Relaxing With Chaos

Life is full of uncertainties that test our ability to relax and act
February 21, 2021 Updated: February 21, 2021

There’s a big part of us that doesn’t like chaos: We want order and simplicity. We want to feel we’re on top of things. But that’s not how life works.

So when things feel chaotic, we scramble for some kind of stability.

When we feel overwhelmed and behind, we might beat ourselves up and try to look for a system to get things under control.

When someone is upset with us, we might not like the feeling of being judged and the uncertainty about how people see us, and so we might lash out at them or spin around a story for days about how terrible that person is.

When plans don’t go how we hoped they would, we feel like we’re on unsteady ground, and we start criticizing ourselves or feeling like we’re doing things wrong and things are out of control. This might bring a lot of stress into our lives.

When we think about putting our work out there into the world (by writing a book or putting out an album, for example) we worry about being judged and might decide that we won’t be OK if that happens, that it just feels too scary. As a result, we delay putting our work out there, maybe for years—maybe forever.

Do you relate to any of these examples? In fact, the uncertainty of our chaotic lives is perhaps the main cause of our anxiety, stress, frustration, self-doubt, fears, procrastination, distraction, and more.

We know we’re feeling this chaos when we reach for a new tool, system, method, tactic, plan, expert, book on a topic—or our phones.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. It’s just how we normally respond to chaos.

But if we could relax in the middle of that chaos, we would find additional options:

  • We would be OK with the feeling of overwhelm, and not need to panic or feel bad.
  • We would simply take the next step instead of procrastinating.
  • We could focus on one thing at a time instead of being paralyzed.
  • We could put our work out into the world, accepting that we will be judged.
  • We could give a friend that is upset with us compassion rather than worrying about whether we’ll be OK.
  • We could simply meditate, go for a walk, exercise, eat healthy food, deal with our finances, and take other simple, helpful actions that we put off when we feel stressed about chaos.

The key is to learn to relax with chaos. And from that place, decide on the next simple step.

Training With the Chaos

To transcend the feelings chaos brings, we first have to notice when we’re feeling chaos. Then we can use it as a kind of meditation, to breathe and relax.

Notice when you’re feeling chaos. You don’t have to look for it—you’re probably feeling it right now. The world will always give us enough chaos to practice with. It’s a gift.

Notice it, and then pause.

Breathe. Deep into your belly, slowly, letting yourself relax with each breath.

Then learn to relax with this feeling of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.

Breathe, and with each breath, relax into the feeling of chaos.


Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit