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What could you create in your life if you had more self-trust? What would it feel like to have more self-trust, and how do we cultivate more of it?

In this episode, we will talk about why cultivating more self-trust is essential for going deeper into our meaningful work, where we get stuck in creating more of it, and how we can continue to create more trust in ourselves.

Topics Covered

  • Leo shares a listener's experience, highlighting the concept that success and failure are part of the process of developing self-trust
  • How our thoughts and narratives about our actions play a significant role in our self-trust
  • The process of growth involves stepping into the unknown, making mistakes, and learning from them
  • Building trust in oneself is essential for taking on new challenges, expanding one's horizons, and approaching tasks with ease
  • Trust allows individuals to navigate uncertainty and trust that they can handle whatever comes their way
  • The episode discusses practical examples of building self-trust, such as Leo's experience with writing and speaking on stage
  • The importance of taking action and not getting stuck in avoidance techniques like excessive planning or seeking external validation
  • Leo shares his experience of leading a retreat in Costa Rica and how he practiced trust in himself during that process
  • Encouragement for listeners to ask themselves what they would do if they fully trusted themselves and took action based on that trust


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.

Hello, my friends. Great to be here with you. I am having a fantastic day. So thanks for asking. And in this episode, I'm going to talk about something that I've been working on personally and finding really important, but also that I've been working with other people on, which is developing trust in ourselves.

It's a really important topic. It's going to. Influence everything that you do from the project that you're taking on here, the purpose project to really anything that you take on anything that you've been holding yourself back on anything that you want to feel more confidence in, and also just an ability to make mistakes, be messy do things with more ease in your life.

So I'll talk about all of that, but the the episode is about developing trust in yourself. And to start with, actually, I'd like to read from an email from a long time reader and someone in my Fearless Living Academy. This person wrote to me in response to one of my recent episodes. But what they wrote is, something I've really appreciated about your work is the emphasis on how when we're trying to do something we don't already know how to do, it's not going to be a process that involves success in the way that we tend to think of that. 

And also, the times it goes sideways aren't failures. Those are in quotes. Success and failures are in quotes. They are an inherent part of learning how to do something and being human. And they continue with this email. I often think of babies learning how to walk and how they fall on their butts over and over again.

And that doesn't mean that they are failures at walking and they don't waste time like adults do and having a ton of feelings or thought loops about how either about it either. They just figure out how to get back up and try again. They might get frustrated and scream and howl, but they don't turn it into, I'm a bad baby.

I'm a bad human being. So I love this metaphor. It's one that I often also use. This idea of a baby learning how to walk. They fall. They are in a process, but they don't add on top of that a bunch of extra stuff about how bad we are, or failure is a whole narrative. They're just in the process of learning. 

And that's actually what all of this is. We're in a process of learning. This is actually a context that I've created for myself when I want to get feedback and I'm really feeling some, afraid of embarrassing myself and getting some judgment. is this is how the process of growth looks. This is how growth looks.

And the process of growth is being willing to step out into the unknown, being willing to fall on your butt sometimes, make a mess, do things a little bit messy, and even get embarrassed sometimes. Embarrassment doesn't have to be a part of it, but I've found that it often is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But we get, we can get frustrated with ourselves. We can scream and howl as they wrote in the email, but in the end, we just keep engaging with this process. And this is the process of developing trust in ourselves. And I'll write I'll continue with this email. So from this reader, I'm going to quote from them here. 

Last year, when I was falling a lot, and I think they mean literally falling, I came up against this very often as the factual, actual experience of falling mostly wasn't too bad. Once I learned how to do it in a way that minimized injury, that's really interesting, isn't it? Like this this is Leo talking now, not reading from the email, but it's interesting how they're talking about actually falling down.

And this thing that we don't want to do is actually not so bad. They go on to just say the really injurious part was my thoughts about falling and what it meant about me, like something's wrong with me. And my situation, like catastrophizing what we might have to do. We might have to do expensive renovations to accommodate a wheelchair, et cetera.

So the injurious part, let me just repeat that was my thoughts about falling and what it meant about me, there's something wrong with me and then about my situation, catastrophizing about it. Having a disability justice lens did not prevent me from still spinning out. And I'm watching the mental loop spin out was its own kind of discouragement, a bad Buddhist, a bad activist, et cetera. 

And then they said, thanks for being awesome and helping people bring curiosity to experience. That approach is serving me so well now when I face other difficulties and see the fruits of that in the project I'm working on related to the podcast. Okay, so thank you to that reader, someone who I have a lot of love for and I appreciate them letting me read that out.

Because it's such a great illustration, when we fall down, the problem isn't the falling down, it's the story that we make up about it, the meaning we give it about ourselves or about the situation. And we do that really to try and protect ourselves. We're worried about the insecurities of the situation. 

We're feeling some uncertainty about it. And so in order to try and get some control over it we create a narrative. What if we could just be in the process of growth, in the process of learning, in the process of letting ourselves fall down a lot and not need to add on a bunch of extra stuff? Or if we do, we can start to release some of that. 

That's often how the process of building trust in ourselves actually works. So I'm going to talk about why this is really important and then I'm going to give some examples of building trust and then we'll talk about how to practice with it. So building trust is important because we tend not to have a lot of trust in ourselves when we're entering a new arena of, our leadership, of what we're doing in our lives, of growth.

For example, we might have a lot of trust here where I am right now. And so I'm like, okay, great. I trust myself completely and I don't need to do anything else. Which is true, like where you are right now, it might be full of trust. And so you can be like, I trust myself. And that's because you're in an area that is known.

But if, once you step out of that area into an area, that's unknown, then it's ah, I can't trust myself. So for example, I know some people who are very good leaders in the business they're doing and they can crush it at their business, but there's something more that they want. And so they've been holding themselves back and they don't actually step out into the bigger growth area because.

They don't have trust over there and they just stay where they know to be. So maybe they like crush it with their emails and their team meetings and their goals and at work and everything, but they're not stepping into the bigger thing because they don't have trust in themselves. And so trust in ourselves actually allows us to step into the unknown.

It allows us to do that and trust, not only that we can navigate that, but that if we fall down, we can get back up. We can take care of ourselves. We can clean up any mess that we made. This trust in ourselves allows us to do things with more ease. If you're a control freak, if you procrastinate, if you add on a bunch of overthinking and perfectionism, you can see that doing a very simple task can add on a lot of a lot of tightness and extra energy and activity. 

That's not necessarily bad, just noticing that we can spend a lot of energy on doing just a few things when we don't have a lot of trust. We have trust, we can breathe and do things with ease, and it's just very simple. It can bring a lot more ease in our lives, it can save us a lot of energy.

It can have us expanding into new areas that we think we can't and it's not okay to expand into those areas. And in fact, the more trust we have, the more we realize we don't have any limits. The only limits are the limits of where our trust is. It actually has us creating things in our lives more because we're actually willing to take those steps and fall on our butts a lot.

That means we're actually taking a shot at things. We're taking a swing where we're creating, we're taking action and then learning from that. And so we're engaging in a process of growth and developing trust in ourselves allows us to be engaged in that process of growth, which is actually really messy. 

These are all really important areas, but maybe the most important thing is the place where you get stopped over and over is the place where your trust is falling apart. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just that's something to notice. That's where my trust stops. So let me talk a little bit about, let me give you a couple of examples of how that looks in practice, like what trust, developing trust in ourselves looks like.

I'm going to use myself as an example. When I first started putting blog posts online on Zen Habits, I felt some lack of trust in myself. I was good. I was okay as a writer already. I had worked before as a writer, and so I knew I could write, but this was not my usual writing, where I was writing for someone else, doing an assignment, doing it the way that they wanted me to, and being in their publication.

This was me creating my own publications and habits and being willing to put it out there and have my name on it and also not know if I'm doing it right or wrong. And so the process of developing trust for me was actually just write it and put it out there, write it and put it out there, write it and put it out there.

And I just let myself be in that process. You could say that I forced myself to do it because there was something I really wanted, which was to be able to share this with an audience and help people. And so I really engaged with that process. And as I did, so I had so much trust in myself. After a while, not in the beginning is very shaky.

And I'm like, what are people going to think about this? And all of those things that we do when we have some uncertainty and fear, but I started putting it out there. And so I started developing more and more trust in myself, my trust in my voice, trust in what I was writing about. And. I trust in my ability to put my work out so great now you can say, okay, Leo, you develop all this trust you're done.

Not so fast. There is, there were further areas. So later I started doing live videos, doing webinars with people and inviting them into a membership program where I help them to change habits. If you're not in my fearless living Academy, this is a quick plug for that fearless living Academy.

Where we help you to change habits and work with purpose and then taking that purpose out into the world to create impact. And I have video courses on there and a community and a monthly challenge and lots of awesome things. But when I first started this, it was just about habits and I was really shaky about it.

So I actually resisted that for a long time. It helped that I had someone who partnered with me at first and helped me to go into it. But I didn't have a lot of trust even though I had a trust in the area of writing. And putting my blog posts out there. I didn't have trust in the area of leading people through a membership program and doing live videos with them and actually recording videos and putting it out there. 

The way that I developed that was actually by doing it, by putting myself out there, inviting them into it. And once they were in it, I was like on the hook for creating it. So I started creating a whole bunch of stuff. And as I engage with that process, I started developing trust in myself. The way I didn't develop that trust was.

By avoiding doing any of this. So I did that first and that didn't work. I didn't actually ever have more trust in myself and what people do besides avoiding, they find other ways. That looks like they're not avoiding, but they still are. And so one of those ways is, I'm gonna buy a bunch of books. If you're buying a bunch of books on a topic so that you know how to do the thing before you do it, you're avoiding. 

If you're buying a bunch of courses, you're avoiding. Not that's bad, courses are great! I sell courses myself in Fearless Living Academy. So I'm not denigrating courses or learning, I'm saying just notice. I'm not actually doing the thing. You could take the courses and actually be in action, which is what we do in Fearless Living Academy.

I encourage you to be in action as you take the course. But, if you're just taking the course and you're not taking action, you're avoiding. Same thing if you're trying to get a teacher, a coach, or whatever, and have them tell you the answer. So that you know how to do it and you don't have the uncertainty. 

That's an avoidance technique. Not that there's anything wrong with teachers or coaches. I'm a teacher and a coach, and I think they're both amazing. Okay. So the way I developed it was by actually engaging in action. And then what I had to do was learn to. continue to do that in the new arena. Every new arena that I entered, I faced the same fear.

So I started speaking on stage around 2010, and that was scary as hell. And I was shaky when I did it because I could do live webinars, but I couldn't speak on stage, or at least I didn't have trust. And then I started. doing it and it became easier. And now I'm not saying I'm completely comfortable.

I still feel some shakiness, but I know I have trust in my ability to do that. Later. I started coaching people also an area of a lack of trust for myself, engage with it. There started getting trust in myself, the same thing when it came to leading workshops and retreats. Now it's something I have a lot of trust in.

But I still struggle with it. So for example, in March, I went to Costa Rica and led people through a retreat and I was feeling some shakiness. I'd done it before a bunch of times, but I still feeling some shakiness. So I tried to control it by planning it out perfectly, scripting out everything.

And that didn't work. I was still feeling a lot of shakiness. So I'm like, let me buy a bunch of books. Let me look online. And I recognize that this was me just not trusting myself. And so I started to look at what's the fear underneath it and how do I actually practice trust in myself? So if I were to practice trust, I would have some things that I would, I was going to do, but I wouldn't have it all really planned out in detail. 

I was going to practice trust that I could show up to the sessions at the retreat, be in front of people and then start leading them from this place of trust. So I said, let me try that. So I showed up in Costa Rica, I had a brief outline of a plan, but it wasn't detailed. I knew what I wanted to do in general, but not in detail, and I would show up at a session during the retreat, like a two hour session, with one line written out, maybe two, and then I would just sit there and feel into it. 

And what I did while I was there was I would put my hand on the ground as I was sitting there in front of people and I would breathe and I would just listen like what am I feeling called to do and what would come up inevitably I would just trust it and I would just lead people through that and I would do it sometimes several times throughout the session and each time some kind of message came to me I don't know if it's from my subconscious or you could think of it as from the universe or from God whatever your beliefs are.

But it came to me, and so it was just a simple this is what's called for right now. And I would touch the ground, and something would be given to me. I don't know where from, I don't even hypothesize. It just was something, and I would just trust it. You could say spirit, you could say it was just my own knowing, but something would come up and I would just do it.

And then magic got created because what happened was I didn't need to plan the whole thing out. I could trust what was showing up. I could be with people as they were and meet them there and then listen to what I felt was needed based on what was happening in the moment. It actually made the experience of the retreat much richer for me, but I think much better for people because they weren't just being given a cookie cutter script.

It was me being willing to work with whatever they were bringing into the room. Whatever they were bringing to Costa Rica, I got to work with, and this is now how I would do retreats from now on, is I am going to show up with some intention, with some kind of a outline of a plan, but without needing to have it scripted out, and then practice trust.

I left Costa Rica with a much deeper sense of trust in myself. And a much deeper willingness to trust whatever came up, to listen and trust whatever came up and then put into action and then work with that. So that's what developing trust looks like. And hopefully you can see that actually made the retreat much nicer for me, much easier.

I loved it. People as well loved it and I got to connect with people with an open heart rather than a controlling kind of plan. Now I'm not saying that's how you have to do everything. What trust might look like for you is to create some structure and then to trust that structure. So the structure might be I'm going to write every day at 6 p.m. And then just show up and trust that structure. 

So it's not that you don't have structure. It's not that you don't have plans, but we can show up for things with trust. So a good question if you wanted to practice with this is, if I trusted myself, what would I do here? And then trust that and actually do it. 

So the first question is if I trusted myself completely, what would I do? And what I choose into this, what I jump in and sign up for something, what I commit myself and not knowing if I can do it or not knowing if I'm going to be perfect at it or not. If I'm learning something, could I learn in public and get feedback and learn from that feedback?

If I'm developing something, creating something, could I develop in public, create in public, and allow people to see me in the messy process of learning, modeling what it's look, what it looks like to learn? If I wanted to lead people, could I do so without needing to prepare a million things? Could I do so with some preparation, but just the amount that's needed and then come in and trust that I could lead from that place? 

If I wrote something, created something, and wanted to put it out into the world, if I fully trusted myself, I would just put it out there. I wouldn't need it to be perfect. I wouldn't need it to be right and avoid people's judgment. If I trusted people, trusted myself, I could allow people to judge me and actually be like, okay, got it.

Let me listen to your feedback. I'll take in what there is to take in and also remain connected to my own truth because I trust my truth. And so feedback doesn't become a difficult thing. If I trusted myself, I wouldn't need to only be in places that feel safe or with people that feel safe. I could go out and be courageous and put myself out there and be vulnerable and then let people, have their reaction, let people be how they're going to be, but trust myself to be able to navigate that, to work with the emotions that might come up for me and for them. 

Those are some of the things I might do if I trusted myself. So what might you do with your purpose project that you're working on here? If you fully trusted yourself, what might you take on beyond this project if you were to trust yourself? Maybe the project already is limited in your trust. 

What would be available in your life if you were to be able to trust yourself more? These are the questions I would encourage you to ask yourself and then actually start to take action. If you, if trusting yourself means I'm going to put my book out there chapter one chapter at a time before it feels fully done, before I feel fully ready, then actually take that action, do it as courageously as you can now, maybe. 

Where you are right now is I'm just going to share with one person. Maybe that's all you need to do. Maybe it's two or three people I trust, but keep practicing beyond the edge of that into the unknown. Trusting ourselves as being willing to fall on our butts, like a toddler, not know how to do something, look like a fool and embrace that.

Laugh about it, have a little bit of lightness to it, and then trust that you can deal with whatever happens on the other side of that cleaning up messes. Being with people's reaction, giving yourself love if needed, and actually navigating the unfolding emerging. landscape that happens when we put ourselves into the unknown. 

It doesn't have to be controlled. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be something you already know how to do. It doesn't have to be something that you're ready for. You're always going to feel not quite ready when you are practicing trust. And that's how it looks. You start falling forward and catching yourself with the next step.

That's how it looks to practice walking, is you fall forward and you catch yourself with the next step and then you fall forward and catch yourself with the next step. It will never feel like you're ready for that next step.

That's how it is to practice trust, is we keep falling forward before we feel we're ready and then we catch ourselves and we practice this and eventually we have so much trust in ourselves that it becomes easier. It never is 100 percent easy, but it's easier.

And then we go into the next area of where we don't trust ourselves. And you can see here that this expands our capacity to be with all of life, to do anything in life, because we can keep finding the next edge. Of where our trust stops and then keep working with that. 

Okay. That's what I've got for you in this episode. I am so happy that you're all engaging with the practice of building trust in yourselves. If you're not, then come write to me, podcast at, I will get that email and we can do some coaching. 

If you have questions for my Q&A please send me a question at podcast at And I will answer those questions in a Q&A episode coming up. So please send me the questions or volunteer to come get coached. We have some actually great coaching episodes coming up and some great guests. Thanks, my friends. Love you all.

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].

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Music composition: Salem Beladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz