Leo Babauta on Zen Habits, Antifragility, Contentment, and Unschooling (#488)

Illustration via 99designs

I learned that none of the urges that I thought I needed to act on were actually commands.

— Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta (@zen_habits) is a bestselling author and the founder of Zen Habits, a website dedicated to finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. Zen Habits has more than two million readers, and Time magazine has named it one of their “Top 25 Blogs” and “Top 50 Websites.” He is also a student of Zen and on a mission to help the world open through uncertainty training.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by GiveWell.org, producers of the world’s top research on charities and effective giving, Tonal smart home gym, and Athletic Greens all-in-one supplement. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#488: Leo Babauta on Zen Habits, Antifragility, Contentment, and Unschooling

This episode is brought to you by  GiveWell.org ! For over ten years,  GiveWell.org  has helped donors find the charities and projects that save and improve lives most per dollar. GiveWell spends over 30,000 hours each year researching charitable organizations and only recommends a few of the highest-impact, evidence-backed charities they’ve found. In total, more than 100,000 people have used GiveWell to donate as effectively as possible.

This year, support the charities that save and improve lives most, with GiveWellAny of my listeners who become new GiveWell donors will have their first donation matched up to $100 when you go to GiveWell.org and select “PODCAST” and “Tim Ferriss” at checkout.

This episode is brought to you by Tonal! Tonal is the world’s most intelligent home gym and personal trainer. It is precision engineered and designed to be the most advanced strength studio on the market today. Tonal uses breakthrough technology—like adaptive digital weights and AI learning—together with the best experts in resistance training so you get stronger, faster. Every program is personalized to your body using AI, and smart features check your form in real time, just like a personal trainer.

Try Tonal, the world’s smartest home gym, for 30 days in your home, and if you don’t love it, you can return it for a full refund. Visit Tonal.com for $100 off their smart accessories when you use promo code TIM100 at checkout.

This episode is brought to you by AG1! I get asked all the time, “If you could use only one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is usually AG1, my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body in 2010 and did not get paid to do so. I do my best with nutrient-dense meals, of course, but AG1 further covers my bases with vitamins, minerals, and whole-food-sourced micronutrients that support gut health and the immune system. 

Right now, you’ll get a 1-year supply of Vitamin D free with your first subscription purchase—a vital nutrient for a strong immune system and strong bones. Visit DrinkAG1.com/Tim to claim this special offer today and receive your 1-year supply of Vitamin D (and 5 free AG1 travel packs) with your first subscription purchase! That’s up to a one-year supply of Vitamin D as added value when you try their delicious and comprehensive daily, foundational nutrition supplement that supports whole-body health.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to learn more about metta (loving-kindness) meditation? Listen in on my conversation with Sharon Salzberg, the world-renowned teacher who wrote a book on the subject. We discuss self-compassion as a secret ingredient, mental frameworks, defusing anger, doing the good that’s in front of you, and much more.

#277: Sharon Salzberg, World-Renowned Meditation Teacher


  • Connect with Leo Babauta:

Zen Habits | Twitter | Facebook


  • Rewinding the clock, Leo shows us what his life was like in Guam circa 2005 and shares the catalyst that sparked the big life changes he’s made between then and now. [06:54]
  • After trying to quit smoking seven times before, what made Leo’s eighth attempt stick? [12:15]
  • Why the inevitable dip we experience when forming a habit is potentially the most important part of making it stick — if we absorb what it has to teach us in the moment rather than allowing it to derail our efforts. [15:40]
  • Embracing the suck, putting mindfulness to work for us when the going gets tough, and the thought processes that led to Leo and his family of eight to move from Guam to San Francisco in 2010 — from a place of comfort surrounded by extended family to a somewhat jarring and alien landscape where they didn’t really know anyone. [17:56]
  • When Leo started Zen Habits in January of 2007, how did he manage to expand its popularity from an audience of one (his wife) to thousands — and eventually millions — in a relatively short period of time? [25:42]
  • In hindsight, what other forays into the productivity space and experimental tactics really helped launch Zen Habits into the blogging stratosphere between 2007 and 2009? What made Leo’s work stand out from the competition in this crowded arena? [31:47]
  • What would Leo suggest to someone trying to simplify their life — especially during the anxiety-driving uncertainties of 2020? [38:10]
  • How can we get better at saying no to overcommitments that unnecessarily complicate our lives? [40:37]
  • What are some of the rules, constraints, and forms of accountability that Leo has found powerfully effective in his own life? [43:39]
  • What resources would Leo recommend to someone curious about Zen Buddhism, what are some commonly mistaken preconceptions people have about it, and how has the practice been helpful to Leo in his own life? [45:06]
  • What are the bodhisattva precepts, what vows has Leo considered taking, and what has motivated him to take them? And in spite of some surface similarities, how do these precepts differ from the 10 commandments most Westerners will find familiar? [48:23]
  • How have Leo and his wife managed to homeschool — or, more accurately, unschool — six children, why did they choose this over other options for education, and what does unschooling look like? [53:06]
  • Is unschooling an ideal preparation for potential entrepreneurs? Does it perhaps underprepare someone seeking to continue their education at a traditional university? [59:53]
  • Resources Leo recommends for people who would like to learn more about homeschooling and unschooling along with common pitfalls and best practices? [1:02:47]
  • What changes in life habits or new beliefs have had the greatest impact on Leo’s contentment, and what do they look like in practice? [1:03:40]
  • Resources for people who want to delve further into metta (loving-kindness) meditation. [1:09:53]
  • What compelled Leo to go through nine months of masculine practice training with John Wineland, and what did he take away from the experience? [1:11:16]
  • A practical daily exercise Leo learned during this time, and some of his most surprising results. [1:14:32]
  • Why this pandemic presents a unique opportunity to train ourselves to cope with uncertainty and anxiety, and how Leo proposes we can put this into practice. [1:17:07]
  • Some bad news and good news from a Tibetan Buddhist master that might help you surf the chaos accompanied by less fear. [1:22:23]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:24:46]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

12 Replies to “Leo Babauta on Zen Habits, Antifragility, Contentment, and Unschooling (#488)”

  1. Thanks for opening up and sharing in this podcast, sharing about your experience re: unable to make ends meet, feeling stuck and needing to make a change. Hate to admit being a little overwhelmed listening to this.

    Tim mentioned many people are making a change in 2021 and knock on wood, that’s the case with me… January 4. Your quote stating “the bad news is that you’re falling in the air with no parachute, the good news is that there’s no ground below.” That was funny and memorable… could or could not be a reassuring though4.. since it sounds like it could be a ride at a horror amusement part. But also also means you won’t splatter.

    Love mention of the loving kindness mediation, used to repeat a version of it:
    Just as everyone wishes to be happy and live with ease
    May I be happy and live with ease
    May I be safe
    May I be healthy
    May I live with ease.

    You’d change it to fit various circumstances… used to internally repeat when passing scenes of car accidents… but for the families of the individuals.

    As far as being stuck, have been like a little hamster in a wheel, in some really important ways such as being a financially stable human being standing on their own feet. That’s uncomfortable. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

    I read your blog’s “uncopyright” disclaimer last night and it’s pretty powerful. I admired your logic about the example of a person giving a way an eBook of yours. You choose to look at it as x number of people who may have not read your work now have, and may share with others… instead of thinking you lost x amount of dollars in sales.

    As far as your son and the novel incident. Many ways to look at him being sent to the principal’s office. I’m not sure that I disagree. But maybe his reaction was the result of that day being the straw that broke the camel’s back. From a loving kindness standpoint, I write this idealistically, from my understanding the teacher has to teach from a curriculum that they have to follow to their best of their ability… maybe he should’ve endured it or go internal. But the blatant, my novel is more interesting than you is unkind. But I say this, not always taking my own medicine… which is why I mention… it could’ve been that what was he chose to revert to in the end.

    Congrats on quitting smoking, the marathon, etc. I remember digg, delicious, etc from my days when I’d started my first blog.

    Last as far as helping everyone, not sure how wise or realistic that is. Maybe we should help the people we can help best. Years ago, remember giving someone who came to me stating that she was pregnant and needed money for food and was homeless. I gave her what cash I had which was a $20 bill. Not much but back then my limit for homeless giving was $5, which I didn’t have. A few days later, I see her walking the same street smoking a cigarette. To this day, I wonder if I should’ve. These days, I should be panhandling to supplement the unemployment benefits.

    Long post… but in closing, here’s to hoping that December 23, 2021… I can report being unstuck. Thanks to you both.

  2. A really great place to find more resources as well as active support for child-led learning (un-schooling) is Jen Lumenlan [Moderator: link removed.]. She offers an abundance of free materials through her blog and podcast, as well as paid coaching options. In this time when so many parents are struggling to support their kids in whatever form of learning works for them, Jen offers an amazing range of accessible resources.

  3. Awesome interview – thanks guys, great way for me to reconnect with Leo and Zen Habits, especially on the un-schooling. Seeing this lockdown as an opportunity.

  4. Great framing of “the dips” that occur during the effort to form better habits. I connected with Leo on that one, and then Tim hit me with Dethmer’s “pop quiz from the universe” and I felt it in my nuggets…

    It seems I’m getting lots of pop quizzes as I practice life, so I deeply appreciated this perspective.

  5. Tim, I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast, thank you! It brought to mind a guest request I’ve thought about for a while so I wanted to mention it:

    Thomas Cleary, the gifted and very reclusive translator of much of the Zen and Taoist canons. He holds a doctorate in East Asian languages and civilizations from Harvard University, and his brother J.C. Clearly is also a renowned translator of similar works. I would absolutely LOVE to hear the two of you discuss his life’s work if you can get him to come out of hiding! He has had a fascinating life but very little press due to his reclusiveness.


  6. On unschooling, the book he mentions is The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. And then, there is another author he recommends, Alfie Kohn.

    1. Thank you. If you were looking for the links to these books/authors, they are in the “Selected Links” found above the comments section of this post.


      Team Tim Ferriss

  7. 90% of people live my body that controls the mind, instead we have to create the skill of having the mind that controls the body. Lovely talk guys.

  8. I always thought people with anxiety primarily defaulted to modes of procrastination, depression or situation avoidance. From your podcast I heard for the first time that while anxiety does often show up that way, in some people it can show up as excessive over committing and taking too much on. This was a BIG wake call up for me and literally describes not only my current situation but also much of my life. I wish I would have listened to this podcast before I registered for two different spirituality courses, agreed to mentor a start-up and registered for an MBA I literally do not need…. whoops! This whole time I thought I was a high-performer and overachiever because I was “driven” – time to take a deeper look at what is fueling the drive. Much gratitude, Pascha.

  9. I love how Leo spoke of the significance of being a leader to ones children or loved ones by navigating our emotions, fears and anxieties with structure and not giving into the compulsiveness of our negative cycles.