Keep Making It Simpler by Marc Lesser

The following is an excerpt from Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader: Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen, by Marc Lesser.

Whenever I lead trainings or give talks on using these seven mindfulness practices, I can often feel the room’s energy shift as I describe the seventh practice, “Keep making it simpler.” People experience a sense of relief, as though a weight has been lifted. Their shoulders drop and they relax. Though we yearn for and need practices to support our leadership, mindfulness, and growth, we also have a basic and primal yearning to let go, to let it all go — all our concerns and judgments about our health, well-being, improvement, effort, and struggles over everything, including these practices. What a relief to stop struggling!

Imagine, for just a short amount of time each day, letting go of your to-do lists, your self-help plans, and your projects. Imagine letting go of your improvement plans for others. This is often really difficult. Each day, just appreciate this moment, your life right now as it is.

In meditation practice we train our minds to be aware, to be with whatever sensations, feelings, and thoughts arise. A somewhat radical-sounding practice is to let go of everything with each exhale, to not assume or expect that your exhale will be followed by another inhale. With each breath, let go even of the expectation of being alive. Then, when there is another inhale, be surprised: Oh, here I am!

Acceptance — embracing the fact of impermanence and the certainty of change — is a powerful tool for cultivating simplicity. Much of our doing is extra and moves us in the direction of complexity. The key is to integrate doing and nondoing, effort and effortlessness. This isn’t some magic trick or ancient, mysterious spiritual practice. When you are speaking or writing, just speak or write, without doing anything extra. This same attitude of just doing what you are doing (without comparing or judging or trying to get to the next activity) can be cultivated in leading, in listening, in driving, in working alone or with others, in relationships, as well as in your daily activities.

The intention of the seventh practice is to see or recognize the most important thing in any given moment, even in the midst of our busy lives. We can’t avoid challenges, or problems, or grief, or death, but when we feel confused and overwhelmed, we can remember: Keep making it simpler, and simpler still; each moment and each day, keep making life less complicated, so we are more focused, spacious, and present. So we prioritize the most important action to take.

Meditation: Letting Go of Extra Effort

When I’m leading meditations, after guiding people to find that relaxed and alert state, I then suggest letting it all go: Let go of trying, of unnecessary effort, and just notice what comes to you. This is an important part of all the seven practices: Noticing and letting go of extra effort, of resisting your problems, of resisting change, of trying to change, and instead embrace your life as it is.

Imagine: What would your life be like if you had a different relationship with your problems, if you could completely accept and be at peace with your problems? The meditation that follows explores understanding and working with the eighty-fourth problem, that of wanting not to have problems.

To begin, notice that you are breathing. Simply bring your attention to your breath, sometimes inhaling and sometimes exhaling. As you exhale, notice that you are exhaling, and see if you can let go of all your problems, everything.

Simply bring your attention to your breath. Breathing in and breathing out.

Then, for the length of one long, full exhale, let go:

  • Let go of your to-do lists, unfinished projects, and anything that is lacking or needs to be improved or fixed.
  • Let go of all your self-help plans, and even more difficult for many, let go of your self-help plans for others.
  • Let go of doing or thinking that is extra or unnecessary right now.

Imagine: What might it feel like to appreciate your problems and let go of resisting them?

Then, as you inhale, let all your problems, lists, and issues resurface. Then, with the next exhale, let them go.

Continue for as long as feels comfortable, and when you are ready, bring your attention back to your surroundings and gently reenter your day.


Marc Lesser is a CEO, Zen teacher, author, and leads trainings and talks worldwide. He has led mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs at many of the world’s leading businesses and organizations including Google, SAP, Genentech, and Kaiser. He is currently CEO of ZBA Associates, a company providing mindfulness-based leadership trainings and creating community by supporting ongoing groups. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, whose core programs he helped develop within Google. Marc was a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years and former director of Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center. He currently leads Mill Valley Zen, a weekly meditation group. Marc has an MBA degree from New York University and is the author of Less: Accomplishing More By Doing Less and Know Yourself, Forget Yourself. More information at

Excerpted from the book Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader. Copyright ©2019 by Marc Lesser. Printed with permission from New World Library —

by Marc Lesser