like that…..

    meaning that I’ve avoided my library of positive, motivational material when I for whatever reason didn’t want to be uplifted at that time. So I completely understand what you’re saying because I’ve been there before and that’s why I wrote last year about surrendering to a lack of motivation. I still have motivational ups and downs, in fact I wasn’t super motivated last week. But, that’s just more experience for me to write about, so that’s cool.

    Either way you’ve got to go with what resonates for you, whether that’s a book or a blog, and you’ve already figured that out. :)

    Keep up the great work with your blog here, you’re really doing a wonderful job!!

    JoLynn Braley | The Fit Shack’s last blog post..Fit Links at The Fit Shack & Online Radio Interview Update

  22. cathlawson on July 14th, 2008 7:21 pm

    Hi JoLynn - Thank you. It sounds like I’ve definitely got to read that Eckhart Tolle book.

    I think that the thing is when I was reading your posts a while back, I did really feel motivated and really wanted to do something about my problems.

    But I remember you saying something about trying to work out the reason why you’re eating or drinking too much. And that is something I didn’t bother to do for a long time, which is probably why I was getting nowhere.

    Now I’ll probably find it a lot easier to follow your tips.

  23. Robin on July 17th, 2008 10:20 am

    Hi Cath!

    I’ve tried to read Zen Habits a few times and I can’t - I don’t remember why, so I won’t speculate.

    I think there are lots and lots of self-improvement blogs that treat problems superficially - e.g. trying to “motivate” overweight people to work-out, while totally ignoring the possibility that an overweight person may have very strong emotional reasons for keeping the weight on.

    Robin’s last blog post..Is The World Getting Better Or Worse?

  24. cathlawson on July 17th, 2008 12:39 pm

    Hi Robin - I know what you mean. And it’s virtually impossible for these people to tackle the problem until they can understand the reason behind it.

    Some of the scariest advice I read was by a prolific blogger. They were likening people who were severely depressed and possibly suicidal to those who were feeling a bit down and actually suggesting that instead of taking medication, they should be trying some mumbo jumbo they’d read about. That was really dangerous advice and the blogger was definitely not qualified to be giving it.

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  26. Bamboo Forest on July 18th, 2008 5:20 pm

    The thing about self improvement material, is that there is a part of the equation that we sometimes don’t want to admit to ourselves. And that is, no matter how enlightening or insightful the advice is, it always requires tremendous and sustained effort, to make the advice have any value at all.

    So, one could be an absolute expert on self help material and yet make no headway whatsoever!

  27. cathlawson on July 19th, 2008 11:36 am

    That is so true. I know people who know heaps about diet yet they can never manage to lose any weight.

  28. Marisa on July 19th, 2008 4:42 pm

    Perhaps because when a certain something gets too overrated, too commercialized, or too often taken for granted, it eventually becomes too superficial for some.

    But that is how Zen is supposed to be — finding balance. It will be, or has been, a personal challenge for whoever runs Zen Habits.

    Marisa’s last blog post..7 Deadly Sips

  29. cathlawson on July 19th, 2008 5:55 pm

    Hi Marisa - That is a good point. I didn’t consider the commercialisation aspect of it all. I found the book - “The Secret” to be too superficial compared to earlier works on the same subject, but I guess they had to write it like that if they wanted to appeal to a wide audience.

  30. deepali on July 20th, 2008 3:26 pm

    I still love Zen Habits, and I don’t get that preachy vibe at all. I find Leo genuine and sincere, actually. I like his blog because it’s simple and straightforward and because he’s a great example. I also love the comments - even more helpful stuff in there.

    But I can see how we can get self-helped out. I had that problem with The Happiness Project blog. I just couldn’t read it any more after a while, maybe because my interpersonal relationship issues were starting to look hopeless…

    deepali’s last blog post..july goals check-in: week 3

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  32. Spark Victory on September 8th, 2008 5:40 pm

    I think ZenHabits is a great blog, but as in all things moderation is key. I think that it can be overwhelming to read it every day and expect to have the results and be on the same level. Leo’s posts are very sincere and really help people get in the right mindset. But I also think that relying on too much of self help blog can make someone feel a little discouraged. And simply reading something is not going to make things happen, people need to practice some accountability and take things into their own hands. As things like developing a good habit takes a significant amount of time and effort. Leo does an excellent job to get the right guidelines/ ideas to get people started.

    Spark Victory’s last blog post..5 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Deadlines

  33. cathlawson on September 8th, 2008 7:55 pm

    Hi DeepAli - I do still like Zen Habits too. Perhaps the title I chose wasn’t the best. And I don’t think Leo is preachy either. I must admit, when I wrote this, I did feel as though he appeared a little perfect. But he’s actually written a post since which states that he’s not perfect all the time either and he has days where he can’t be bothered.

    But I know where you’re coming from re: Feeling Self Helped Out. I think sometimes, we’ve got to stop reading for a while and put what we’ve learned into action.

    I loved the Happiness Project too - it sounds as though it had the same effect on you as Zen Habits had on me.

    Hi Spark Victory. Good point - Perhaps limiting the reading of those type of blogs to a couple of times a week would help. And using the remainder of the time, to actually practice what we’re learning would be the best way to go.

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  36. donovania on October 31st, 2008 3:21 pm

    Bizarre. I like those blogs and I evidently view them differently to you. No one is ramming anything down anyone’s throat. You have a choice about whether or not you want to read them. They give you advice and offer you practical methods, they don’t say ‘you must do this you loser’. If you feel hopeless when you read them then you ought to change your perspective. He doesn’t say he’s perfect. Even if he was, so what? You don’t need to fight him or get angry. You only have to deal with advice, not him as a person. I find those kinds of blogs motivating and useful anyway…

    As for offering surface-advice, quite a few blogs actually do deal with the underlying issues (pavlina, scott h young..). Maybe he didn’t want to copy others, I don’t know…

  37. axel g on November 1st, 2008 2:41 pm

    I have to say that Leo is in a class of his own. What he has achieved in the past few years, few of us won’t achieve in a lifetime.

    He has worked hard to say the least.

    I put my dollar on ZenHabits +_+

  38. cathlawson on November 1st, 2008 4:40 pm

    @ Donovania Yeah - thats what I said - I have the choice whether to read them every day or not. And I made it. Nobody mentioned fighting Leo or getting angry - I find your comments kind of weird. All I said was that I don’t like reading self improvement stuff everyday.

    @ axel g - I think Leo has a great blog - I just don’t like reading it every day. It’s a shame you don’t think you personally will make great achievements though.

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