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Zen Habits: 5 Practices to Cultivate a More Calm and Grounded Life

When I think of the word zen, I imagine a state of tranquility, peace, calm, and serenity. Existing in the present moment, instead of the past or future. A state of observing instead of reacting. A mindset that accepts, embraces, and trusts, rather than forces, worries, and races. To me, zen energy is warm, intuitive, relaxed, and flowing. I’ve implemented several practices into my life over the last few years to cultivate a more calm and grounded existence— a life that feels truly aligned. They are what I now call my zen habits, and they have profoundly changed the course of my life.

zen habits

For many years, zen was a foreign concept to me. But gradually, I realized I couldn’t carry on at the same frantic, draining pace forever. So I quit my job.

I quit a job that I worked so hard to get. A profession that I moved across the country to go back to school for. A career path that tested the strength of the most important relationship in my life. A job I loved and cherished while it simultaneously made me physically and mentally unwell. But I quit because I realized I was constructing a life that felt the opposite of peaceful, calm, grounded, and aligned.

That decision changed the trajectory of my life. But the main reason I had the clarity to walk away from that job was because I started implementing tiny, incremental changes that calmed and centered me. Little practices that became habits. Habits that brought zen into my life.

Now, I am so grateful to be able to honestly say that my days are filled with that kind of warm, intuitive, relaxed, flowing energy I didn’t even know existed.

I didn’t have a name for my practices until more recently when I stumbled across a blog by Leo Babuta called Zen Habits, which is about “finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives.” This concept resonates deeply with me, and I have found so much peace and contentment through the zen habits I’m about to share with you. In doing so, my hope is that more people will realize (sooner than I did) that life isn’t supposed to constantly feel draining, chaotic, and high-stress.

It all just starts with one decision, one practice. And that one practice can become a habit that just might transform your life.


MY ZEN HABITS—


01. Reading and journaling first thing in the morning.

Before I open my text messages, social media, email, etc. I read and I journal. Over the years, I’ve learned that I need to protect my energy at the beginning of the day. So instead of waking up and reacting, I’m waking up and setting the tone that *I want* for my day. If I miss a morning, I feeeeel it. I like to read something inspiring, write down my thoughts, think about how I want to feel today, and figure out how I’m going to create those feelings. Like a yoga practice, I set an intention for my day— a mantra, a quote, a word. This morning ritual has been life. changing.

(Read my other post on how to start a morning journaling ritual!)

02. Walks outside.

I feel like a broken record because I talk about how impactful walks are in my life so often. Reason Number One I had the clarity to walk way from that job I mentioned earlier? Regular walks outside. The primary reason I started a blog and etsy shop? Walking outside in nature every day. When I step outside and move my body— whether it’s raining, snowing, or 90 degrees— I feel like I reset. Like my slate is wiped clean. My mind, emotions, and body are refreshed in a way that no other practice refreshes me. Alone time in nature is my form of meditation.

I recently learned (after binge reading three of Cal Newport’s books) about the attention restoration theory. Research actually shows that walking in nature replenishes our ability to focus + concentrate and significantly decreases stress. The intricacies of why and how are fascinating, so you’ll just have to read Cal’s work. But truly, nothing makes me feel more zen and at peace than going for a walk outside on the quiet trails behind our home.

(To learn more, read my post on how taking a walk outside every day has completely changed my life!)

03. Listening to podcasts that center and inspire me.

I love to listen to inspiring podcasts while driving, cleaning, and going for my walks outside. While this might not fit the stereotypical imagery associated with zen habits or serenity, it gets me out of my own head and opens up my mind to new ideas + perspectives.

I’ve heard before that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with, but I think the content we consume— in the form of news, television, radio, music, and social media— also has a significant influence on who we become. So I listen to voices that encourage, inspire, and educate. This practice helps me tap into my intuition, a part of me I now cherish + value so deeply.

04. Imagining.

I read a book called Wishes Fulfilled by Wayne Dyer, and it transformed the way I view my imagination. The concept of manifestation has always been tough for me to comprehend and implement into my life, but my imagination is something I have a better grasp on. This book helped me realize that the imagination is truly a gift. It is something that no one can take away from us. And it is more powerful than we give it credit for.

My imagination has helped me create a life I didn’t believe was possible— one in which I work for myself, my days are filled with activities I deeply enjoy, and most importantly, a life where I feel so much love each day. And I wouldn’t feel like my life is aligned with who I am + what I want if I didn’t first imagine what an aligned life would be like.

This idea is best explained through a few quotes in Dyer’s book.

“If all that now exists was once imagined, then what you want to exist for you in the future must now be imagined.”

“You must attach yourself spiritually to what you have placed in your imagination as a future fact, and never allow anyone, anything, any circumstance, no matter how persuasive their case, to alter what you know to be your destiny.”

And Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

05. Embracing idle time.

I recently did a digital declutter (inspired by none other than Cal Newport and his book Digital Minimalism), and it reminded me what idle time is like. As a kid, I remember my friends and I sometimes complaining that we were “bored”— but when is the last time I actually experienced boredom? (Also, is that even a word kids use anymore with such instant access to technology?)

Doing this technology reset allowed me to embrace moments of doing nothing.

(See my blog post: How To Do a Digital Declutter in 10 Steps if you want to learn more)

For example, instead of grabbing my phone whenever I was waiting for my husband for a few minutes or standing in a short line at the grocery store, I did nothing. I waited like many of us used to do. I noticed my thoughts. I observed my surroundings.

And these tiny in-between moments in life became precious to me. Idle time offers space and clarity that a quick scroll on social media has been robbing me of for years. I realized that I have been trading moments of solitude with the chaos that exists on the internet.

It has been life-giving to remember how nice it is to just be. To simply exist. To daydream + notice + feel your feelings + smile at strangers + soak in the tranquility of a few free extra minutes sprinkled throughout your day.


If anything, I hope that this post inspires you to take one tiny step. One morning where you don’t reach for your phone first thing. One walk in nature. One podcast. One moment of letting your imagination run wild with the life you desire. One minute of idle time in your busy day.

Because that one decision can turn into a habit that transforms your life from usually hectic, stressful, and overwhelming to usually calm, grounded, and zen.

I’d love to hear about any grounding practices in your life or zen habits you’d like to implement. Tag me on Instagram or leave a comment below!

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love always, nik

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