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SPI 627: Uncertainty, Fear, and Doing Meaningful Work With Leo Babauta

What often stops us from taking action is the story our fear tells us. We’re afraid that other people might laugh at us or judge us. But when you step back and think about it, is the worst-case scenario really that bad?

Today’s episode is all about understanding and overcoming uncertainty. My special guest, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, has been a massive inspiration for me since 2008 when I started Smart Passive Income. Through his blog and best-selling books, he has impacted millions of readers. I know I wouldn’t be here without him!

So what is uncertainty? How can we use our inner dialogue to propel us forward? How do we focus on meaningful work without fear?

This conversation is packed with actionable tips and tools that can help us defeat procrastination, perfectionism, and negative thought patterns. We’ll discuss setting and achieving goals, developing a fearlessness practice, and finding meaning in our work.

I’m so grateful for this deep conversation and I can’t wait to share it with you. Listen in to get a new perspective on uncertainty and learn the vital habits that will set you up for success.

Today’s Guest

Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta is a simplicity blogger and author. He created Zen Habits, a Top 25 blog with a million readers. He’s also a best-selling author, a husband, father of six children, and a vegan. In 2010 he moved from Guam to California, where he leads a simple life.

He’s also a Zen student and is on a mission to help the world open through uncertainty training.

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SPI 627: Uncertainty, Fear and Doing Meaningful Work With Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta: It’s the story that our fear tells us. So it tells us this thing. It’s, like, “Dude, people are gonna throw things at you, they’re gonna laugh, don’t do it.” And so you’re, like, “Okay, okay, that sounds terrible. I’m not gonna do it. That sounds safe.”

But there’s a part of us that can go beyond that and see like, Oh, actually, the worst case scenario is probably not that bad. I might get judged a little bit, which you know, I’m gonna do to myself anyway so I might as well just create something really cool to help people.

Pat Flynn: That was Leo Babauta. Leo is somebody who’s been blogging since 2007, and he was a huge inspiration to me when I first started the Smart Passive Income blog back in 2008 was him and Darren Rowse. Who both kind of led the blogging world at the time, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Leo and and Darren.

And so we have Leo on the show today. Leo over at ZenHabits.net has just a way with words. He was a writer, but now he’s doing a lot of coaching and such, and we’re gonna unpack a lot of what uncertainty actually is. If you are pushing yourself, especially if you’re an entrepreneur or trying something new, you’re going to experience uncertainty and that can lead to some not so great things that will ultimately lead you away from where it is that you want to go.

But how do we focus on the meaningful work in our life? How do we actually take that uncertainty, rewrite it into something that can actually propel us forward? We unpack a lot of that today, especially around my own story and certain experiences in my life where I’ve felt uncertainty, and I’m hoping that after this episode you can come out of this with some renewed energy and understanding about the work that we’re doing and also why.

Welcome to episode 627 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. This can be a really fun one. Let’s get back to the interview and enjoy this time with Leo Babauta from ZenHabits.net.

Announcer: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, his son’s a teenager now and is about to grow to be taller than him. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Leo, welcome to the podcast. It’s really good to have you on the show today. Thanks for joining.

Leo Babauta: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m excited and honored.

Pat Flynn: I’ve been a long time fan and when I started blogging in 2008, after I got laid off, you know, it was Darren Rowse and you and a couple other people that really were inspiring a new generation of content creators and, and on and soon to be entrepreneurs at the time, and, and I was a part of that wave.

So just on behalf of everybody who’s been influenced by you, which is probably in the millions by now, thank you for what you’ve done. And, and tell us about Zen Habits and kind of how it, how it all got started, cuz that was the website that, that really changed a lot of lives.

Leo Babauta: Yeah, thanks. And you know, it would go back to you too. You’ve influenced so many and it’s just really cool to be connected to you and on this podcast after all these years of knowing you. But yeah, the Zen Habits was my first blog and really just took off the first year, which was in 2007, I’d gone through like more than a year of changing my whole life. So I just had a story of going from like being a smoker and sedentary and overweight and deeply in debt and really not happy with my life, procrastinator, like all kinds of bad stuff.

And one habit at a time I changed my entire life to where I was. I quit smoking, I was getting outta debt simplified my life was really like decluttering, getting rid of everything. Still kept the six kids, but they barely made the cut. And ran a marathon at the end of 2006.

And after the marathon I’m like, Okay, what’s next? Cuz I was still on that journey. And I’m like, I gotta write about this and share all the exciting things that was happening for me. So I started the blog just really to share what was going on. and really connected with people and it took off. I got a book deal. I, yeah, I had like 26,000 subscribers by the end of the, the first year and went well beyond that after that.

And it was just like, I found my calling, my passion and that as you know, like when you find that something gets lit up in you and that’s, that’s what happened to me in 2007 and honestly it hasn’t stopped in the last 15 years.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, I mean, you’ve been going for a long time and you were, I would say, one of the most popular bloggers in the sphere that I was in and, and a lot of us were in around 2010, 2011, 2012, and then all of a sudden you weren’t there anymore and it wasn’t that like you had disappeared, but it just felt like you weren’t creating content like you used to, or at least. I don’t know what happened. But then you were still doing like, what, what happened around that, that era, around that time.

Leo Babauta: That’s so interesting that that was, that’s your experience. So I’ll, I’ll share what it was like for me is I got lit up that first year and I was pretty much writing everywhere. I was like writing guest posts and in magazines and really just outward expansion and did great for my business. I was just really having fun.

But I think around 2010, 2011, I was like you know what? I only had so much energy to do that, like outward expansion, and so I kind of wanted to go deeper with what I was doing and work with people on a deeper level. So I started a membership program. I started coaching people. I started, you know, teaching on, in smaller groups, webinars with like, you know, 20 to 50 people and really getting curious about the details about like what was going on that was stopping people from making changes.

And as I did that, I like went deeper and deeper and there were like layers underneath the like, you know, I could give them the 10 things you needed to do to change your habits, but there was something deeper that was going on with them and that was a real uncertainty about who they are, whether they were worthy, you know, whether they were good enough.

And every failure with habits was making, like plugging back into their own beliefs about themselves, about how crappy they were. I really started to undercover that and work with compassion, self-compassion, and then to a deeper level, which is just uncertainty about our lives, about who we are, about, like whether we’re doing the right thing on a day to day basis and, and bigger picture which I’m sure you could relate to as a father, as an entrepreneur, as someone who’s leading communities.

Like, there’s always that uncertainty that I know, something that I experience in my own life. I also went deeper into zen meditation and training with a Zen teacher. And so as I deepen into my own practice, I was learning a lot about that uncertainty and about compassion and how to work with that and help people not only change habits and simplify their lives and find mindfulness, but to deepen into that with their meaningful work and families and relationships.

So that’s, that’s where I, I went, which I get, like on the outside didn’t look like I was doing as much. I was still blogging, writing emails and all of that, but I was within a smaller community going deeper with people. Yeah,

Pat Flynn: that makes complete sense. And I’m sure as you went deeper, you started to learn more and more about just how people work and, and finding some patterns. What are some of the patterns that you discovered working more deeply with your students and your clients with relation to uncertainty. You know, we all have big goals that we wanna achieve. Everybody listening to this show does for sure.

Yeah. And oftentimes we get in our own way. It’s, it’s something within us actually is a thing that’s stopping us. Could you talk a little bit more about that and help us maybe unwrap that?

Leo Babauta: I could go into this, you know, for months, so I don’t know how long you have today.

Pat Flynn: Not months.

Leo Babauta: The short answer, is, I, I love this topic.

I’m like, basically an uncertainty, geek uncertainty and fear. But, so, as you said, like with goals, it’s like that’s a great example if, whether it’s a business goal or a personal goal, we can give people, you know, the steps, here’s what you need to do to, to reach that goal. But at some point though, they’re gonna get stopped.

And so I got really curious about that, what’s stopping them and the, the deepest reason is uncertainty about whether they’re gonna be able to be okay, whether they’re gonna be able to succeed, whether they’re gonna be good enough. Uncertainty about themselves and the world, and what people think about them.

You might get people who, well, we all experience uncertainty on a day-to-day basis. It’s bigger when it comes to meaningful work and big goals. The bigger the thing, the more uncertainty there is. But we all have certain responses and you asked about patterns. So everyone has different responses, but we can group them into certain patterns.

So one of them is just a big lump of ones that we call avoidance, right? So I’m feeling uncertain about that. So if I wanted to write a book. Just like, you know, I keep doing everything else. Wash the dishes, you know, check email, Twitter, whatever. So avoidance that often is called procrastination, but it could be hiding.

It could be, you know, it could also be beating myself up, which is another category of patterns. But then there are people who will do it. But they’ll do it and really get stuck in perfectionism, perfectionism, or control, or trying to get all the right systems. The other one that I think you’ll relate to as a teacher is I’m gonna learn all of the things before I can do something.

So just like all the information, no action, or like only the actions that are within the things that I already know how to do, which are safe. So I can’t step outside of that. So these are some of the common things we, we have, you know, there’s, in interpersonal relationships, it’ll often look like lashing out or getting defensive, stonewalling.

All of these things, basically all the things that we judge about ourselves or others, including judgment, are patterns in response to uncertainty. It’s the way that we keep ourselves safe, protect ourselves, and we can judge them or we can have a more compassionate view, which is that this is how we’ve learned to protect ourselves probably from a really early age.

We don’t need to go into all the details of how that gets formed, but it, you know, it gets formed honestly. It’s not, we’re not bad people for wanting to protect ourselves and stay safe, but in the end, there are patterns to protect ourselves and we don’t have to be trapped by them. If we wanna break out of that and step into something bigger, we can learn to train with that uncertainty, recognize the patterns, and create something new for ourselves.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, I mean, I always know that the first step is just acknowledgement, right? And, and knowing that this is something that you’re going through or is a reaction that you have to something, but then what might be the next steps after that? How do we train ourselves out of these bad habits and things that you know, we’re actually on a, on a biologically level, you know, trying to protect ourselves, right?

Like that’s a lot of the reason why this stuff is in us, because it’s a fear and, you know, whether it’s psychological because we don’t want to feel ashamed in front of other people or just, you know, a lot of the history of, of ourselves growing up with our parents or society or teachers or any bad experiences that we’ve had.

How do you unlearn that? How do you train yourself outta that kind of stuff?

Leo Babauta: So I can give you some like steps to do that. The problem is that when people start to do those steps, they will get confronted by this very uncertainty and this fear and they’ll stop doing it. So before we go into like how to train, the thing that needs to, that people need to get clear on is what do they want that’s on the other side of that. Like why train with uncertainty? Why face your fears? Why change your patterns? A lot of times they’ll start because like, it’s good to do. Like it’s something that I, I, I think I should do that’ll take you so far. People like you and me who are very committed and, and like willing to like, push into uncertainty and discomfort will go so far with should.

And at some point we’re gonna just be like, I’m just making myself suffer here. And so we need something on the other side of it, you know, for the book example is like, why do I wanna write the book? Is it just like something I think I should do? Or is there something that lights me up about that, like is something I wanna share with people, an experience I want to create something that I think could change in the world. That’d be really like, that feel really meaningful and and deep for me. And so once we’ve gotten clear on that, that gives us something to move towards. Cuz you can go into uncertainty and fear in pretty much every direction. You know, like, I wanna learn to exercise, I wanna learn to like be a better father or a husband.

You know, we wanna set a direction that we wanna move towards. So I wanna create this book so it can create some change in the world that I care. And then set yourself some steps. So you wanna create structure. So, you know, 30 minutes a day, I’m gonna write this book before I go to work. And it’s gonna be at 6:00 AM 6:30 AM give yourself a little bit of break, and I’m going to write every single day there.

And then what you’ll find is you’ll get it confronted by the uncertainty at some point, whether it’s on day one or day a hundred, some point, you’re gonna get it confronted by it. And that’s the place where you’re asking like, how do we start to shift that? So you wanna create a reason why a thing, you’re moving towards a possibility you wanna create, and then a structure to move towards that.

The opportunity there when we get confronted is because we’ve created structure and something to move towards we start to see the pattern is there, the thing that you talked about, the awareness. So it’s like, Every time I do this, I go and check email or Instagram. So great.

That gets really clear because you’ve set the structure for yourself. Otherwise it’s like you just start to move in different directions and you don’t even notice that you’re doing it. So you start to see it and then you can take a look at it, like what’s showing up there and what you wanna do, as much as possible, well, we might judge it and like beat ourselves up about it and feel like there’s something wrong with us, but as much as possible to hold that with a degree of compassion and even like wonder like, Wow, I created this incredible system, what a creator I am. And then the, the training is not only to hold it with reverence, but to be.

Our fears, our uncertainty, all of the thought patterns that will happen. Like I, you know, you shouldn’t do this. No one’s gonna care about this. You know, no one wants this. You’re not good enough. You know you’re gonna hear crickets when you put this out into the world. All of those fears that we all have when we create.

So we wanna like practice being with that. And I can talk about that training, but that’s the basic training is to be with all of that. And once we can learn to be with it, it becomes way easier. But it takes some practice to do that.

Pat Flynn: I love that idea of just being with it, right? Not trying to ignore it or, or push it away, but knowing that that’s a part of you, but then understanding how you might react to it or what, what you might now do about it.

And like you said, the purpose that comes with what it is that you’re doing is really important. Something that I always try to have with the projects that I work on is some sort of, not just goal, but a driver. Like the goal is going to help me do something or unlock something or achieve something. Right? Not, it’s not just the goal itself, it’s how I’ll feel afterwards or what, what it’ll do for me or what it’ll do for my family.

And so when times get tough, like you said, it’s that, that pushes me through that. And you know, Sometimes we, we get so deep into our work. I mean, we all know this, we just forget why we made the decision to do it in the first place.

Leo Babauta: Why am I doing this again? Yeah.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. Exactly. So, so having that in mind makes sense.

And then I love what you said about the structure too. If you start noticing patterns about yourself, I call them rumble strips. If you’re driving on the road Yeah. And you start to fall sleepy and you kind of drift to the side, they often have these like indentations on the road that like will make your tires make noise.

Rumble strips so that you get back on the right lane. And I think that if you could find out what your own version of Rumble Strips are, whether it’s just being conscious about you checking email every time you attempt a project, or having other people hold you accountable as your rumble strip, I think that can help when it comes to your purpose and the goal, Not just the goal, but like the reasons and the why.

Are there any things we can do to better remind ourselves about that? You know, vision boards are a thing for some people.

Leo Babauta: What I personally do and what I, what I have, everybody that I work with do is create a vision. You know, it could be a few paragraphs. It’s just like what it would be like after you’ve made the change.

So, you know, in six months from now, after I’ve written this book, it’s gonna feel like, freaking fantastic. You know, I’m like just lit up. I’m, I’m just feeling joy at, at helping people. So there should be some kind of emotional component to it, but also like a tangible outcome. So a vision for it. You know, I’m, I’m helping others with this.

They’re feeling really great about themselves. You know, they’re, they’re making big changes in their lives, and so you write this vision. And then usually what people do is just forget about it. It’ll get to nose to the grindstone and just do what they think they should do. And then when you start to notice that, which is also a pattern in uncertainty, it’s just like, do everything that you think you should do it right, you know, kind of that, you know, make yourself do stuff.

What I usually ask them to do is reconnect to that vision. And then the opportunity is to reconnect to it on a daily basis, right? Before you write the, you know, do your 30 minutes of writing, can you like, feel what it would feel like to do this in the future? And then a really cool thing if you’re able to, is to pull that, it’s almost like magic, right? Like pull that future into the present. So it’s like, do I wanna feel lit up for helping people in six months from now? Could I bring that into the writing session so that I’m actually feeling like I’m serving them right now? Having a conversation with them and seeing the changes in their lives, seeing the struggles that they’re having, that could be really meaningful and bring that into this 30 minute session, which is really cool if you can make it happen, you know?

It’s, it’s not about getting that perfect, but it’s, it’s an opportunity to practice with that.

Pat Flynn: I love that. It reminds me of like the daily affirmations one might say to themselves to condition their brain to begin to not like believe something that hasn’t happened yet, but to take the right actions as if that thing is going to happen.

So we, we see that in Miracle Morning. We see that in a lot of books about how to get rich. We see that in a lot of books about relationships. It’s the daily affirmations and reminding yourself and building a habit to remind yourself of, of that why. So that when you do come into a hurdle or a brick wall, you know that there’s a reason why you can get through this or why you should get through this.

Leo Babauta: Yeah. We need that reminder. We definitely need, Cause it is you, like you said, you forget. Right? And so you’re just like, now you’re just doing it to do it. You know, you just all of a sudden like butting your head up against the brick wall and you’re like, Why am I doing this again? ? So yeah, they’re reminding ourselves of that and, and if we could connect to the emotions of it too, which is not something that a lot of people wanna do because they’re very much like, Intellectual, kind of like do things cuz I’m supposed to which is really just like cutting our heads off from our hearts.

And so for me, I really like to connect to the heart of it as well. You know, I’m, I’m kind of someone who combines both, you know, like what’s the, the thing that I need to do, but also what’s the heart behind it? And so if we can connect to that, it really helps us to have a whole different experience of that 30 minutes of writing rather than like just doing it because I should.

Pat Flynn: Love that. I know from my experience when I’ve tried new things, and I always recommend for people to expand outside of their comfort zone, right? Try something that’s gonna make you a little bit uncomfortable, which will, you know, then in turn make you a little uncertain. But I know that whenever I’ve pushed myself in that direction, I always start, I don’t know why this is, maybe you have some information about it, but I always start imagining the worst case scenario.

I remember when I used to be definitely afraid of public speaking, and then when I was asked to speak at an event, I thought it was going to go terribly. People were gonna throw tomatoes at me. I was gonna end up naked in a ditch somewhere. And these were real thoughts that I had, which now looking back are like ridiculous.

But where does that like, overexaggerated unreal scenario come from when it comes to, you know, us pushing ourselves outside of that comfort zone is, why is that there and how do we begin to understand that?

Leo Babauta: Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question. So, you know, we could definitely go into the whole like, evolutionary reasons why this has happened and, you know, neurobiologic kind of stuff.

I’m not an expert at that, so I’m just not gonna speak to it too deeply. There’s a reason why we have these basically warning mechanisms, like they’re protection systems in our biology is like, that is dangerous. And you know, if it was like that’s just kind of dangerous, you might be like, I’ll do it anyway.

Right? So it has to kind of give you a really almost like life and death kind of scenario to, to really have you obey. Because probably it might have actually given you lo lower signals before, and you didn’t listen. You’re like, Oh, I’m gonna be great. And then at some point someone’s like, Pat, you’re an idiot.

You should never like, speak in front of the class. And so you’re like, Oh damn. Like that was terrible. It’s like, it, it has like this emotional, it connects to your feelings of worth unworthiness and inadequacy that every human has to grapple with. And so because it plugs into those really deep core like fears about ourselves, it feels like life and death.

And so then the, the thing that happens from there, which is fascinating, is we start to make up a. A narrative and you, you mentioned some very vivid ones, which is amazing that you could share that with us. But some very vivid stories of like auh, you know, for example, if you’re in an argument with your spouse, like, ah, they shouldn’t be doing this, they’re always doing this to me, and we can like blow it up in our heads when it was like, they just ask you to put away your, your clothes from the floor, you know,

So it was just like, it wasn’t a big deal, but we. Tell this story, and it’s really the story, the way that I talk about it, is that it’s the story that our fear tells us. And so our fear is just like afraid that something bad is gonna happen. We’re gonna feel terrible about ourselves, like an idiot. And so it tells us this thing.

It’s like. Dude, you’re gonna be in a ditch. Don’t go on that stage. It’s gonna be terrible. People are gonna throw things at you, they’re gonna laugh, think you’re an idiot, don’t do it. And so you’re like, Okay, okay, that sounds terrible. I’m not gonna do it. It’s, I can be happy not talking in public, writing in, you know, behind the scenes behind my computer.

That sounds safe. Great. I got it. So it actually works. It protects you. But what we know as you know, like when we can get some distance from that fear is. It’s completely exaggerated, you know, it doesn’t have to make any sense, it’s just how fear is. But there’s a part of us that can go beyond that and see like, Oh, actually, you know, I can take a deep breath, have some perspective, and it’s actually the worst case scenario is probably not that bad.

I might get judged a little bit. , which you know, I’m gonna do to myself anyway if I don’t go on that stage. So I might as well just create something really cool which is to help people while I’m on that stage. Yeah. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Pat Flynn: No, it does. I never really heard it put that way that the story that we tell ourselves is exaggerated because that would.

Ultimately protect us from the thing that because of evolution, we back in the day would die if you know something were to happen. But you know, we know that on stage, you know that’s not gonna happen. But I think if we can be, again, if we can be conscious of how are we reacting and is that actually true?

Right? I actually like to look at like first principles and, and find truth in the story, right? The story is a story, but where is there truth in there? Is it true they’re gonna throw tomatoes at me? No, cuz they wouldn’t have tomatoes in the first place. Okay. So I could get rid of that.

Leo Babauta: You’re at a tomato expo, right?

Pat Flynn: Well, yeah. Then, then, then you have to worry . But you know, finding truth in these stories has helped me understand what the real worst case scenario could be. And again, like you said, it’s never even close to what my brain makes up. And I always think I’m the only one that does that. And then whenever I share this, it’s like, no, everybody has these ridiculous thoughts.

Leo Babauta: I love that. Like the first principles, finding the truth in it. And really like what I’m hearing is that there’s like this part of you that’s afraid and says all of these disaster scenarios and then there’s kind of the more grown up part of you that can be like, Yeah, actually they probably aren’t gonna have tomatoes.

You’ll be fine. So it’s like reassuring the fear, like there’s actually not much to worry about here. It’s actually gonna be fine. There’s not a lot of truth in that story. And I think of that almost like a parent child kind of relationship that we all have inside of ourselves. It’s like there’s this fear that it’s just panicking, like almost like a little kid that’s just like so scared.

And then there’s the, you know, you’re the the father who’s just reassuring, like it’s all gonna be okay and we have the capacity to be both at the same time, which is really fascinating. But I’d like to share one thing about like practicing with that fear. The practice that you could take on if you decide to do that, what you know, what you did with speaking on a stage, like really getting clear what’s the worst case scenario?

What am I afraid of here? And then the question that I like to ask is, what’s the story, my fear is telling me? You’re gonna be in a ditch covered in tomato sauce. So you just kind of let yourself hear that, and you can even write it down in a journal. It’s like, this is what my fear is saying. And then there’s also the feeling that you’re having, which is a sensation in the body.

So this is where my, my Zen practice comes in, is like you can get really present to the sensations in the body. The breath obviously, but there’s also like, ah, there’s tightness in my chest or feeling of like radiating, you know, energy going out from the heart or like a tightness in the throat. So wherever that is really getting present to that and the, what happens is we get present to the sensation and then get clear on what our fear story is. What the story our fear is telling us is it actually loses a lot of his significance. So it’s like, Oh, this is such a big deal. I need to run away from it. If you’ve ridden the same thing down about the ditch and the tomatoes, you know, like a thousand times, you know, every single day for, for a year or three years, all of a sudden it’s just like, Oh yeah, you know, I’ve seen that so many times before.

No big deal, you know, because you’ve dealt with it so often. I actually think that’s probably similar to the training that you’ve done for yourself. Like you kind of figured it out is like put yourself in the place where you might be putting on yourself on stage and just do it over and over again. And after a while it’s like, Oh yeah, I was able to speak there and I was there and I was there.

There were no ditches, nothing. And it was fine. And actually it was like, Oh yeah, I still feel the fear before I go on stage. You know, that thing is still there. I still hear the story, but I’m like, Actually, I’ve heard that so many times that it’s not anything to panic about. And I’ve been with the feeling in the body so many times, I’ve sat with that so often that it’s just like, Oh yeah, I know that so well. And you can even make friends with it. It’s like, Oh yeah, that’s an old friend of mine. It’s telling me that there’s something. And the way that I frame that now, like it’s good to reframe these things, that feeling in the body and the story that my fear is telling me is an indicator that I’m up to something scary.

Something uncomfortable, something that has uncertainty in it, which for me is something meaningful. Like I can’t do anything meaningful without uncertainty. And so if I am doing something meaningful, there’s gonna be a sign that says, you know, turn around. I’m like, Oh, okay, great. That turnaround sign means there’s something going on here that I actually care about that is meaningful to me.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have that sign.

Pat Flynn: I love that reading the signals and, and I do that as well. I mean, I actually gravitate toward, Where I’m uncomfortable now to know that I’m actually pushing myself to help more people or do something different and not be complacent and that sort of thing. And you nailed it because the truth is, I still feel the fear, the same kind of fear I did on day one.

On stage. I still feel it. I just, I’m used to it now and I know what it means, and I understand that that’s not going to lead me into a ditch anywhere. It actually gives me the opportunity to get in front of new people that I’ve never been in front of before, to tell my story, to connect and build more relationships, to build more awareness of my brand and all these amazing things that happen when I overcome that fear.

And again, like I said, if I don’t have that fear, that’s when I’m actually most worried. Yeah. Am I just doing things because it’s comfortable and I’m just kind of coasting. I don’t, I don’t want to just coast.

Leo Babauta: Actually that’s interesting because that’s exactly what happened when you were asking like what happened to me, you know, when I went quiet at that point, I think it was 2010 or 2011 it was around the time actually when you and I first met.

I think we met at Blog World 2011 or something like that. So around that time I was doing great, but I started to coast. I’m like, this is easy. I know what I’m doing. Like, there’s nothing hard or scary, and that’s kind of cool, but it was also like, I’m kind of bored, you know? Like I, I’m not someone, and I bet many of the people who are listening to this are the same.

It’s like if you’re just coasting and doing what you already know how to do, that’s not interesting. That’s not, there’s no growth or learning there. Actually, I’ll tell you now that I’m remembering this. I felt a little bit of depression at the time, not deep clinical depression, but just like, ah, I’m not that motivated to get up and, and write these blog posts anymore.

And I’m like, What’s going on here? Because, you know, I’m not someone who gets depressed a lot. And I was like, I’m just bored. Like I’m not interested in the work that I’m doing. And so I had to find a way to deepen into it, find something that was challenging and going deeper with people and really like finding the places where they were getting.

You know, person to person or in small groups. That’s where I found like, Oh, there’s some challenge here for me. I don’t know what I’m doing here. The signs are telling me to turn around. So I’m like, Okay, great. I’m onto something and, and I started to get lit up again. So that, that’s an example of what you’re talking about is like, Yeah, that’s, that wasn’t for me, is just to kind of be in that place where I already knew how to do.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. That’s incredible. And, and so what are the things that, that you’re up to now or what’s coming for Zen habits.net or Leo Babauta?

Leo Babauta: Thanks for asking. So the practice that I’ve been doing myself and then bringing to others is called fearlessness. And a lot of people think that means like an absence of fear, but what fearlessness is is ability to turn towards fear and uncertainty and be with it, you know, as we’ve been talking about, and even become like friends with it, intimate with it. And like even like find love in the middle of that. So it’s like meaning and love and purpose and joy and like getting lit up by what you’re doing can coexist with the fear and uncertainty so they can be together. And I actually think the most meaningful stuff has both of those in it.

So that’s the fearless practice. And so I, I’ve been bringing that to a membership program that I call the Fearless Living Academy. We teach people how to do habits, a whole bunch of courses on habits, but also how to find your purpose and then how to actually take that purpose and create an impact with it.

And all of it is training with this kind of stuff. And then I do a, a deeper program, a small group coaching program where that we call Fearless Mastery, where we go even deeper with people. And these are people who are up to something big in the world and wanna do something meaningful. And we train deeply.

So that’s where what I’ve been doing lately. Man, it is so incredible to like be with people when they start to turn towards fear and start to shift some of these patterns that we talked about. They start to create something new in their life, like a whole new experience of life, of their business.

I’ve had people who are like successful business owners, but they’re just like burnt out and like not loving it and like no space for themselves. They have to do everything and they’re overworked, and then they create like space for themselves and nurturing for themselves, and like building a team and trusting that.

So that’s like one, and then there’s another who’s like trying to find their purpose and they find it and then they don’t wanna do it. And then they like get transformed in the middle of that kind of crucible of like fear, which is like, if that’s the opportunity, if we don’t turn away from the fear, turn towards it, it can actually create a new version of ourselves.

And man, I just love that. So I don’t know if any of that sparked anything for anybody, but I really love what I’m doing now.

Pat Flynn: And if it does, head over to zen habits.net. To finish up, Leo, I have one, one final question, and it’s a phrase that you’ve said of several times here today, but I wanna get your definition of it, and that is meaningful work.

What, what is meaningful work? A lot of people who are listening to this right now, they might be doing some meaningful work, maybe mostly doing busy work or they’re, they don’t even feel like they’re close to doing something meaningful. They’re just working to work and to, you know, stay afloat. How does one define how do you define meaningful work and how does one get there?

Leo Babauta: Yeah, well, you know, one of the reasons why I wanted to come on to this podcast is because I know your community are, you know, they might come to it because they’re looking forward to create a business, but actually there are people who actually care about doing something meaningful. Even though they might not put it in the, those terms and they might not recognize it like they wanna do create a successful business, but they also wanna do it cuz like, it, it’s something that matters to them.

You know, just having something that runs on autopilot and, like, doesn’t really light you up, it’s, it’s not that fun. So you’re running out an autopilot, but actually creating something meaningful in the world, then that’s fun. So meaningful work for me is, Creating something new in the world that you actually care about.

And a lot of times the way that you find that is when it creates meaning outside of your own life, it helps others with something that they’re struggling with, that they care about, solves a problem, it makes life easier for people, makes people have a new experience of life where they’re feeling like play or fun or lit up or, you know, safety or whatever it is that you can bring to them.

So meaningful work for me, am I doing something that impacts others in a meaningful way, that a way that feels good to me and that’s gonna be different for each person. You know, I’ve had people who are like, My meaningful work is taking care of my kids great. Like that’s actually really amazing. My meaningful work is taking care of my elderly mother.

My meaningful work is serving the community by volunteering, and then others is like, My meaningful work is creating a non-profit, creating an online business, serving a community. You know, so, and that can be so many different things. The other thing that you spoke to, which is like you kind of just do busy work.

The busy work could be meaningful too. You know, like answering emails, like plowing through messages, like all of that could be meaningful too. If it’s connected to an impact that you are committed to creating in the world that’s meaningful. So like we all have to answer emails, but it could just be busy work or it could be like, Ah, like I’m connecting with a amazing human being and this is moving us towards something. So does that speak to that?

Pat Flynn: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that last point is the most important point because a lot of us are doing these smaller things from editing our podcast to working on our YouTube thumbnail, and it just feels like, Oh, we’re just doing this for the algorithm, or because this is like what we need to do to, to get the podcast out or whatever.

But when you realize that it is connected, it is a part of, of the larger whole to that meaningful thing that you’re doing, or the people that you’re connecting with who are listening to those podcasts or watching those videos. You know, the reason why I always harp on thumbnail, thumbnail, thumbnail for YouTube is because you can’t make an impact if, initially capturing people’s attention. So let’s make that work meaningful because that will help you make more of an impact. Right. And so I love what you said there because a lot of us are probably taking a break from that quote unquote busy work right now to go and listen to the show like this. So hopefully you can come out of this with some motivation to get back to it, but with, with renewed energy and, and purpose behind it.

Leo Babauta: Yeah. There’s something that you, you did there that I, I wanna highlight because you took something that just dis doesn’t feel meaningful, which is a thumbnail for a lot of people. It’s just like, Okay, great. I’m gonna go through and do that, and it’s just like busy work. But the way that you framed it was, this is gonna help you to make an impact, which means that this is like an empowered way to view this task. It’s like, Oh man, if I do this, it’s gonna help people to find my work. And then, you know, like get the meaning out of the work and then have an impact on their lives. It’s an active leadership leading them into the work that you do or into the message that you have or the, the fun that you’re gonna bring into the, their, your YouTube channel that changes the context or the way that you view something from like, ah, just like do it cuz I’m supposed to, this is the thing that all the blogs tell me that I have to do.

Or it’s like, do it because it’s gonna create a meaningful impact. And that lights you up. That makes it feel empowered. So if you can do that with everything in your life, anywhere you’re feeling disempowered, you’re like I have to do this. Like, why don’t you know, kind of. It’s happening to me or I have to, or if being forced to a burden, we can transform that into an empowered relationship by framing it in terms of meaningful impact. I really love that.

Pat Flynn: And you can also use that to potentially filter out the true busy work, the things that we maybe realize that, wow, this isn’t actually connected to anything and it’s just procrastination because I’m avoiding this other thing potentially. So I, I love that. Leo, this has been really great to catch up with you, to have you on the show finally.

You’ve been a major impact on my life from back in the day. It’s good to see that you didn’t like just disappear, but you went further in with, with people to understand more and to go deeper and and to live more zen. And any final words of encouragement for people working on their thing right now before they get back to it?

Leo Babauta: Yeah, you know, right now the world is being, you know, we’re faced with so much uncertainty, everything that’s going on, like greater degree than most of us have ever felt in our lives. And so that is impacting us because that uncertainty is, is going into our daily lives, into the work that we’re doing.

Just noticing that how that’s impacting you and being willing to turn towards that uncertainty and fear really can not only transform your relationship to what’s going on in the world and to everybody else, but also help you to find that focus that you’ve been looking for, help you to find that meaningful, like drive to do something that you care about and it’s not easy stuff.

So I really wanna acknowledge you, Pat, for leading people a community of people into this kind of meaningful work. You’re one of the most authentic people that I’ve ever met in this space, and I recognize that the first time that you and I ever met. And we’ve had coffee together. We’ve, you know, stayed connected through these years.

I just love that you bring your authentic self into leading people into their meaningful work. And I wanna acknowledge everybody else here listening to this or watching this for being willing to turn towards that uncertainty. This isn’t easy stuff. If you could just acknowledge yourself that I am doing some really incredible work that is filled with uncertainty, but also meaning. And then be willing to practice with that. That’s incredible work. So I wanna thank you, Pat, and everybody else for actually doing that because it’s something that the world needs.

Pat Flynn: Thank you, Leo. Perfect message at a perfect time. We appreciate you.

Leo Babauta: Yeah, thank you.

Pat Flynn: Alreight. I hope you enjoyed that interview with Leo Babauta.

It was just an absolute pleasure to interview and speak with Leo today. You know, we’ve crossed paths a few times in the past, but it’s really great to go into deep conversation with him. He just has such a way with words and and understanding of just how people work. And then, you know, even though we did talk a little bit of science, it’s more about the head and the heart together, like he said.

And hopefully this inspires you to do some great work coming outta this. And again, lead yourself toward that uncertainty. Or if you are feeling that uncertainty rewriting what that actually means, because it actually means you’re pushing yourself and likely doing something that’s gonna have something awesome on the other side of it. So I’m hoping that my own personal stories help today, and I hope Leo is able to to guide you. And again, if you wanna check out more of Leo’s work, you can check out ZenHabits.net. You can also check out the links and resources here in the show notes at SmartPassiveIncome.com/session627.

Can’t believe we’re almost at the end of the year here. It is November of 2022. 2023 is just around the corner and I think that this episode is a perfect one to lead you into the end of the year and the start of what will hopefully be your best year ever. I’m hoping it’s gonna be the same case for me as well.

So thank you for being a part of the community. I appreciate you and I look forward to serving you in the next episode. Until then, cheers, peace out and, as always, Team Flynn for the win.

Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I’m your host Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.


Smart Passive Income Podcast

with Pat Flynn

Weekly interviews, strategy, and advice for building your online business the smart way.

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