How do you shape your habits? How do you train your mind so you could deal with life’s uncertainties? John Assaraf is here to help us answer these questions. He is one of the leading mindset and behavioral experts in the world who has appeared numerous times on Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He is the founder and CEO of MyNeuroGym.com, a company dedicated to using the most advanced technologies and evidence-based brain training methods to help individuals strengthen their mindset and emotional skills, so they unleash their inner power and maximize their results. In this episode, he joins Adam Markel to talk about the importance of mental and emotional resilience. Strengthening and training your mind is one of the greatest tools we all have. Learn how to create habits to build your mental resilience, growth and success. Don’t stay stuck!
DON’T MISS THIS SPECIAL EVENT! Resilience is more than just physical training – it’s mental, emotional and spiritual too. We can’t underscore the importance of training your mind too. And John and his team at Neurogym are providing an amazing opportunity to learn how to do just that! Find out exactly how to reprogram your brain for resilience and success during a special training (free) event.
John’s Brain-a-thon will be held on Saturday, October 23, 2021. It’s a free, all-day event featuring an insane lineup of expert guests. In all honesty, I promise you that it is well worth your time.
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Train Your Mind To Unleash The Best Version Of Yourself With John Assaraf
I’m glad to be here. That’s what I’m feeling now. Somebody said that to me in a conversation and he nails it. With everything that’s been going on in the world, just to come back to that place of sheer gratitude. That to me is magic and miraculous. It’s the thing I’ve yet to find. I’m a meditator. I know how to toggle back and forth, and create state changes for myself in many ways. I’m always talking about resilience and yet the one thing that will reset me faster than anything is simply to be grateful.
I know it’s simple but it’s also usable. I’m glad to be here. I have a lot of reasons to be glad. I get to spend time with a good and dear friend. We’ve known each other a while, which is also pretty cool. He brings so much to the table. I want to suck the marrow out of this experience. I know you will as well. John Assaraf is one of the leading mindset and behavioral experts in the world who has appeared numerous times on Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He’s written a new bestselling book Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power in addition to his two New York Times bestselling books, Having It All and The Answer that has been translated into 35 languages.
John has been featured in ten movies, including the blockbuster hits The Secret and The Quest for Success with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama. He is the Founder and CEO of MyNeuroGym.com, a company dedicated to using the most advanced technologies and evidence-based brain training methods to help individuals strengthen their mindset and emotional skills so they can unleash their inner power and maximize their results. John, it’s great to have you.
It’s so great to reconnect with you. It’s always a joy. I enjoyed our pre-talk before this catching up a little bit.
There are probably a lot of people who through this pandemic, have lost track of time. I have no sense of time. I’m just going where the pandemic began and where it didn’t end. It’s a very big span of time and space in between. You did something. You are on a milestone birthday. You decided that you were going to go back to getting a six-pack for yourself. I want to know more about that. I’m putting you out there on this one because I was blown away by that.
On my 59th birthday, I usually do something unique for the upcoming years. I would say, “I’ve got another spin around the sun. What challenge am I going to give myself so that I am proud of myself for the next birthday?” I’ve given up alcohol many years ago. I’ve been in good shape but I never had a six-pack. I used to do many triathlons. I said to myself, “Is it possible to have a six-pack at 60?” I looked at some pictures online of guys in their 60s and 70s. I found even a few in their 80s that had six-packs. I said to myself, “Let me set a six-pack at 60 goal.”
I cut out some pictures of some individuals online. This is part of my vision board. This is a guy in his 70s that’s in phenomenal shape. I cut out a few of them. Another guy that’s healthy-looking. There’s an ultimate guy that I know in his 70s and in phenomenal shape. I said, “Let me set a goal for a six-pack at 60.” I started and asked myself, “What does my exercise regimen need to be? How many calories do I need to eat a day? What type of food? What does my sleep habits need to be like? What do the other components of it need to be?”
I got on a path to the mindset, the skillset and the behaviors that I needed. I started to do some things differently. I started to journal, which I rarely have done. What was I eating? What was I doing? How much was I sleeping every day? Slowly but surely, I started to get in better and better shape. On my birthday, I did a photoshoot. I asked my wife to take some pictures of me with my iPhone to reveal that for the first time in my life. At 60, I got a six-pack.
Seriously, I’m applauding it. That is well earned.
The hardest part, which was interesting, wasn’t the exercise. It wasn’t even the diet or the sleep. It was giving up my sugar addiction.
Tell us about that. I was going to say, “I recall you saying you gave up something significant that you were addicted to.”
Even though I’ve been vegan with no alcohol for years, I exercise five days a week before anyway. There was one thing that was my lifelong sacred cow. My mother was a great baker. Cookies, cakes and candies were always in the house. After dinner, I like to have a vegan dessert every night. My personality is one is too many and eight is not enough. I wouldn’t eat a small piece of the pie. I would eat 1/3 of a pie.
I’m like, “All or nothing.” First of all, I had to commit to no sugar for a year. I’ve done 30 days, 100 days with no sugar only to go back to it. Interestingly enough, it’s been a year without even a chocolate chip going into my mouth. Even on my birthday. I was in Montreal with my sister, my dad and my family, celebrating my 60th and my dad’s 91st. They made me my favorite carrot cake and ice cream cake that’s in the freezer. I didn’t even have a bite on my 60th birthday because I was two weeks away from reaching my goal. Now that I’ve reached the goal and haven’t had sugar for a year, I don’t want to start sugar again.
We could go down so many wonderful roads. I got to know, John. I’m not looking to predict the future. There’s no judgment if for some reason you ended up eating sugar. We get that. I do want to get a sense because part of your professional life is helping other people create new habits, break habits, and use their brains to do it. There’s often that’s saying that people teach what they most need to learn a thing, which I buy and I’ve been in that camp myself.
I also believe that the strongest teaching comes from modeling. You’ve got to be congruent often if you’re saying one thing but you’re modeling something else. It’s an issue as a parent, for sure. How is it do you think that you’re going to get further leverage or do you even need any more leverage to maintain this habit because clearly, it’s working for you?
The answer is the science or the neuroscience of habits shows that habit is nothing more than a reinforced neural pattern, thought, emotional, and behavioral pattern that’s triggered by certain things. We know that a pattern that is interrupted between 66 and 365 days loosens the proverbial grip on the pattern or the habit. If you replace it with an empowering habit or pattern, it becomes part of something known as the default mode network or what I like to call your automatic self. Saying no to sugar is not even hard for me. It’s just not part of my identity. My identity is like, “I’m a guy who doesn’t eat refined sugar.”
I eat fruit sugar like I’ll have a banana or berries. That’s okay but no refined sugar. When I eat a banana, I don’t want four or more bananas. If I had a handful of berries, I’m fine. I also know the addiction levels or the addiction process around sugar and what it does to the reward center in the brain. It is a cycle of never-ending desire for me.
You had accomplished this thing. Let’s say you had a piece of cake on your birthday. What do you think is the significance of that? I know it’s different for everybody. I get that.
It’s different for everybody. Let me share with you what I’ve discovered about myself and my personality. My personality tends to be all or nothing. If my wife bought a chocolate bar that had twelve pieces to it, she could have one a month until the end of the year. If I had twelve pieces, I would eat all twelve and see how much of yours you have left. I would want yours and then if there’s anybody else around, I’ll say, “Can I finish that?” I have a personality trait that can go destructive, disempowering and negative on me if I allow it to control me. I have learned how to be aware of the destructive patterns that I have.
The first is you’re aware.
There’s a process that I’ve learned that I teach. It all starts with radical honesty first. You and I have talked about this in the past. It’s the radical honesty about what is the truth.
You’re an extremist on some level. That’s the way you’ve grown up. A lot of people won’t say that. For whatever reason, they won’t admit to themselves, “I am an all or nothing guy. I choose this or that.” They’re lying on some level if they don’t admit that one thing.Feed your brain consistently with information. Make your life worthy. Click To Tweet
The first part is radical honesty and awareness, so recognize. Once I recognize it, I can ask myself a question, “What is it that I’m committed to? Not interested in but committed to. When we’re interested, we come up with stories, reasons and excuses why we can’t or why we won’t. If we’re committed, that means no more stories, excuses, reasons and we focused on how we can, not why we can’t. My question was, “Am I interested in a six-pack or am I committed?” I said, “That’s a serious question.” There’s room for deviation but there isn’t a lot of room for deviation. I said, “I’m committed to this. Let me come up with how I will because I am committed.”
What knowledge do I need? What skill do I need? What tool, resource, coach or accountability partner do I need in order to make my commitment easier? Not easy, but easier. I have to stop and start certain things. The very nature of our brain is it does not want to start or stop certain things that it’s already become used to and created habit loops in our brain to make them automatic to conserve energy.
Object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Object at rest tends to stay at rest. It’s The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Whenever I set any goal, my very next question is, “Am I interested or am I committed to achieving that goal?” You mentioned something that’s very true about me. I have an extremist personality. Everybody is 100% addicted to their current patterns. Some people will say, “He’s an addict.” “I’m not.” Yes, you are. Yes, I am. Some of my addictions are constructed. Some are destructive. Some empower me. Some disempower me. Some are positive. Some are negative. Some will help me achieve my goals. Some will not,” end of the story. The neuromechanics of the brain is that we are all addicted to the thought patterns that we have, 6,200 of them a day.
We’re all addicted to the emotions we’re used to feeling. We’re all addicted to the behaviors. We’re all addicted to the current results that we’ve averaged out over 6 to 12 months. When we are radically honest about ourselves, our results, our desires, and when we are radically honest about whether we are committed to the new outcome, then we say, “I must then become radically obsessed with the behavior change that is needed.”
When you have change proof, my read of that is I am able to change deliberately and consciously evolve myself to a higher order of behavior, thinking and emotions, and help me achieve what I want and move me away from what I don’t want. Whenever I want to achieve something, I know about myself. I’m an extremist. I get addicted as everybody else does. I want to make sure that my thought and emotional behavioral patterns are constructive, empowering, inspiring the addictions, not expiring me.
It’s a positive addiction.
My wife can have a cookie, have 2 or 3 bites and leave it alone. I can’t.
Your wife and I are very simpatico. We’re very similar to that in that respect.
My personality is not that way. My natural propensity for who I am is not that. I accept. I surrender. I allow. I say, “How can I use that personality trait as leverage as opposed to saying, ‘John, you are addicted to this and that.’” That can put me down. I don’t want to put myself down. I want to lift myself up.
I want to go back to the actual goal, not to focus on the six-pack as the goal. I’m going to ask you relative to this one point, which I believe is part of the awareness that you described, that radical honesty and awareness and this commitment piece. For me to be committed to something, it’s helpful if I understand why I’m committed. I’m going to ask you in a second why the six-pack is important to you. I use that as an example. With my son-in-law, Matthew, my daughter Chelsea’s husband. They got married a few years ago. Before that, he wanted to be able to look good in his tuxedo.
He’s a big guy and was over 200 pounds. He wanted to be under 200 so he’d looked great. Sure enough, he accomplished his goal, but 3, 4 weeks after the wedding was over, he didn’t look like he did on his wedding day. His goal or his why was to look good for the wedding, the pictures, and all the rest of it to be feeling great. That made sense but it didn’t last. I want to understand more at a depth how the why is important? Why did you choose a six-pack at 60? Why is that important to you?
Let me talk about your son-in-law first and the rest of us. We can make decisions for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. A wedding is a reason. Summertime, your bikini or your shorts, a season. A lifetime is a behavioral change that you’re committed to beyond the strategies and tactics for a reason or a season. When we’re looking at behavioral changes for a lifetime, we’re looking at a change in identity for a lifetime. Before my 50th birthday, I don’t think you and I even knew each other back then, I was 243 pounds, 33% body fat, borderline diabetic, hypertensive and had a fatty liver.
For my 50th birthday, I got down to the best shape of my adult life because I made a decision for a lifetime. I’ve maintained it. I changed my eating habits and exercise. I changed a whole bunch of stuff and got into good shape. Why six-pack at 60? I teach about the power of the human brain. I believe it’s the most powerful bio-organism in the entire universe. It’s worth $100 billion or more and it’s capable of achieving unbelievable things. I know that having a six-pack is hard enough at 25 or 35. I want to choose another hard goal that would bust a myth and show people the power of inner sizing, which is strengthening your mental and emotional neuro muscles that then allow you to be mentally and emotionally strong to achieve more things.
We know we go to the gym to exercise or swim. Your muscles, internal organs and nine systems get stronger and work synergistically together. What about my brain, the greatest tool of all? Can I strengthen my neuro muscles of resolve, self-confidence, focus or changing behaviors because I decide to? Fill in the blank. We have a variety of different neuro muscles just like we have a variety of different physical muscles. Many people have never heard of it place this way, nor do they focus it on every day.
I decided to use some of the stuff that I’ve researched and have used in my life for growing companies, for being in a great relationship or getting in the best shape of my life at 58. I said, “What’s the next thing that I might be able to do that can prove to myself once again that it’s right between my ears?” It always has been and always will be. I chose this goal. It’s maybe because I read a lot and I see magazines. I see people who are unhealthy and healthy, people who are wealthy and not, people who live with a lifestyle that I resonate with and I don’t. I’m very visual.
I’ve been asking myself a question, “How do I feel and look like in my 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s?” I made a promise to one of my sons, Noah when we were on a chairlift in Telluride, Colorado skiing many years ago. I promised him that I will teach his children how to boarder ski. He was thirteen at the time. I had to project what would I look like and feel like at 65, 70, 75 when he might have kids. I’ve been on this health path so that the quality of my life is as good as it can be if I have any choice. I understand shit can happen. We know shit has happened. I wanted to say, “How do I give myself the best chance to spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and financially be in the best shape of my life in my 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond if I’m given that gift?”
That’s a strong why. That’s not a reason and a season.
It’s a lifestyle decision. What’s the human experience that I want? How do I honor life? One of my favorite memories from one of our previous discussions, whether we were walking on the beach or talking on one of our calls is when you wake up and you put your feet on the ground. That’s one of your gratitude moments. I’ve been doing that since you mentioned it to me. I talked to somebody about you. I want to be living in honor of life. The physical body is the vehicle. It was something hard to try and do. I said, “I’m going to back it up with the behaviors and to be in congruence with that.”
I want to put a parenthetical in here because I’m noticing that this question about why is an interesting one and people ask it. It’s been asked and all that, nothing too profound there. What is not as readily thought of, talked about or understood even is how do you future cast? How does the why get executed? For me, it’s what you described. You looked far enough down the line to determine whether is this something I’d be committed to 10, 15, 20 years down the line or not? For Randi and I, you brought up the “I love my life” practice, this waking ritual. It’s future casting for me when I wake up, put my feet on the floor and say, “I love my life.”
It’s how I want to experience myself being that day. At that moment, I want to feel gratitude. When I put my head on the pillow at night at the end of the day and I’m getting ready to be grateful for the potential of being given yet another day, I want to know that the day I had was one I loved no matter what. You’re married a long time to Maria. Randi and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary on July 29, 2020. We created invitations and a vision board for our 75th wedding anniversary which is on July 29th, 2064. We did that years ago.
We’re future casting that we are going to be healthy. All of our parts and pieces are going to be working. Our kids, family and loved ones are going to be around. We’re going to be in our favorite place on this little island. All this stuff is going to be in place. For that to happen, it informs the present moment. It informs every step between here and there, including whether I lose my shit in an argument with her or I learn patience or she learns patience with me, which she’s had to learn much more patience with me than the other way around. How it is that we are taking care of ourselves or taking care of each other?You have to know how to pivot and adapt in this ever-changing world. Click To Tweet
It informs everything backwards if you can think far enough ahead. It’s wonderful that you tied your why not to, “I want to be that guy in the picture that has that six-pack or that eight-pack when I’m 60 years old.” It’s more like, “Where is this going to impact my life so I’ll be able to be on a ski slope? When other guys are sitting in their rocking chair, I’m going to be teaching my grandson how to ski.” That’s tangible, John.
It’s part of my promise to me of the life that I want to live. You mentioned something that sparked something that I do every night when I go to bed. I call it signing my day. As I lay in bed, before I go to sleep, I review my day. As an artist signs what she or he wrote, painted or sculpted, I want to make sure I’m proud of signing my day. It’s the masterpiece I created with the life and gift I received. I want to make sure that I have many more days where I’m proud of that signature than not. I’ve got plenty of experiences in my life in the past where I am not in many of my younger years.
As I’ve gotten older and hopefully a little bit wiser, I want to invest my days at the moment so that I’m living in the moment, which pretty much guarantees the memory I’m going to have in the future. If I pay attention to right now, this hour, this morning, this afternoon, this evening, the building blocks for amazing memories and being proud are laid. If I focus on the now and I signed my day, and if there are things tomorrow, let’s adjust here. The part of the signature for the day was to learn the adjustment for tomorrow. If I can keep creating these calibration points, I’m going to trade my life for what I’m proud of and what I love for myself. That’s what’s important.
I want to put a footnote into this show because I know we won’t have time to go into it. It’s something I want people to pay attention to if they didn’t already pick it up. One of John’s very famous acts or things that he did that was featured in The Secret was this vision board that he created. Those of you that might’ve watched this on YouTube, you got to see John’s vision board, including dudes that are looking pretty good that he wanted to look like, the Jack LaLannes of the world. I mentioned a vision board a moment ago for Randi and me for our 75th wedding anniversary. We’re not going to talk about that at the moment, but the vision board is an important part of this process for you, John. I want to footnote that and get your moment of thought on that. It’s still super important.
This is my exceptional life blueprint. In the first few pages, you’re going to see my family, the important stuff that’s there. It’s a blend of my current lifestyle and the lifestyle I want to live. I blend them in pages for health, wealth, charitable contributions, things that I want to create. I have everything in here around the story of my life, my results for health, wealth, relationships, career, business, finance, charity, contribution 5, 10, 20 years from now. The reason I do this is I get very deliberate about what is it that I want to trade my life and time for. Every day, I look at this so that I pride my brain, my bio-computer of these are the instructions that I want you to focus on.
If I prime my brain, if I give my brain or my bio-computer the instruction, I can start to use the genius parts of creation. Million years of evolution has created this sentient being called the human with a $100 billion bio-computer. I want to be a good operator of that computer. If you’re going to look at computer software, the output is only going to be as good as the software and the input. I want to consistently feed my brain the energy information so my brain doesn’t have to figure out, “What do you want?” I know what I want my energy, health, focus, wealth, charitable contribution and trips to be like.
I already have taken the time to say, “This is what I choose that will make my life worthy for me, my wife, family, the people who follow my work and my children.” I don’t need you to like what I like or to approve of what I want for my life. I’m treating life for what I want my fullest expression of that. I want to be very deliberate with flexibility for things to show up and come up, which we know they do.
We need to pivot and adapt. That’s okay but I am locked and loaded on what I want to trade my life for. It’s like you and Randi do when you’re 75. I start off with what does it look like upon completion? I can change it along the way. I’m giving the Einstein part, the occipital lobe part, the motivational side and the behavioral cortex part of my brain the input it requires in order to create the output. Somebody once said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” That’s bullshit, “Garbage in, garbage rots.” I don’t want to put garbage in. I want to put the best information, instructions, processes, systems, skills, tools and resources in because that’s what I’m going to achieve the masterpiece that I want for my life. I don’t want to live an ordinary life. I’ve wasted many years when I was younger that I made a commitment to put as much as I can into my life so that I’m proud of it for me.
To me, the word that dropped in is the word deliberate. First of all, it’s a word that isn’t used all that often. It’s one thing that I want folks to take. Where can you apply it? Where can you use that word deliberate for yourself? Where can you create more deliberate intention and action for yourself in some area? I want to use this moment to pivot. There’s a nice way to segue from what we’re talking about. You said you’re deliberate about your desires, intentions and goals. You create almost a blueprint for what it’s going to look like, future cast it, and then we know life happens.
That’s the part where it can take people sideways because life will happen and things will take you out of your great plan. Maybe it was Mike Tyson who said that everybody’s got a plan. They get hit in the face and then there’s no plan. The Pivot, the book I wrote some years ago would suggest a way to deal with that. Inside of that book is a chapter on resilience. I have a new book that’s coming out called Change Proof. You brought that term up. This book’s subtitle is Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-term Resilience. I was looking at an article in HBR that said, “Our brains were not built for this much uncertainty.” What I want to do is to transition into a conversation about resilience. I want to start with your definition of it. How do you personally define resilience?
First and foremost, you mentioned Mike Tyson. He and I delivered a keynote address in the same place. He mentioned, “All your best-laid plans go right out the window when you get punched in the face.” I was looking at that not being rude but agreeing.
How big are his hands, by the way?
They’re not that big. His trunk and legs are very big. His hands were not as big as I thought they were. I thought he would have like a club hand but with his torque, you could tell that he is built for speed and spring. Resilience, the visual I would have is thinking of the bamboo. The bamboo is firm, resilient, bendable and pliable to a certain degree. Flexibility goes along with this resiliency. My ability to endure is how I would frame resiliency.
You mentioned something that’s important to understand. When we’re dealing with the human brain, the way that our brain works is it’s taking in information from sound, sight and tactile senses. It is projecting any potential consequences in the now and into the future based on the neural networks in our memory system and the associations, the meanings that we have for things positive, negative, fearful, dangerous or not. We’re living slightly in arrears of real-time because our brain likes predictability. It is predicting every second of every day, except when you’re asleep. What is going to happen based on what happened in the past, but it’s releasing the neurochemicals that cause you to feel either the positive constructive consequence or the negative destructive consequence based on what’s in the memory bank.
We don’t like change, uncertainty, doubt and things like that. The Einstein part of our brain is trying to imagine a beautiful future with possibilities and how we could achieve that but there’s another part of our brain that I call the Frankenstein’s monster that is always doing this, “What if, negative? What if I fail? What if it doesn’t work? What if she rejects me? What if I lose money? What if I succeed and fail? What if I’m embarrassed, ashamed, ridiculed or judged? What if this kills me? What if it kills my wife? What if it kills my children?”
We have this constant battle between the left prefrontal cortex and the right prefrontal cortex that are like gas and brakes in the car. Until we become better operators of these parts of our brain, which means we need to recognize the thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and behaviors, we need to learn how to reframe things so they empower us instead of disempowering us. We need to learn how to release the disempowering emotions that want to deactivate our motif for action and our behavior.
We want to retrain our brain to be in a heightened state of awareness or mindfulness so we can make deliberate choices versus reactive choices. Not just to react but to react automatically. We want to learn how to respond versus react. These are skills that we learn. Resiliency is something you can learn. Being in adaptation and being more mindful is something you can learn.
The adaptationist, improvisational, understanding that the plan is going to change. It’s one thing to have a vision board, but it’s also something that you have to recognize that maybe the thing is going to turn out exactly how it looks on the board but it’s likely to look different. Even if it turns out exactly the way you pictured it would, it will likely feel differently than you imagined it would feel when you first intended it.
The vision board is an instruction to the brain. In some cases, I want it to look exactly like this or something like this. Many years ago, I saw this incredible painting by an artist named Spar Street. It was a beautiful painting. I took it and put it on my vision board. I said, “One day when I can afford to pay for this type of painting, I want something like this. I want to commission him to do it for me.” Upstairs, there’s an 8 x 12 painting that Spar Street created for me. That’s not the exact painting that I had but it’s like it.
It gave me the visceral experience of what I wanted it to be like. I said, “What do I have to do? How much do I need to earn? Who do I need to become? What is the knowledge, skills and tactics that I need to implement to be able to one day afford a piece like that?” The painting caused more questions and a commitment to leveling up who I was to be able to afford it.
It’s important that we pause for a second to sit with this because it’s the experience that we’re after. Our lives are a collection of experiences. On our last breath, we don’t know necessarily wherever we go from here. What we’ll have at that moment is the felt experience or the visceral experience of what it was like to be alive for however long we were lucky enough to have that experience. People want to be rich. Rich is not a number. It’s not a set amount of money in a bank account. It’s not the car or the house. It’s a feeling. It’s an experience that you associate with wealth. It’s richness.
Here’s an exercise that I’ve done myself, my students, friends and even my kids. What do you refuse not to become? I refuse to stand on the edge of my potential, not go for it and do the very best. I refuse to be on my death bed saying, “Why didn’t I do this or that when I could?” I refuse to have that dialogue with myself then. I asked myself, “What needs to happen now? What needs to happen to my identity? What needs to happen to my behavior so that I never feel that?”Be deliberate with flexibility for things to show up and come up, which we know they do. Click To Tweet
I can go into my future at 60, 70, 80, whatever the case is and say, “What do I want to make 100% certain that does not happen?” I can come back to now and say, “How do I make 100% certain that I’ve become what I want to become? Am I committed to this or that?” You can use a negative move away from the frame just as much as you can use a positive move towards the frame. I want to know what my own line in the sands is.
The mind hates uncertainty. Fear is the thing that’s created when there’s any sense of unknown or uncertain times. We’re living in the greatest of uncertainty and uncertain times at the moment, which is why the book is well-timed to meet the moment. I’m not here to talk about my book. I want to get your thoughts on uncertainty. One of the things we discuss is how resilience is, in essence, an antidote to that uncertainty. Resilience isn’t one amorphous thing. It’s a setup question. I even ask somebody how they define it because there are as many definitions for resilience as there are people you would ask how to define it.
What we have found out through research is that it can be chunked into four zones, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. You are among other things known as a brain expert. I want to talk about the mental side of it. As a leadership keynote speaker, I want to talk about leading a company and working with other people who are interested in this and in elevating their results, how it is that you create mental resilience? I want to know what that looks like for you, and where you can point to something that would help to alleviate some of the uncertainty that has people in abject fear. Some folks are stuck at this moment even.
It’s a complex question that can go down a variety of different channels. Think about going to the gym.
I’ll target it a little bit more. You do something called Brain-A-Thon. With a person that wants to work on their mental resilience or their resiliency between the years thing, what does that look like for a person when it comes to working that out when they’re working out in the NeuroGym, your company?
There are only four things that hold people back, or four categories that will cause somebody to be stuck and stay stuck or not fulfill their potential. Number one is when they don’t have the knowledge or the skill to achieve the goal that they want, health, wealth, career, business, whatever it is. They don’t have the knowledge or the skill. That activates the self-doubt, the lack of confidence, the uncertainty, and maybe even the fear neural circuit. The fear circuit is connected to the motivational circuit of whether you take action or not, or whether you are motivated to move forward or not. We have three networks in the brain, the salient, executive and default mode network. Those are the three major networks, and then a whole host of circuits that turn on or off like light switches.
When we have the knowledge and the skills, we lower the chances that we’re going to feel uncertain because we have the knowledge or the skills. In the absence of knowledge and skills, if you think about the word stress, what does stress mean? It means that the demand is exceeding your current capacity. The stress circuit gets activated only when the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial and relationship demand exceeds your current capacity to handle it. If you have the capacity to handle it, there isn’t stress.
When we’re dealing with the brain and this bio-computer of circuits and networks, if we have a lack of knowledge and skill, we trigger uncertainty, self-doubt, lack of confidence, stress circuits and fear circuit. We know that these circuits aren’t connected to other services of whether we take action or not. That’s part one. Part two is let’s say I have a conscious or an unconscious fear and there are 50 different types of fears.
I might have a vision and a goal. I might be resilient but if I have a fear of failure because of what failure means to me or my family, if I have a fear of trying my best and being embarrassed, ashamed, ridiculed, judged or disappointed again, I know that if the fear circuit is activated in any one of those 8 or 9 fears I suggested, I’m not going to take inspired action most of the time. Number three, if I have limiting beliefs. What is a limiting belief in the brain? It’s nothing more than a reinforced neural pattern that I’ve developed either in childhood or adulthood that got reinforced that now is the filter by which I see the world and myself in it.
If I have limiting beliefs, that means I have networks in my brain that are limiting my perspective, my paradigm, my emotional abilities and my behavior. That’s the neuromechanics of that. Let’s say I have a vision, a goal and a big why. I want to change, pivot, have this instead of that, leave this to get that, start this and stop that. Let’s say that I have a hidden self-image that questions whether I’m worthy of it. Am I deserving of that? This imagination of mine that sees a better future, job, career, that sees me as a coach, speaking or whatever it is that we’re envisioning, that happens in the occipital imagination side of our brain.
There’s a hidden self-image that may be disconnected from us believing and feeling that we are worthy or deserving of that. If I have a disconnect between the vision and my hidden self-image, that’s like having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. The foot on the brake wants to keep you stuck here. The foot on the gas wants to go somewhere else. You have a lot of movement but you’re not getting anywhere. When we’re talking about the neuromechanics of change, performance and resiliency, it’s a little bit more complicated to understand why is it that I could be resilient at work but not at home? Why is it that I can be resilient when I’m working out but not resilient in this other part of my life?
It starts to get a little bit more complex. However, when we have these constructive beliefs about ourselves and constructive memories of when we were resilient in the past, it is transferrable because we have references that we can transfer over to here. The truth is we all have all of these character traits but our belief in the character traits, the good ones and the ones that you maybe are not proud of, their belief about what they mean will determine the feelings and the behaviors.
We are complex creatures. I get that but we’re not so complex like the Rubik’s cube that I always have on my desk. Whether it’s 2 x 2, 3 x 3, 4 x 4, 5 x 5 or the mother Rubik’s cube, if we are committed to learning how to solve it, we practice diligently and rehearse, what we practice creates permanent patterns. The permanent patterns that are constructive build our lives. The permanent patterns that are destructive destroy our lives. Either way, we’re more in control. We could deliberately and constantly evolve ourselves. If you’re committed to solving the Rubik’s cube, go to YouTube, follow the play-by-play instructions on YouTube. You can solve it in three minutes.
I couldn’t agree more that we are complex beings. I’m going to do something maybe sacrilegious. I want to simplify or even perhaps oversimplify this. For me, at least in my life, getting out of my own way has always been the most important thing. A lot of other things could be in my way and I’m able to deal with that but I’m usually the one hardest nut to crack. The way I’ve cracked this nut has been through deliberate actions that I take consistently over time. I call those rituals. They are habits or things like I brushed my teeth with my left hand. It’s a default. I just do it. When I want to do something different, I pick up my toothbrush with my right hand. I’ll offer that up. Anybody that wants to check out how addicted you are to doing things the way you do them, brush your teeth with the opposite hand for the next week and see how that feels for you.
Rituals, these consciously created new ways of doing things has been the one thing that we’ve seen in our research that helps people to create something that provides resiliency. Mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. In any of those areas, you can create a specific kind of ritual. That’s where I want to get into this with you, which is a ritual for recovery. The research is fairly clear that endurance or trying to endure through situations is the most prevalent way people deal with stuff. It’s depleting.
It’s in the long-term, not the thing we want to do to create the night owl award but rather what we want to do is create recovery zones because it’s in those recovery moments like at the gym. You’re not going to workout for ten hours at a time or work one muscle group day after day. You’re going to rest that muscle group so that you can then get growth. Ultimately, it’s through recovery that you do create new results. John, I want to find out more about your own rituals, specifically the ones that are more on the mental side or for brain health.
I know you are very famous for a number of different things as an author but you also do something called a Brain-A-Thon, which almost sounds like a marathon or like there’s an exercise in it. You have a book called Innercise. It makes me think about exercise but for the brain or the mind. Rituals for recovery is one of the unsung heroes for creating resilience. I want to understand what your rituals for recovery look like mentally.
When I wake up, I started with my gratitude practice. I do the “I love my life” every day, all day. I do a meditation every morning for 15 to 20 minutes. I have some custom-made Innercise audios for me that caused me to be in a state of peaceful relaxation first. I use visualization, mindfulness, affirmations, declarations, promises and subliminal programming to prime my brain every single morning.
How long is the audio?
It’s 15 to 20 minutes of that as well. From 6:30 to 8:30 every morning is my time. That is me for my inner game, physical body and spiritual connection. I do my innercises first then I do my exercise for about an hour. I have my shower and then my very ultra-healthy protein and some good fat for my brain. I make a 3, 6 and 9 and some fiber protein smoothie every day with about 500 to 700 calories. That’s how I start off every day by 8:30. I don’t care if I’m in a hotel room. I make it happen there. I don’t care if I’m at a guest house in Antarctica or Alaska. It makes no difference. That is my morning routine.
I have a meeting with my assistant after I shower to make sure that my day is planned out and that any calibrations for my day are discussed, planned out, and we do that. Every 55 minutes, as long as I’m not in a meeting, my mobile phone will ring. I do two innercises that take about three minutes. Innercise number one is called Take Six, Calm the Circuits. All that is I take 60 breaths into my nose slowly as possible. I hold at the top for about three seconds. As I release it through my mouth, I pretend that there’s a straw in my mouth and I blow it out through a straw very slowly.
Why do I do that? I know that where I’m going, I can get amped up and I get a high degree of energy. I know that we have a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is usually the fight, flight, freeze reaction part of my brain. The calm the response part of my brain activates the Einstein part of my brain. I want to operate more from the Einstein part of the brain which is known as the left prefrontal cortex, more of the day than my Frankenstein brain or the stress part of my brain.We don't like change. We don't like uncertainty. We don't like doubt. Click To Tweet
When I take six deep breaths into my nose, out through my mouth as slowly as possible, that gives my brain the instruction to decompress, deactivate the stress circuit, and activate the calm the response circuit. I do it deliberately. Doing it deliberately means that my brain learns the pattern. Once my brain learns the pattern, it does it for me. I know that pattern.
You ritualize to habitualize.
Right after I do my Take Six, Calm The Circuit innercise, I then do my AIA innercise, Awareness Intention Action. What am I looking to do? Awareness of what? I want to be aware of my thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and behaviors in the last 55 minutes. Why? Why does the captain of an airplane or the captain of a ship want to know the coordinates of where they are? It’s because they can make adjustments a lot faster if they know exactly where they are. I want to make sure once per hour that my thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, behaviors and state is moving me towards the goals I want to achieve. If I do that every day with this rule, no judgment, no blame, no shame, no guilt, no justification.
Why? When I’m looking, observing and mindful of a pattern for the last 55 minutes, all I want to do is practice observation and awareness. Being mindful without any judgment, blame, shame, guilt or justification allows me to be an observer of patterns. The I in AIA, which is Intension, I say, “My intention for the next hour is this, this and this.” I have a refocus. I’ve recalibrated if I need to. I can accelerate if I want to. I say, “The A is Action.” What are 1 or 2 action steps that I could take in the next hour to be on track, on purpose and heading towards what I want to achieve how I want to feel, what I want to focus on? Let’s take a look at this throughout the day.
If I’ve done that ten times in the day times let’s say five days a week when I’m working, that’s 50 opportunities I’ve had to be more mindful, aware, in control, into my common response zone, deliberate, focused, attentive. That’s a ritual and a pattern that then builds on itself. I can calibrate all the time.
I want somebody to picture themselves in the middle of what John has laid out. You get an email that you didn’t expect that hits you right between the eyes and kicks you right in the gut. The wheels of the car screech to a halt. Every good thing that was happening comes to a halt because you received this unexpected piece of news. It has kicked your reptilian brain into fear, into the fight, flight or freeze mode. John, putting yourself in that situation, what’s different about the way you’ve deliberately trained yourself at that moment? You received those moments. You have those things happen.
They happened. I was in Montreal with my wife and kids. My brother was there with his kids. My sister’s there with her kids and grandkids. We celebrated my 60th birthday and my father’s 91st birthday. We took pictures. We were outside. We have amazing pictures and videos of everybody being happy. My father was celebrating and happy. He lives alone, is still able to walk, talk and is 100% cognitively there. I fly back to San Diego with my kids. Twenty-four hours after I land here, I’m on live training. I get a text from my sister, “Call me right away. Dad has fallen. He is being rushed to the hospital right now.” The first thing I did is six deep breaths. I felt the surge.
I know I don’t want to react. I want to respond. I said, “Everyone, give me one second. Sis, I’m in training right now. Is it okay if I get back to you in seventeen minutes?” “Sure, no problem.” I deescalated the situation and my reaction to response. Needless to say, I find out a little bit later, it wasn’t that seventeen minutes because we didn’t know what was happening. My father broke his nose, cheekbones, was rushed to the hospital, intubated and was in a twelve-day medically induced coma. I flew the very next day to Montreal to do what I could do there versus here. I stayed there for eight days. I came home and my brother went there.
Why am I sharing this? Life is all about what you do when shit happens to you. I wouldn’t be much good in a reactive state. The thing that I always like to remind people of is this. Firefighters have to learn how to calmly go into a burning or exploding building. That’s a trained response. Astronauts when all hell breaks loose as they’re traveling thousands of miles per hour have to learn how to stay calm in the worst of situations, so do police officers and Navy SEALs. It’s a trained response that with training becomes an automatic reaction. Whatever we practice becomes permanent. We can practice stressful situations so that we respond instead of reacting. We will always react to stressful situations at the highest level of our training because it’s automatic.
Practice does not make perfect as we’ve been told. It makes it permanent.
Perfect practice makes permanent patterns. It’s not even permanent patterns. They’re just more soft-wired until you change those patterns. When we are looking to create some high-performance rituals and habits, let’s understand that the best way to create habits is to reduce it to the ridiculously small amount of a ritual initially. You mentioned something earlier that made me smile. Years ago, I started to brush my teeth instead of with my right hand, with my left hand. I haven’t stopped. I still am brushing my teeth with my left hand. It’s still uncomfortable and I will not move back to my right hand.
As you all could probably tell, John and I can continue to talk for hours and hours. Maybe that’s what you’d like and that’s great. For now, we’re going to bring this thing in for a landing. I know this is not ever easy to ask a fellow speaker to limit an answer to 60 seconds but tell us about the Brain-A-Thon if you can and a little bit here. I want people to know what this is because we mentioned it a couple of times.
We’re about to do our 9th Annual Brain-A-Thon. Years ago, I decided to invite some of my top neuroscience friends and fellow researchers and share what’s some of the latest stuff on changing our brains so we can change our income and our lives. I brought on the best from Harvard, Oxford or Princeton. They started to share. Here’s what we’re discovering about mindset, emotional control, self-talk, what holds people back, potential and achieving it, high performance versus being stuck in a habitude of more of the same.
I started doing these Brain-A-Thons. Every year, 50,000 to 150,000 sign-up for our free 6 to 8-hour event. Many people stay for the whole time. Some people stay for 3 or 4 hours. In 2021, we’re focusing on how to change your brain to change your income, wealth, peace of mind and the lifestyle that comes with that. We’re doing it again for free. We’ll have a little bit of fun.
John, I’ll ask you one final question. I know you love your life but I want to know if you love your entire life.
I do. I love where I’m at in my life. It’s the first time in years where I’m starting to feel that I’m becoming wiser. I’ve learned the art of slowing down so I could pick up speed. When I was younger, it’s like fast, fast, fast. Now it’s like slow down. One of my friends, Phil Town, learned this in the Marines. He said, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
It’s like a rubber band. If you played that when you were a kid, you made a little rubber band gun. You had to pull a rubber band back slowly and then it speeds up. Sometimes we do need to slow down to speed up. To say this in the most direct terms, I love you. I love how you help people, how you show up in the world, and model what you speak about because not everybody who talks, teaches or writes about things is always living that way. I know how you live and the two things are quite congruent. If you don’t mind me saying that to you, I appreciate that very much.
I appreciate and love you too. I know it’s important for you to be in congruence also. One of my holding companies is called Praxis International. Praxis means the integration of your beliefs with your behavior.
Loving your entire life is what it means to be change proof. Here’s to all of us being agnostic to change. Change doesn’t take us out. It’s the only constant. There’s a URL that says ResilienceRank.com. It’s in 3 minutes 16 questions that you can answer to determine where it is that you are showing signs of great resiliency and where it is that you might be in need of some improvement, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Resilience is a complicated topic. We try to simplify it. In 3, 4 minutes, you’ll have those answers. Most importantly, you’ll get the resources all for free that might help you to create some of those new rituals for increasing your resiliency in one of those areas that might be lacking.
I love the fact that we got to do this. I love the conversation. We welcome your comments. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/podcasts to leave a comment. Leave one on iTunes or anywhere else that you’d like but we want to keep the conversation going. If you’ve got questions for John, we’d love to be able to direct you to John for those answers as well. Otherwise, it’s a pleasure. I hope at this moment, more than anything, you’ve enjoyed yourself, and that you truly do love your life no matter what. You love your entire life. That is our goal in doing this. We appreciate your help as well. Ciao for now, everybody.
- Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power
- Having It All
- The Answer
- Change Proof
- Article – HBR
- Praxis International
- iTunes – The Conscious PIVOT Podcast
About John Assaraf
John has built 5 multimillion-dollar companies, written 2 New York Times Bestselling books, and featured in 8 movies, including the blockbuster hit “The Secret” and “Quest For Success” with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama.
Today, he is the founder and CEO of NeuroGym, a company dedicated to using the most advanced technologies and evidence-based brain training methods to help individuals unleash their fullest potential and maximize their results.