Turn Struggle into Creativity – zen habits zen habits


By Leo Babauta

Most people think that if they’re struggling, that means something is wrong. If you’re struggling to write, to meditate, to eat healthily, to be focused and productive … or struggling in a relationship or job … that means something is wrong with you, or you need to change your circumstances, or this just isn’t right for you.

If we think something is wrong with the struggle, we will usually try to fix it, get out of the struggle, change ourselves … so we don’t have to have this problem anymore.

I’d like to propose a different view: that struggle is the place of growth, learning, curiosity, love, creativity. Struggle is an incredible opportunity for being creative.

Let’s take a couple examples so you can see what I mean, then let’s talk about how to work with this.

Struggle in Writing

Let’s say I’m trying to write a book or a blog post … and I feel frozen by the unknown of it all. What to write about, how to approach the topic, how to be original or valuable, how to avoid people judging me.

So I’m frozen up and don’t know what to write. My instinct might be to avoid this struggle and do something else easier, like answer emails, take care of urgent tasks, check social media. But what would it be like to stay in this struggle?

Instead of avoiding the writing … I could commit myself to staying here. Staring at the blank screen, and letting myself sit with the discomfort that I’m feeling. Let myself sit with the unknown, and feel what it feels like. Get comfortable with this unknown, with the struggle.

After sitting for a few minutes, I might start to settle in and relax with the struggle. The unknown isn’t so scary. I can breathe deeper, and find the beauty in this moment of unknown.

From this place, I might find some creativity. OK, I don’t know what to write … but could I try something silly? Write about a superhero penguin, or an accountant that can shoot rainbows out of his belly button. Maybe I could write about not knowing what to write about, and sing a song as I write (“Oh I wish I knew what to wriiiiite!”).

The specifics of what I try here don’t matter. What matters is I can just try something. Maybe I make a list. Maybe I dance around until something comes up. Maybe I meditate and become one with the universe, and then the universe channels and answer through me. Maybe I trust whatever my heart says. I don’t know — but that’s the place of discovery, in the “I don’t know”.

Struggle in Habits

Let’s say I wanted to practice yoga every morning for 30 minutes. I commit myself, I set a reminder, I feel excited about it! I might even do it for a few days. Then one day when it’s time to do my yoga … now I don’t feel like it, and check my messages instead. This happens for a few days, where I avoid it and feel bad about myself.

Normally, we might just give up, and tell ourselves it wasn’t worth it. Or be harsh with ourselves about the failure. But what else could be found in this struggle?

Imagine that I could pause for a few minutes and feel the struggle. Let myself feel how I am disappointed in myself and discouraged. What if I could bring curiosity into this place, and maybe even compassion and love? What if the real yoga is in this place, where I feel lost and want to beat myself up or give up?

If I stay in this space of the unknown for a little bit, I can find something new. This is where real learning, real growth, real transformation takes place. I might be able to get creative and try something new, if I stay here for a little longer.

We mostly want to get out of this place, because it’s uncomfortable. But maybe staying is exactly the spot where I could grow beyond my current reality.

How to Practice Creativity in Struggle

As you can see, this requires a growth mindset — a mindset that the struggle isn’t the end, but the place of learning and creativity.

So when struggle shows up, here’s how I might practice:

  1. Notice that I’m struggling, and that I want to get out of it in some way.
  2. Invite myself to stay here, in the struggle, rather than needing to avoid it or fix it.
  3. Breathe. Let myself get present, and find a little bit of spaciousness.
  4. Bring curiosity — what can I discover here in the unknown of this struggle?
  5. Invite creativity — what else might I try, other than what I already know how to do?

I invite you to practice this, and see what you can discover. You might find that there’s more depth to this space of the unknown than you imagined.

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