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How to Be Prepared for Anything

‘Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.’ ~Marcus Aurelius

There are various ways to prepare yourself for what might come your way, whether that’s a tough work project, a crisis, the loss of a loved one, an argument with your partner, or the zombie apocalypse.

One way is to get everything ready for anything that’s likely to come: get all your survival equipment, prepare your skills, plan for your work projects, get your affairs in order, think through your arguments, and so on.

The trouble with this is you don’t know what’s coming. And so you’ll spend your entire life preparing for various things, and not really be ready. And who wants to spend their life just preparing?

Another way of preparing is learning some skills that will have you ready for just about anything that might come.

This is the survival kit of living.

First, the philosophy: you can’t prepare for the details of every single possible thing that might come your way in the future, because the future is uncertain. Instead, realize that the external events are just details … the real thing to prepare yourself for is what happens internally. And it’s pretty much the same thing. So we’re going to learn some internal survival skills that will help us deal with anything the future holds.

Second, a little prep before you prep: I’ve found that while the external details aren’t as important as what you do internally, it’s still good to have your house in order as much as possible. That means have your finances in order — get out of debt, or at least have your debts listed with a plan to pay them off as soon as you possibly can, have an emergency fund, spend less than you earn, invest as much as you can. That means simplify your possessions and your time. Get your health in order — focus on eating more whole foods (especially vegetables) and less processed foods, get active. Once you have these things down, the rest of life is much, much easier.

The Survival Kit

If you learn these things, you’ll be ready for anything — from regular work and personal events to crises of all kinds, to major losses and life changes.

  1. Mindfulness. This is the foundation — without practicing mindfulness, you won’t be able to do the other skills regularly enough for them to be useful. You can practice mindfulness simply by meditating — focus on your breath for a few minutes every morning, to start with. As you get better at mindfulness, you will get better at noticing what’s going on inside you as external events happen. For example, if someone is yelling at you, you might be mindful of your body at that moment and notice an increased heartbeat, a panicky feeling in your chest, a hot flush in your face, or something like that. Mindfulness of your body’s responses alert you to what might be going on in your mind.
  2. Watch your internal response. As you start to notice your mind’s responses to external events, you can begin to guide your response. For example, if you are given a large project at the last minute, you might notice your breathing getting shallow and your chest tightening, or your jaw clenching … you can then see that you’re extremely anxious about this, maybe resentful that you’re being asked to do this on a short deadline. You can then examine those responses — anxiety, resentfulness — and decide how to act, rather than being controlled by them.
  3. See what you’re holding onto. When you have a difficult feeling, like anxiety, anger, resentfulness, fear (including procrastination) … there’s something you’re attached to that’s causing the feeling. It can be difficult to spot this at first, but with practice you can see it in an instant. If you’re angry or resentful, there’s an ideal situation you would like, and are holding onto, that doesn’t match up with reality. For example, maybe someone has said something mean to you … you might be angry because (ideally) they shouldn’t treat you that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or not — if you want things to be different than reality, you’ll be angry or resentful or frustrated. Noticing what you’re holding onto is an important step.
  4. Let it go. It’s impossible not to ever hold onto certain ideals … but if you see that the ideal is causing you pain, you can be compassionate with yourself and let go of the ideal. Sure, people should treat you nicely, but that’s an ideal that’s not always going to be true. Letting go of the ideal means embracing the reality that there’s a wide range of behaviors that people will have, and that’s a part of life. Humans don’t always act ideally. We need to accept that, and not force an ideal on reality.
  5. Respond appropriately. Acceptance of reality doesn’t mean you do nothing. It means you let go of the ideals causing the painful feelings, and then figure out how to respond without the anger, frustration, anxiety, resentment. Responding to a person or situation in anger or resentment (for example) doesn’t usually result in a skillful response. If you can let go of the ideal and let the painful feelings go, you can respond more skillfully. When my child breaks a dish, for example, I can get angry (“They shouldn’t break dishes!”) and yell (not skillful), or I can let go of that ideal and the resultant anger, and see if the child is OK, and then calmly and compassionately talk about how to avoid that in the future. That’s a more appropriate response. When we respond in anger or frustration, we only compound the problem. Responding calmly and compassionately means we’re going to be able to deal with anything that is in front of us, whether it’s a crisis or a loss or an angry loved one.
  6. Stay in the moment. We make situations worse when we replay the past in our heads (“How can they have done that?”) or think of all the things that might go wrong in the future. In the present moment, things are OK. We can meet the present moment with calmness and compassion, if we can stay in the present. That means being mindful of when our mind is stuck in the past or speculating about the future, and returning to the present as much as we can.
  7. Be grateful & accept the moment for what it is. Reality can suck, if we want it to be different … or we can accept reality for what it is, and be grateful for it. This takes practice, because it’s hard to be grateful when you feel you’re being treated badly, or you’ve lost a job, or you’ve lost a loved one, or you’re battling illness. But this is the reality you have, not the ideal you wish you had. And it’s a reality that contains beauty, if we choose to see it. This skill makes us much more at peace with whatever we need to deal with.

It might seem overly simplistic to say that this survival kit of dealing with life will help us be prepared for any situation. And it is. But there’s nothing wrong with simplifying things, if only to help us focus our efforts on what’s most important.

In my experience, these skills matter. They make a huge difference. Practice them, and see how you’re able to deal with life in an entirely new way.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC