Responsive YouTube Video

Listen or watch on your favorite platforms

Questioning our commitment to a project each time we face resistance or doubt undermines the foundation of our creative practice. However, attempting to create without acknowledging and incorporating our fears into the process can result in a lack of authenticity and depth in our work. By understanding and embracing our fears, we uncover ways to forge a deeper, more resilient commitment to our projects.

In this episode, we discuss the critical role of commitment in creative work and examine the fears and doubts that challenge it. We unpack how these forces, seemingly at odds, can actually fuel our journey towards meaningful work. We explore the shadows of doubt that loom over our creative projects and unveil the strategies that help us embrace these fears, turning them into catalysts for deeper dedication and authenticity in our work.

Join me as we discover how acknowledging and working with our fears can lead to a more profound and fulfilling commitment to our creative projects.

Topics Covered

  • The interplay of commitment and fear in creativity
  • Identifying and overcoming creative fears
  • Practical steps to cultivate commitment
  • The role of scheduling and accountability
  • Empowering creativity by acknowledging and addressing fears
  • Embracing and managing disappointment in the creative process
  • Expressing fears through creative work and finding meaning

⏱︎ Time Stamps

00:00 • Introduction to commitment and fear

00:08 • Understanding the interconnection of commitment and fear

00:50 • Identifying and addressing fears

03:15 • The challenge of staying committed

06:40 • Deepening your commitment

07:54 • Practical steps to enhance commitment

15:28 • Incorporating fear into your creative process

17:22 • Closing thoughts and invitation for interaction

📄 Transcript

Welcome to the Zen Habits podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Okay. Welcome back to the podcast. In this episode, we're going to talk about deepening into commitment. But we're going to talk about commitment and fear in the same podcast and explore how they're related. A lot of times, people can relate to one or the other, but they're actually interconnected. And so it's important for us to discuss them together.

Often, we see commitment as, "I'm just not committed. I don't feel as committed. I'm not showing up for it. I'm procrastinating, avoiding, or resisting." And often, we might see the fears. They're usually fairly hard to notice, but we might see fears and not necessarily connect them to commitment. And even if you have, I think it's worth us having a conversation about it.

So when you take on a creative project, a project of creating something in the world, hopefully, you're doing that. You've chosen a project to take on. You've committed yourself to it. What you're probably going to notice is a couple of things come up.

The first one is, again, commitment and fear. But the first one is your fears. The fears usually show up with some kind of internal monologue: "No one will care. This is not going to make a difference." Or, "I'm just going to end up failing at this again. I'm just going to end up miserable again. I'm just going to end up nowhere with this." Or, "I'm going to put this out there and crickets." Or "The space is too crowded; there's too much noise. People are putting so much stuff out there, and it's not going to make any difference if I speak into that space."

So, these are some of the fears that come up, but they come up as something that we tell ourselves through an internal voice. Usually, we don't notice what that internal voice is saying, but it's the voice of our fear. And if we could become aware of that voice, it would actually make a huge difference because then we can start to see, "Oh, that's what my fear is telling me." And the fear is telling you this to try to keep you safe. It's a protection mechanism.

"If I can tell them to not put themselves out there, it's not going to matter," or, "It's okay to skip it this one day." If I can tell them that, then they won't be risking something. And that's really what our fear is trying to do. It says, "Oh, that's too dangerous. Stay over here where you're not going to do anything risky. Only stay in the things that you already know how to do."

So that's the fear. And again, if we just notice that there's a voice there that's in our head and start to even just write that down, start to write down every thought that our inner voice says, these are usually some kind of rationalization for procrastinating or avoiding. If we write them down and become present to them, then this would be a huge thing. And we'll talk about how to work with that in a minute.

But the second thing that shows up is, "I'm not committed." This is when we commit ourselves to something, and then it's just not happening. It feels like we're not committed. And so let's talk about commitment and how to deepen into that.

You committed to something, but you're not actually showing up with the kind of commitment that you wanted. Everybody faces this at some point or another. If you're not facing it, then it's likely that you've chosen something that maybe is either too easy for you, or maybe you just haven't hit the scary part yet.

At some point, your commitment will falter. You'll just be like, "Yeah, this is something amazing, something I love, but I just, I'm not showing up for it." Okay, so maybe after a few weeks of doing it, you're bored with it, or maybe you've chosen something that's too easy, and you're just like, "Ah, this is not challenging, even though I'm doing it with a lot of confidence. There's no uncertainty."

But what happens is that at some point, we're going to hit up against our fear. And when that happens, our commitment will likely waver. I'm not saying that's going to be universally true for every single person, but for most of us, that will be what shows up as a lack of commitment. So how do we work with that?

First of all, it's good to deepen into the understanding of what's going on here. What's really going on here is the same thing as I mentioned earlier, which is fear. Our lack of commitment is really a symptom of the fear that's showing up. And so it's just like, "Oh, I want to be sitting down every day to write or record something or paint or draw, or whatever it is that you've committed yourself to. I want to be doing that every single day. Yeah, I did it once in the last week."

And if we zoom in to that lack of commitment, what we can notice is, in the moment when you've committed yourself to doing something, let's say it's 8 am, and you're going to be sitting down and doing your thing. At that moment, something will show up. It's fear, but also an inner voice that says, "Oh, let me just check this email real quick. Let me just answer this quick message. Let me just," and it's totally okay if you ask yourself, "Don't you have this commitment to do?" "Yeah, I will. Don't worry. I'm gonna get to it." So, this is what's happening: the fear shows up, and then the voice shows up, and then we find a way out of that commitment.

Sometimes that lack of commitment is just because it starts to feel like a slog. It's just, "Ugh, I want to be lit up and empowered as I do stuff, but this commitment is starting to feel like a slog. I don't like that. It's boring. It feels disempowered." And so, then you might tell yourself, "Look, that's not how I want my life to be. Why am I making myself suffer? Why am I forcing myself to do stuff that I really don't want to do? So maybe I just am not meant to do this."

This is another subtle way for our fear to get us out of the commitment. "It's a slog. It's boring. I'm forcing myself. This is not how we want our lives to be. And so our fear says, "Ah, I don't like any of that." So we try and get out of that commitment. So how do we work with commitment?

One thing to notice is that we're either committed or we're not committed. Now, it's not so binary as that. Of course, there are degrees, but I invite you to make a distinction between commitment and non-commitment. "Am I committed?" And if you've done every day of the last week, you're committed. And if you only did one or two days, you're not committed.

And of course, there's the middle ground, right? The three or four. Great, three or four, and the two days that you missed it, one or two days that you missed it, there was a really good reason. Then, look at the next week. Is it still three or four? Is there always a really good reason? Your commitment is not really at the level that you want it to be, and you can deepen into that commitment.

So, how do we work with that? Notice, first of all, "Am I committed? Am I not? Would I like to get more committed? Would that be something powerful for me?" So ask yourself that question, and if the answer is "Yes, I would love to get more committed," then we're going to work with actually deepening into that commitment.

So, the next thing we can do with this deepening into commitment is to really check in with ourselves. "Am I ready to be fully devoted?" And what that might look like is "I am going to sit down and do this when I say I'm going to do it, no matter what." Of course, if there's a natural disaster, if you need to go to the hospital, or there's some kind of emergency that you need to attend to, you're not going to sit down and do your book writing or sketching.

But other than that, even when things feel like, "Oh, there's some urgent thing that I need to meet," you're going to meet that urgent thing after this commitment is done. Even if it feels like you have a thousand things to do that are more pressing than this commitment, the practice would be showing up for this commitment, even in the face of all those things you need to do, even in the face of that voice telling you "It's okay to put this off."

And what this is really about is creating the power of your word. If you say you're going to do something, you're going to do it. And many people are really committed to showing up for others in this way. If they give their word that "I will be at the coffee shop at this time," or "I will be on Zoom at this time," or "I will get this done by this time," we show up for that with full commitment. There's no question. If I said I was going to be there, I am actually going to be there.

But other times, when it's for us, we might not have the same kind of commitment. So, often, the deepening into commitment is about honoring the power of your word for yourself. And I ask you to reflect on this, which is: if you were to create the power of your word as something that is ironclad in the same way that you show it for others, what would that shift for you in your life? What would start to move forward? What would get created? Is there something that would become available to you? Is there something that would happen that wouldn't otherwise happen, that you really want?

And I would submit that if you're not committed to your creative project, then this creative project, something that you care deeply about, will get created if you show up with that kind of commitment. And so, what that means is taking off the table the question of, "Am I going to do it today or not? Am I going to put it off or not?" Take all those kinds of questions off the table.

It's my coach has shared with me a similar thing, the kind of commitment that parents have. When parents are committed to their kids, there's really no question about their commitment. For example, if you say, "Is my kid going to eat today or not?" For a parent, there's really no question in most cases. Of course, there are edge cases where you don't actually have anything to feed them. But for most parents, in our society, where most people have food, there isn't a question.

If that parent can get their hands on some food, that kid is going to eat. It isn't "Oh, I've got some email to do. They can eat tomorrow." That isn't the question they grapple with every day. It's just as simple, "Yes, they're going to eat. It's not a question that I'm going to entertain. It's happening."

I would encourage you to bring that same kind of commitment to your creative project. And really, by extension, anything that you commit to yourself, but let's start here with this one thing. You don't have to hold to your word in every single area of your life. What if you just practiced the power of your word here? With this one commitment, being fully devoted. And then not even asking the question, "Am I going to do this or not?" You just show up and do it.

And this is also a practice in trust. You're trusting the version of yourself that said, "This is the commitment that I want to make." So that version of you has some altitude, a bigger view, a bigger perspective, and knows what he, she, or they want in life. They're like, “Yes, this is something that I really care about. And I really want to create, there's something here that means something to me. And I'm going to honor the love that I want to bring out by committing myself five days a week, seven days a week, whatever it is that you commit yourself to."

They make that commitment from that place. And then when you show up, you just trust that and say, "You know what? I trust that when I was in that place, I made the right commitment and I'm just not going to question it right now. I'm just going to show up and do it." And what this means is that you don't have to spend all that energy fighting against yourself. You just show up and you trust yourself. You trust the version that made this commitment. You show up and you do it.

That means also is that some days it will be a slog. You're not going to feel inspired. You're not going to feel excited. You will feel tired some days. But you are going to show up and do it anyway. At some point in the future, maybe if you committed to six weeks of doing this, in six weeks, you can reevaluate the commitment and say, “Do I want to keep doing this? What did I learn from that? What was amazing about it?” But right now, in the midst of the commitment, you don't reevaluate.

So, you show up, and some days it's going to be a slog. Some days you're going to be tired and not feel like doing it. You're going to have complaints, and you're going to be slumped over and just feel like, "I don't want to do this," but you show up anyway and you do it. This is practicing showing up no matter what.

Then, from within that commitment, if you're showing up every day and it's a slog, or a burden, or boring, you're going to say, "You know what, I am going to show up for this no matter what. So now what? Do I want to create something other than the slog?" And what you might do is notice, "Oh, I am feeling slog every single time. It's not just sometimes; it's every single time."

So, what is making it feel like a slog? Maybe it's just, "I'm relating to this creative work in some way as boring or a burden. What if I could relate to it as play, or adventure, or a place to bring my curiosity, a place of discovery or something else, magic, a way to connect to the wonder in the world?" So, you can choose the thing that's going to make it not a slog, but you're going to do that from within this idea of showing up no matter what.

Sometimes I've done this where I'm like, "I want to have this empowered, amazing, joyful experience. And if I don't, then I'm just not going to do it." But that's backward. The way this working with deepening into commitment works is we show up no matter what, and then from within that commitment, we can create magic, or whatever it is that you want to create.

From within that commitment, we'll also face the fears that are showing up, trying to get us out of the commitment. So, "I'm gonna show up for this every day no matter what because I said I would." And then, I'm gonna notice, "Oh, there are some fears here," and I'll write those down and might even just honor the fears and say, "Oh, that fear is there." I want to just sit there and feel it for a minute. Maybe bring some love to it, some acceptance. Maybe just allow it to be there as part of my human experience.

And once I've done that, another thing I can do with that fear is I can bring it into my art. Let that fear become a part of my self-expression, because it is a part of who I am. It's not this sucky thing that I shouldn't have. It's actually a part of the adventure, the meaningful path that I've set myself on, and it's just a part of my human experience. So, why cut that out of my art?

If I'm creating, let's say, visual art, why not find a way to express fear and boredom and sloggery and all of the other things that are coming up for me in the art itself? If I'm writing, why not allow the character of my novel to feel really shaky and not want to show up for his commitments? If I'm making music, what if the emotion of fear could go into the music? That beautiful music that I'm creating.

And so, we want to just allow the art to express whatever is there for us, whatever kind of art you're creating. What if you could take everything that's showing up for you and pour it into it so that the fear doesn't have to be the thing that stops you from creating art, but that it's included in the art as a part of your expression.

That's what I've got for you in terms of deepening into commitment and working with the fears that are showing up, trying to get you out of the commitment.

What I'd like to invite you into is to share with me how that's going. What is your commitment like? How are you deepening into it? What would be possible for you if you deepened into that commitment and showed up no matter what? What fears are there for you? Share them with me at [email protected].

I read every single email, even if I don't reply to every single one. I reply to a lot of them, but not every single one, but I read all of them. And you sending them to me allows me to connect to what you're hearing and what you're going through, as opposed to just speaking this into the ether and hoping that it lands somewhere. It allows us to be a more interactive thing. And then I can speak to those fears and what's coming up for you in future podcast episodes.

I care about what you're going through, and I would love to hear from you. So please take the time. I know most of you, by default, just won't, but go against that default and share with me because it matters to me. I really want to hear from you.

Thank you to those who've already written to me. Thank you to everybody who has listened. Thank you to those who are actually taking it and putting it into action. That matters to me. I appreciate you all. Have an amazing day.

If you haven't already, please subscribe to this podcast in your favorite podcast app. If you found this episode useful, please share this podcast with someone you know, who cares deeply. That would be really meaningful to me. And, if you'd like to dive deeper with me into this work, please check out the blog at or get in touch at [email protected].

Thanks for listening, and I hope you'll join me every Wednesday for more episodes of the Zen Habits podcast.

Zen Habits Resources

Zen Habits

The Fearless Living Academy

Fearless Mastery

Connect with Leo


Music: Salem Belladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz

Post-production: Diana C. Guzmán Caro & Amanda Goddard