The Power of Challenge with John Assaraf

PR 027 | Power of Challenge

Today I had the honor of talking with a good friend, John Assaraf. In addition to John’s many accomplishments and his near-celebrity status (he was featured in the Secret), he’s the CEO of Neurogym. Once a year, he and his company bring us the Brain-a-thon, a full day of amazing content on the brain – all for free. I am truly blessed to call him a friend. Aside from being successful in business, he is truly a solid human being.

In this episode we talk about successful navigation through challenges. Including giving yourself permission to realize that it’s not realistic to be doing amazing in every area of your life all the time. Not even people like John. As he puts it, we are all fellow humanitarians trying to figure out the path and the complexities of life. Every day is a new challenge – a challenge that we use as a way to grow. We talk about the concepts of balance vs. harmony and having healthy expectations as much as a big vision. John also shares a very personal pivot, discussing the nature of addiction and dependency and recognizing the power that resides in all of us. John’s company, Neurogym, is dedicated to studying ways we can use the brain to handle challenges even faster. He talks about the neural underpinnings of fear and challenge, and breaking free of these patterns.

This is something that John and his team know a lot about. For the past 33 years, he’s been fascinated with the brain, which he considers to be the most powerful tool in the universe. And once again, on Saturday October 7th, he’ll bring together some of the foremost brain scientists and psychologists in the world for a free, all-day training on the brain. They’ll be tackling everything from fears, doubts, stress, confidence, finances, creativity and rewiring the brain for higher levels of performance and results. The Brain-a-thon is 8 hours of world class training with the top scientists, teachers, researchers, and experts in the world. The goal of event is to teach people how to use the brain better and to be introduced to state-of-the art brain training methods.

The Brain-a-thon starts at 9:00 am PT on Saturday October 7th. Come for 1 hour or enjoy the entire day. The training is entirely free and can be accessed by clicking here. I am honored to share this incredible opportunity with all my listeners.

You can learn more about John by attending the Brain-a-Thon. Click here to access the information and to register.

Enjoy more episodes of The Conscious PIVOT Podcast at AdamMarkel.com or download them on your favorite podcast player.

Looking for more wisdom, resources and support for your own business or personal pivot? Join our incredible PIVOT community on Facebook at pivotFB.com and visit StartMyPIVOT.com to download your free Kickstart Guide!

Listen to the Episode Here:

The Power of Challenge with John Assaraf

I feel so good to be here today. I feel good to just be alive. It feels good to feel that way. I woke up this morning, I was a little tired. It was a long holiday weekend, which was beautiful. I probably had a little too much to eat, a little too much to drink, spent a lot of time with the family. I was a little tired but when I took those first breaths this morning, it didn’t take me long to remember my morning routine, my ritual. The first piece for me is always just to feel gratitude for being able to take that breath knowing there are people that did not wake up from their sleep and even in that moment, there are people taking their last breath. It doesn’t take much more for me to get real. I have the hairs standing up right now just even saying that again. Regardless of what’s going on in my life or your life or in your business or mine, this is the essence of the human condition. We get to have an unknown number of days. If I ever meet anybody that knows exactly how many days they’ve got, I really want to sit down and pick their brain. I’m not so sure I want to know myself, truthfully. It is a blessing in a mysterious way that it does.

PR 027 | Power of Challenge

Power of Challenge: John Assaraf

I feel really blessed, especially blessed to be here with you now and to be here with somebody that I will get to share with you. As I am apt to do, I will turn it over to him to introduce himself so there’s no canned introduction. As part of this program, I really want to know what he is thinking now, feeling now about his life and what he thinks is important to share with all of you about who he is and what he is committed to, what’s important to him in his life. What I know of him is that he is a very solid man. He’s a solid, solid human being. I don’t know that there’s much more to be known for. Professionally, he’s a huge success in many different fields: First in real estate then in the personal development, the human potential space. He was in the movie The Secret. He’s written many best-selling books. He has millions of people that have followed his work and study with him especially each year when he does his Brain-A-Thon event. All of that is fantastic as accolade for his professionalism and how he’s shown up in business. As a human being, I just feel he’s a solid man, solid father, solid daddy and husband and a good human. I feel blessed to call him a friend. John Assaraf, welcome to The Conscious PIVOT Podcast.

Hello, my brother, great to be on with you. Hi, everyone, great to be on with all of you as well.

This is a community of pivoters of people who are changing, reinventing themselves. Some drastically, some moving like I did from out of a legal profession into this space of human potential. You had a significant pivot out of real estate business, very successful practice and just like I had a successful practice. You sought for something more. We may dive into that. We may dive into some other area of pivot in your life. I love it when we can get vulnerable and real with each other so that other people can learn from it. To look at you or to look at others who’ve achieved some level of success you might think, “Every day is a great day. Every day is perfect. Every day is a sunny day. It never rains. You never have any challenges.” We all know that that’s bullshit frankly because we develop because we’re challenged. We grow because we’re challenged. When we stop growing, we stop developing. Life could be a slow, mediocre, unwinding from that point forward. We know that’s not what any of us are committed to. John, I would love it if you’d share a little bit about yourself and what you’re committed to today, these days in your business and the people whose lives you get to touch, and anything else that you want to say that’s important before we dive into that pivot conversation.

I think the place I’d like to start is maybe where with what you just suggested is that you never have any bad days and never have any negative thoughts and you never have any failures except when you do. The human experience is a beautiful thing when you step back and you come to realize that it’s not even realistic to think that everybody’s life in every area of their life is doing amazing all the time. It’s like saying the weather is amazing all the time. It doesn’t make any difference where you are in the world. There are the highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, the good times, challenging times. First and foremost is I’m like everybody else. Just a fellow traveler, a fellow journeyman, a fellow humanitarian trying to figure my way through life, through all of the different complexities of life. I keep this Rubik’s cube on my desk all the time. It’s just to remind me of all of the different facets to health, wealth, relationships, career, business, fun experiences, charity and the multiple complexities within that. Every day, I just try to get the Rubik’s cube to fit a little bit better and then to make it look like it’s the way that I wanted to. Every once in a while, I get close to having it just the way I want to and then something happens, “I need to learn a new skill, a new way of looking at it, a new person, a new twist in the tail.” Some expected, mostly unexpected. The way I grow as a human is through the opportunities that challenges present to me. To use my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical abilities to just try and get better at it every day. Some days are just perfect and sunny and the weather is amazing. I’m talking about life. Other days it’s like, “What the F happened? How did this one get out of hand so fast?” Then, I get to practice and will practice some more. Everybody goes through these challenges and these amazing moments of harmony and amazing moments of things are blissful and then it changes again. Our job is to just navigate through.

Successful living really is about practice, isn’t it?

Yeah, it really is. It’s also a function of having realistic, healthy expectations. Nobody is going to talk me out of having a big vision and big goals. My first book was Having It All. Health, wealth, relationships, career, business, fun experiences, charity, I want to have it all. Sometimes it’s just hard to have it all at the same time.

I don’t know what you think about this. We haven’t prepped to talk about any in this. In our friendship, we’ve never actually covered this topic in a conversation. I’m not heavily into balance. I know it’s a catchword. I was a lawyer for a lot of years. I met a lot of people who are seeking balance. A lot of overworked people, workaholics and probably a lot of people that are listening to this now, whether they’re startups because we have a lot of people in startup businesses or people that are side hustling while they’re still working their career and a lot of people who work really hard. Balance, I don’t know that that’s what we’re seeking. To me when I think of balance, I think of somebody on a tight rope. Hopefully, there’s a net below them because more likely than not, you stay on that tight rope long enough, you’re going to fall. I think of it as harmony and that I believe is literally the sign for yin and yang. This symbol is for harmony and you used that word harmony. How do you create harmony in your life is a big, big deal. It’s not something that you get one thing, one strategy and apply it and it all just means you walk with sunshine all the time, but you get an opportunity to practice.

When somebody is in a startup mode, think of it as you would a rocket ship. I did a program many years ago called the Escape Velocity. I’m into a bit of astronomy and stuff like that. I was interested in rocket ships for some reason. How do we get out of the gravitational pull of Earth and there’s something called escape velocity. If you do a little bit of a research, you’ll discover that a rocket ship uses up the majority of its fuel to get off the ground. Most of the fuel that’s in these monster containers is used before it gets out of the Earth’s atmosphere so that it achieves this escape velocity. Once it pushes itself with an incredible amount of force, then we have the laws of physics to take over and we can really start gliding using the forces of nature.

For anybody who’s a startup, for anybody who’s looking to really achieve an excellent result in their business, in their life, their relationship, their career, anything, there’s usually an enormous amount of energy and effort that’s required to get this lift off before you could achieve escape velocity. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just the way it is. If you’re out of shape, it’s going to take you three, four, five weeks to get past that cardiovascular breakthrough where things are coming a little bit easier. If you’re out of shape and you can’t do three pushups, it’s going to take you two, three, four weeks of two pushups, three pushups, four pushups or sit ups before you can start feeling that next level of abilities. I think it’s not the right frame of mind to have that during those moments especially for the startups, when you’ve got sales, marketing, management, finance, product development, client care, technology and there are 35 different pieces of the Rubik’s cube that you need to learn, understand, maneuver, manage, figure out, that you’re going to get a lot of sleep. That you’re going to get a lot of time with your significant other. That you’re going to have time for everything that constitutes your life.

PR 027 | Power of Challenge

Power of Challenge: I certainly wasn’t balanced but I was getting a lot of shit done including doing triathlons.

I would say we just change the expectations. To say, “Sometimes, in your life depending on what your values are, depending on what it is that you really want to move off the ground, put an unequal and uneven effort into that so you can begin to achieve that escape velocity at a certain point. Then, it basically can run itself.” I was able to get my RE/MAX which I worked for ten years. For everyone who’s listening, probably remembers Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek. What Tim didn’t tell everybody is it took him ten years to get The 4-Hour Workweek. When I read that book I said, “I bought a company that does $4 billion a year in sales and I only focus 30 minutes a month on it. I should have done a 30-minute a month workweek on $4 billion in sales.” It took me ten years to be able to get the number of offices up and running, to recruit 1,500 sales people, to train them, to put processes, systems in place, to scale it. Then it was easy but I was 26 years old. Other than going to bars and dating and working out, that’s all I had, is build my company. I certainly wasn’t balanced but I was getting a lot of shit done including doing triathlons.

There was harmony, not balance.

You got it. If you think about an orchestra or a band, sometimes you’ve got the lead singer belching out their lyrics, other times you got the pianist, other times you got the guitar. They don’t have to be playing at the same time but when they do, you have harmony. When you don’t, they’re not in balance. Some of them are quiet. How’s our life any different?

We call that resonance and then there’s something else that’s really cool and we won’t digress on this too far. Do you like jazz?

I love jazz.

So do I. What’s really neat about jazz, what’s interesting about the music, why it’s interesting and why people love it so much is because of the dissonance. The fact that there are these dissonant notes. It’s interesting because when there is that off note you go, “Listen to that.” There’s a tension when something’s off. There’s that conflict and you want the conflict to be resolved. It’s part of what makes a great play as well that there’s conflict that we seek resolution of. That plays out really nicely in jazz music, the opposition between resonance and dissonance. I think that’s very true of our lives.

We’re talking about jazz. To the individual that’s playing her instrument, she is in coherence for her. For whatever that individual is playing, they are just in total flow and in the moment of perfection for them.

You brought up the word flow. I was doing a live stream talking about zone of greatness and how to get into your zone and get into your flow state. Among other things, you study the brain. You can even say you’re a brain expert. You certainly are surrounded by other people, scientists and others who study the brain. I don’t know if you’ve read this book, Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler. What can you say about what you’ve learned about flow state? We realize we get in and out of flow states. Michael Jordan was in a flow state most of the time when the biggest games, the most important games were on the line. How is it that people can get into flow state? Can you hack that, do you believe? 

Yeah, I know you can. Many people that are listening will know the term of unconscious competence. That’s when you’ve repeated something so many times that you don’t have to think about how to do it, but you’re just unconsciously competent. You can get into a flow state of misery. You can get into a flow state of disempowerment. You can get into a flow state of poor performance and that’s just a pattern that you become used to or comfortable with. You can get into that very, very often. You can also get into a constructive positive flow state where you are performing at peak positive ways that give you the results that you want. There is a certain mindset that allows you to get into flow states. There is a certain emotion that allows you to get into a flow state. There is certainly a pattern of behavior that could be triggered by rituals, that people can tell you when they do these rituals whether it’s a breathing exercise, whether it’s a visualization exercise, whether it’s moving the ball and spinning it a little bit like this or holding the grip of your golf club like this or getting totally calm before a performance or totally in a hyper state before a performance, whatever it is for you, can elicit a flow state. The idea behind flow state is to really get a spiritual, a mental, emotional and physical body aligned in a state of really no thinking and total pure performance out of this resonance of everything working as one.

There had been times in your life when you’d been in peak positive states and peak negative states. When I think about pivoting and so many applications to that word and the concept, the essential pivot for me is one of consciousness. That’s why the name of this podcast is The Conscious PIVOT. We get to choose. I think it was Napoleon Hill who said this, before I started to say it, which I’ll say it now is, “I ask not, O Divine Providence, for more riches but more wisdom with which to accept and use wisely the riches I received at birth in the form of power to control and direct my mind to whatever ends I desire.” This is our birthright. One area of very few areas we actually have any control over. We can control what we think moment to moment as odd as that sounds because for many of us, our minds are crazed and running that critical voice or that yacking voices as incessant. We don’t control it but we can direct our thoughts. Peak positive, peak negative often has to do with your mental state. Could you share one of those pivots for yourself whether it was personal or professional where you were able to pivot in some area? It doesn’t have to be related to what we’ve been discussing, which is the control of your mind but if that had a part in it, if that was the part of how you actually came out of the dive, how did the tailspin or whatever it was looking like, that would be awesome.

I’ll go there and I’d like to have everybody just think about this for a moment. When you learned how to walk, you practiced. When you learned how to talk, you practiced. When you learned how to eat, you practiced. When you learned one or two or three languages, you practiced. What kind of practice have you had to control your mental abilities? What kind of practice have you had to control your emotions, the energies flowing through your body? What kind of practice have you given to the most powerful tool in the known universe? For most people, it’s mostly on-the-job training but no practice. There’s very, very little forethought in schools or in many organizations on practicing the use of the greatest tool that we’ve ever, ever, ever known. 2.5 million years of humankind and one form over another of humankind walking on this Earth. How many courses are there on learning about the mind and learning about the brain and learning about practicing the mental and emotional abilities and skills that we have? Not very many; it’s mostly reaction.

You asked about a pivot. There are two major pivots in my life. About nine years ago, I was involved in a business partnership break-up with one of my very dear friends in a company that we owned. I had lent him money to start the company, to keep the company going. We brought investors on. Unfortunately due to some health issues on his part, I left the company, he left the company, had the management team run the company. I lost a few million dollars. My investors lost a few million dollars and I lost the friendship amongst having to let go 72 employees. At that time, he and I didn’t want to ruin our friendship even though we argued and fought like cats and dogs every day. He used to live in other state and used to stay with us when he was in California. When we got home, we would basically drink ourselves to sleep and hide underneath the alcohol that was there for the evening so that he and I wouldn’t have to deal with our real issues. I started drinking way, way too much alcohol to the point where I was borderline diabetic. I was eating the way I shouldn’t be eating. I was under enormous amounts of stress. I was maybe 40 plus pounds heavier than I am right now. I was afraid. I was just afraid of letting go of this alcohol as a crux for dealing with my stress and my lack of ability to manage this very deep emotions, painful emotions. Best friend, businesses that we can’t make workout.

I had to really figure out how I was going to make this pivot from using alcohol as a drowning mechanism of my thoughts and my emotions and my lack of skill at the time to communicate what I was really, really feeling and thinking. I had an issue with conflict and especially conflict with people that I love. I felt that it was better for me to just swallow the conflict versus get into an argument or fight or anything like that. I actually went to see an alcohol specialist to say, “What’s going on? The alcohol is something I’m using. I know I’m using it. I’m not feeling great in the mornings and I’m doing it five, six nights a week when he’s around and even when he’s not around now. I’m relying on that as a mechanism to cope.” I started to understand more about the nature of addiction. I started to understand more about my personality. I’ve known this for many, many years. My personality is either on or off. It’s either full tilt, “I’m all in,” or it’s like, “Nope, I’m not in.” I don’t have an in-between switch. I have an all-in or all-out switch.

PR 027 | Power of Challenge

Power of Challenge: Some people are addicted to constructive stuff, some people to destructive stuff.

I started to learn that number one everybody is addicted. Some people are addicted to constructive stuff, some people to destructive stuff, some to empowering stuff, some to disempowering stuff. Alcohol was something that was starting to get the better of me. I started to learn the nature of addiction and my personality. I had to make a pivot from relying on alcohol to make me feel better and to hide and to suppress my emotions and feelings to stopping cold turkey and saying, “I’m making a pivot. This no longer serves me. I can no longer be in this dependency and really achieve my various goals and dreams, the spiritual goals I have, the mental, emotional goals that I have.” I can tell you that was a major pivot in my life.

Whenever I make a major pivot, I always like to surround myself with people who are experts at the pivot. People who have done the pivot, people who have been where I have been before to guide me, to show me, to love me, to point me in the right direction. I hired some experts. I went to AA. I learned about this thing that was impacting my life. The thing that I learned number one for what I was doing with was abstinence was the only solution for what I was dealing with. Because I learned that and I haven’t had a drink in eight years, which was a major, major pivot. It was brutally hard for a few weeks. Three, four, five weeks, brutally, brutally hard. I don’t have any desire or haven’t had a desire. I followed some very, very, very phenomenal practices. The reason I wanted to share that with people is not only did that helped me with releasing my cravings on a daily basis for alcohol at night; it wasn’t during the day, just at night when I got home. It also helped me kick the sugar habit. It also helped me realized that I, like everybody else who is listening, is way, way, stronger than we think.

The pivot for me was from relying on alcohol to not needing it, from not having the skills to communicate as well as I thought I did in very, very personal settings with my best friend, to learning how to communicate, and from not having the self-confidence and certainty in myself that I relied on something outside of myself to help where the power was within me all along. The pivot for me was one that was very, very challenging to one that is very, very empowering today. I know from that experience that millions and millions and millions of individuals suffer from whether soft addictions or hard addictions. It doesn’t matter. We’re all human, it doesn’t really matter. To make that kind of pivot, the guidance I will give everybody is there’s no shame in the challenge and there is help. There are so many of us that need to make a pivot whether it’s from a job, whether it’s from a relationship, whether it’s from a substance, whatever it is. If we’re just real, it takes a whole bunch of us, it takes all of us to make this beautiful blue planet happen. There are people just like us that will love us and appreciate us and not judge us and not blame us and not shame us and not make us feel guilty and not justify with us. That’s where we step into our power.

You and I know each other awhile and I asked you to be vulnerable on the program. Thank you for that. I didn’t know that you’re going to share that story. That’s so deep. It’s real for so many people who are in pain. I was actually on with a client this morning and speaking to her. She’s living in one of the most magnificent places in the world, one of the prettiest places, one of the richest places. It’s just turquoise, blue water and swaying palm trees and tons of money. She was talking to me about this pain that she feels all around her. This pain body that is just all around. People that are seeking to get comfortably numb. It’s no shame. No hiding or having to hide from a challenge because it says something about you. We all have challenges. I’ve had so many challenges in my life. Literally in the last eight months of business, I’ve been working on for more than seven years and running. I had, I don’t know if the legal term is this but in divorce language, irreconcilable differences with my partners, and ultimately, I leave that business and pivoted to something again that’s my heart has called me forward to but yet lots of challenges along in that process.

I think it’s so important that we all realize, even though our circumstances are different, it’s the way we’re built as human beings, we have the same reactions often to our emotions. Oftentimes, we try to hide them, shoot the messenger or push it away, etc., whether it’s with alcohol or it’s somehow trying to control things or people and to be able to take a more conscious approach too I think is a big deal. Our private demons or the dirty little secrets that we have are only dirty little secrets and they’re only demons because we keep them to ourselves.

If you think about why do we keep them to ourselves is, “I want to be loved. I want to be appreciated. I want to be liked. I don’t want to be judged because if you judge me then maybe my feelings of I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not worthy, will be validated.” God only knows, I had enough of that in my life. Every time I set a new vigorous, more powerful goal, those come up first like, “Am I smart enough to do that? Am I good enough to do that? Do I still have it within me to do that?” Part of the human condition is that anytime we want to make a change from one thing to another, whatever that thing is that we’re making a change from whether we know it or not, that’s become our default comfort zone. The brain is built for safety first. What does that translate to? It translates to any change from my current comfort zone. This is physiological, biological and neurologically accurate. It’s going to trigger the stress center in the brain, the fear center in the brain which shuts down motivation, which shuts down the genius part of our brain, which basically locks out the thinking part of our brain. If there’s any financial risk, mental risk, emotional risk, our brain says, “No. That’s a little dangerous or it’s a lot dangerous. Just go back into your comfort zone and your safety zone.” That’s the first default network to kick into the brain.

First and foremost, it’s good to know that, “The feeling I have is perfect. What I’m thinking is perfect. What I want to do is perfect because that’s the way my brain is trying to protect me. Then I’ve got to go pass the initial emotion and go to my higher cortical function and ask myself a different question.” Think of the brain as there’s an initial responder. An initial responder has got her hands up going, “Wait. Stop. There’s potential danger here.” As soon as that happens, the neurochemistry changes, which causes these unpleasant feelings. What do we do when we have unpleasant feelings? “I don’t want unpleasant feelings. I want happy feelings. I want elated feelings. I want all these feels that’s filled with endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and love. I don’t want that other yucky awful feelings.”

Are you saying that people avoid disappointment? Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah. We are built to avoid disappointment. If I go after this business, if I leave this comfort and I tell my significant other that I’m going to leave my job because I’m unhappy and their fear response triggers, even though my elation and excitement response is triggered. Then we start to setup this potential of disappointing them in case we’re wrong. Then we just kick back our fear center and then we say, “Maybe it’s not the right decision.” Who’s ever practiced disappointment avoidance? Who’s ever practiced fear? The answer to who’s ever practiced fear is Navy SEALS practice fear. SEALS practice fear. Astronauts practice managing fear. Feeling fear to the highest degree possible and learning how to manage that trigger in the brain. People whose lives are on the line have to be taught how to manage death. Firefighters are taught to run into a burning building or a building that’s exploded or a factory that’s exploded. How do you do that? How do you get a human being to run into a building that thousands of people are running out of? That’s emotional management at its very, very finest. Every one of us could use few lessons in, “How do I recognize the different emotions that are my God-given gifts? How do I learn to create resonance with them versus dissonance and chaos and avoidance?”

You think about how much time people waste or spend, and I’ll say waste, that’s a judgment of course, but how much time they spend in avoiding pain. We know fear. We’re talking about fear. Fear is the anticipation of pain. Some people say fear is false evidence appearing real. You’re seeking to avoid pain and we’re talking about avoidance. What can you say about that fear? What it is that it does to people’s ability to achieve their goals? I know this is an expertise of yours and what you work with people on. Probably when you talk about getting comfortable with it or being able to manage death, manage fear, so you don’t have to avoid, spend your energy or precious time and energy trying to avoid pain. You can actually just deal with it, appreciate it or be peaceful with it, be in harmony with it so you can continue to move forward toward what you want. What can you share about that particular thing, John?

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Power of Challenge: Our maybe physical experience on this blue planet does but we, the essence of who we are, never dies.

I know you and I are both meditators and practice mindfulness. If you think about, who are the Olympic athletes of meditation? The monks. The guys that are up in Dharamsala and they’re meditating eight, nine, ten, twelve, sixteen hours a day. One of the meditations they do is practicing death. First and foremost, they know that we don’t die. Our maybe physical experience on this blue planet does but we, the essence of who we are, never dies. They practice just being there so they can let go of the fear of death. If we understand the mechanics of fear, billions of years of evolution, for one thing, survival. We have the most unbelievable tool called the amygdala in both sides of our brain, left and right side. That’s the emotional management relay station in our brain that is so sensitive to real or potential danger. Any real or potential danger from the external world or from our memory bank, from our external world, a car that’s speeding down around a corner screeching sets up a fear reaction that’s automatic to protect you. I’m going to go back to something you did. You left your law practice. The first response of the brain is to go into your memory bank and come up with any one of the trillions of memories that are in there that you have either read, experienced, watched, listened to, etc. and it brings it to your consciousness for evaluation. The potential of fear is different than real fear. Most people don’t know how to differentiate real fear from potential fear. Mindfulness training and meditation allows you to have a moment’s notice when you need it. If your life is on the line, you’re going to react so fast you won’t have time to think.

In everything else like leaving a job, going across the room to ask a girl or a guy if they’d like iced tea or to start a business and leave your job or to give up alcohol or drugs or whatever it is that you want to give up and/or start, in many cases, the first emotion that you’re going to feel is one of discomfort at some level or another; unpleasantness at some level or another. Your brain is serving up to you information to make you more aware of potential danger. As a human being, our job is to be aware of what we’re aware of and then to say, “Is this real danger or potential danger? Do I have the knowledge and/or the skills, and/or the resource to move forward or should I retreat and get a little bit more information?” We have that ability. To be able to observe before we respond versus what most people do is react and then think. Fear could be used as fuel.

The beautiful thing of fear is once that epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine, the neurochemicals that are released in your bloodstream, they are like a bolt of hypersensitive energy. That you can use it to propel you forward or you can have it use you to shut you down. You can flood a car by giving too much gas but if you know how to use your car and you know how to get the clutch to pop at the right time and put it through the right gear, you could take off with the exact same fuel system that could shut the car down, could have it speeding at three seconds to a mile. It’s a matter of learning the system. Your brain and your neurochemistry is made up of circuits and systems that either work together or don’t. As a human being, your job is to, “Let me understand this a little bit more. Let me learn what the differences between emotions, feelings and sensations. Let me learn between making conscious choices and decisions and automatic behaviors and thoughts and perceptions. Let me learn different ways to turn on my thinking brain versus my emotional brain versus my reactive, impulsive brain.”

Where are the default circuits? What’s the default circuitry that’s running?

Fear is the default circuit that is on hypersensitive alert at all times. That’s like what’s happening in our world right now. We have detection mechanisms around the world for earthquakes, for tsunamis, for weather. We have detection systems around the world to give us early warning detection. You’ve got the best early warning detection mechanism in your brain of all time, the most sensitive. When life is on the line, rightfully so.

When it’s fight or flight, cortisol is there for a reason.

There’s fight or flight. There’s freeze as well as one of the stress responses. You also have your tend or befriend. There are two new responses that they’ve discovered that we move to when we’re under highly stressful situations as well. It’s fight, flight, freeze, tend or befriend. There are some new stuff for you.

We we’re talking about goals. We all have goals and it is one of those wonderful mysteries or paradox as I suppose of personal growth work, that suffering is related to attachment. We want to have goals and yet not be attached. It’s like, “Do you have the goals or don’t you have them?” There’s nobody I’ve met yet, I should say, that doesn’t have goals. It’s a question of, “What is it that you do to move toward them in a way that is harmonious in your life?” We’ve been talking a little bit about resonance and dissonance and about our neural circuits. Neural dissonance, neural resonance, what does that have to do with goals and whether you achieve them or you don’t?

It depends on how deep we want to get. Since I like to go deep and we got smart listeners on right now, let’s talk about a radio. If you want to hear rock and roll music, and let’s say rock and roll and your town happens to be on channel 95.5. If you were to put the station on 95.6, you might get classical music. You have to be right on the station to get the clearest channel and resonance. I believe the same thing is true with our brain. Our brain’s electromagnetic switching station that has the ability to tap into the frequencies that are already all around us in space and time. I’m going to tie this back to goals. When you give your brain a very, very clear picture of what it is you want to achieve, what it is you want to attract, what it is you want to be in resonance with, what it is you want to get your body and mind and spirit and everything else to align with, the clearer you are, the clearer the instruction is for resonance to that.

When we set up a goal that we haven’t yet achieved, there’s almost an instantaneous error detection mechanism that kicks in our brain and creates this dissonance, this chaos in the brain. How does that work? Let’s say you set a goal, “I want to make $50,000 a year.” There’s a part of your brain that’s motivated by that. As soon as your brain starts to analyze, “Do you have the knowledge? Do you have the skills? Have you ever done this before? Is any of your family ever done this before? Who do you know that does that?” you create a chaotic dissonance in your brain. That’s because the error detection mechanism kicks in and comes up with all of the things that you either don’t know, don’t have access to, not sure if you could achieve, there’s risk involve with it and that feeling is unpleasant. When that feeling is felt by the average person who doesn’t understand that feeling is normal, they then think about the feeling that they’re having, then they feel what they think about, and then they move back into their comfort zone and safety because that takes the tension away. It resolves the neural and emotional conflict.

Everybody who sets a goal that they don’t yet know how to achieve, everybody who sets a goal that they have achieved and then maybe they sabotaged it, will feel neural dissonance at the time they set the goal but also while they are on track to achieve that goal. Until they create a neural network of familiarity to that goal, there will continue to be dissonance. There will continue to be unpleasant emotions. The question that we ask ourselves here at NeuroGym is, “Is there a way to create coherence faster so that your conscious decision to achieve a goal actually resonates with the non-conscious patterns that exist within your own brain? Is there a way to do it faster than just experience?” Go slug it out for the next six months, twelve months, until you feel totally comfortable. The answer is, “Yup. There is.”

Will you outline that just a little bit?

Let me give you an example of something that can help with neural dissonance or that chaotic feeling or that unpleasant feeling. Let’s say you have a goal you want to achieve for an ex-amount of dollars for your business in the next six months and it’s a stretch goal. You don’t know how to achieve it. You don’t maybe have the knowledge, the skills, the resources to do it and your fear center kicks in because you’re just uncertain. You don’t have the confidence or certainty so fear is going to set in. That’s normal, natural, perfectly fine. Let’s say you took that goal. Let’s say every day for two minutes, you sat quietly and you took six breaths and you got into a relaxed, responsive state versus a reactive state and you saw yourself overcoming any of the physical challenges that are in your way, any of the emotional challenges that are in your way, any of the financial challenges that are in your way, any of the strategic challenges that are in your way, and you did something that we know is called mental contrasting.

Mental contrasting is seeing the problem and then seeing yourself overcome it. It could be a mental problem, emotional problem, physical problem, financial problem, any type of problem. You mentally rehearse overcoming that problem in your mind, a few things happen. Number one is you develop the neural pattern of actually overcoming that problem. Number two, you shorten the brain patterns of dissonance from maybe months to a week or two. Number three, you build a neural network that then activates the motivational center of your brain and deactivates the fear center of your brain. As soon as the motivational center of your brain activates, so does the CEO, Executive Director, left pre-frontal cortex of your brain, the genius part of your brain gets activated to all of the ways you actually can overcome those goals, which causes these intrinsic impulses to take actions you’ve never taken before. There is the mechanics of how that works. For people who say, “That sounds great but I don’t want to do it,” or “That sounds great but it sounds like a lot of work.” I say, “Then not only will you have fear but now you’re also going to suffer.” Now, you’re not going to give your brain the road, the map, the pathway, to achieving the goal except through hard work. You’re going to suffer a lot longer than you need to.

What I’m hearing you say is set yourself up for success. Set yourself up for success by getting yourself in a position where the things that would otherwise take you out, which are default modes of thinking, the way you’ve been thinking since, I would say our emotional development takes place early in our lives and we don’t do a lot of emotional developing after that, early on even the things that have been traumatic in your life that you rehearse and relive. These things come back and sabotage you again and again and again. Those are part of those default modes that take people out. Why they say, “I can’t own a business. I could never do that. I could never own real estate. That’s for other people. I quit. I’m a failure. I’ve routinely tried things and they haven’t worked out.” Whatever it is that people rehearse that talk themselves out of doing something that breaks free the status quo.

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Power of Challenge: The key is to recognize your powerful patterns, your disempowering patterns, your constructive versus destructive ones and interrupt the patterns using tools.

Again, breaks free of the pattern. Everything is a pattern. Patterns repeat themselves. History repeats itself. Everything is a pattern. The key is to recognize your powerful patterns, your disempowering patterns, your constructive versus destructive ones and interrupt the patterns using tools. From the beginning of time, man has used tools. Now, we have tools for mental success, emotional success and physical success. Here’s something that’s worthwhile for everybody to think about. Just think of how to. How to, fill in the blank, anything we know how to. The biggest problem that people, me included, have isn’t the how to. It’s ‘why aren’t we?’ How to get in shape and stay in shape? How to have a great relationship? How to make money? How to build a business? How to market? How to create? All the ‘how to’ is just about everybody that’s listening on this podcast, all the ‘how to’ already exists. If it exists, that means you can either get the information or buy the information or read it or take a course on it. It’s not a matter of lack of information.

You and I were just recently in a mastermind. We were talking about among other things business success. You have a goal because your company has really helped a lot of people. It’s done very, very well. Your goal for the company is to be a billion-dollar enterprise. That ‘how to’ isn’t something you know specifically at the moment but you did something about it. Just to get in the space of people who’ve created billion-dollar companies so that what you don’t know is something you can learn. This is what I love about you, John, and this is a great segue into something. I just want to share with people how it is that they can find out more about what you do and how you do it. This is where I think you’re really authentic. That’s why it was a great opportunity for us to share this with our community.

If you don’t know how to do something, you have to have the humility and really the wisdom to know, “That’s great.” There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not a signal that something’s wrong. It’s a call to action internally to find out how, to seek it, to be curious about it. I wanted to just really quickly tailback to one thing you said earlier. Just importantly, is there a pivot question for you? When your brain is firing off some of those old neurons, I’m not sure if that’s accurate, the pattern is repeating because you have a pattern, you have a record playing in your head same as we all do. You recognize, you detect in your early detection system that one of those old patterns is about to fire off. Is there a question? Is there a pivot question that you ask yourself that shifts you, that changes even your state in that moment?

It almost always comes down to, what are you afraid of? Almost always it’s fear. Fear of disappointing myself, fear of disappointing my wife, children, employees, investors, fear of being embarrassed, ashamed, ridiculed, fear of not being smart enough, fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of succeeding and failure. It’s always going to come back to there. We’re like, “Why aren’t you doing that?” “Fear.” “Which fear is rearing its ugly head today?” “That one.” “You’re there? You’re back? That’s interesting. Thank you for coming to the party again. Let’s deal with you Mr. Fear or Madam Fear.” We’re going to go back to the first thing to practice is being mindful. Are you paying attention to your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations, your feelings? Are you paying attention to your actions that you’re taking or the ones that you’re not? Here’s something to take a look at. A really simple tool that I learned many, many years ago was something I learned to do every Sunday night. Ten minutes every Sunday night, going back to, “Did you achieve the goals that you set out to achieve this week? It’s yes or no.” Just ten minutes as I plan for my week.

To just review my week I would say, “Did you achieve all the goals last week? Yes or no? Health, wealth, relationship, career, business, finance whatever the case is and then why?” Then, I listen to the story I tell myself, “I didn’t because blah, blah, blah.” “Is that the truth or is that a story? Is that the truth or is that an excuse? Is that the truth or is that the reason you’re telling yourself to protect yourself?” Just a really good dialogue with yourself, “Is that the truth or you’re afraid? Why didn’t you achieve it?” Some weeks, I have really good reasons, “That’s okay. You get to go into next week.” If the answer is, “I was afraid. I was this. I was that. Here’s the story,” I want to catch myself every week so that I have 51 opportunities in a year to readjust. Just readjust, no blame, no shame, no guilt, no justification, just awareness and I want to tweak. Everybody knows this. When you leave on a jet plane from your city to whatever city you’re going to, the airplane is off thousands and thousands and thousands of times. The autopilot adjusts because of headwinds, tailwinds, fuel, passengers, all other reasons. I just ask myself questions that help me adjust. That’s all. Just ask questions to help me adjust.

It’s a tool. I would call it a recalibration tool. The way you describe tuning in the way we used to tune a radio. They don’t tune a radio that way anymore. John, you did something. Talk about recalibration. You were doing this work for a long time. You’re one of the teachers in The Secret. In the last few years, you’ve come up with something that’s really exciting and very impactful and not something a lot of people in the space have done. It’s called the Brain-A-Thon. Could you share a little bit about what the genesis of that is, what is it, etc.? Then we’re going to let people know how they can become a part of actively take in the Brain-A-Thon and learn from it and be able to move their lives forwarding more quickly.

Many years ago, when I was decided to build my new company NeuroGym, I wanted to do something. I was reading a book called Blue Ocean. Blue Ocean talked about how the owners of Cirque du Soleil said, “We’re going to get rid of the circus model and we’re going to find people who are brilliant at what they do that don’t have these well-known names that we have to pay $200, $300, $500 or $1 million dollars to perform in Las Vegas.” They found these individuals that were brilliant and they created a show around them. As I was building companies in the last 30 years, I went to all of the personal development, motivational speakers, whether it was Tony Robbins or Harv Eker who you were partners with or Denis Waitley or Brian Tracy or any of the people that have big names in the industries. I said, “There’s got to be other people that are brilliant that are teaching things a little bit differently but deeper without any ulterior motives.” I was fascinated with the brain because I believe that the brain was the most powerful tool in the universe. Learning how to use my brain a little bit to overcome my doubts and fears and anxieties and lack of confidence and lack of certainty, feeling I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, was something I have been doing for over 33 years now.

I sought out some of the best brain scientists and brain psychologists in the world and I decided, “Let’s do a Brain-A-Thon and let’s invite everybody for free. Let’s do two hours, three hours, four hours. Let’s create a great show around experts on the brain to help us overcome the stuff that holds us back.” The first year, we did it. We had 12,000 people signed up. Then the second year, we had 25,000 people signed up. The third year, we had 44,000 people signed up. Then last year, we had 77,000 people signed up. We do this all day training on the brain, on fears and doubts, and anxiety and stress and confidence and certainty and self-esteem but from a scientific perspective that you’d learn at Harvard, at Stanford, at Yale, at Princeton, really the top teachers and top researchers in the world. I’ve been doing it for a number of years.

For example, I’ve got Dr. Srinivasan Pillay from Harvard. He’s been on the show four times. He’s going to be on this year’s show also. He’s considered to be one of the top psychiatrists in the world. He’s also a neuroimaging expert. He’s brilliant, graduated with more awards at Harvard Psychiatry than any other student ever there. Dr. Shelley Carson, one of the leading experts on the brain and creativity. Dr. Sarah McKay from Oxford on rewiring the brain for higher levels of confidence, certainty, performance, beliefs, habits. Dr. Heidi Hanna, one of the foremost experts in the world on stress and the brain and financial stress and how it deactivates the thinking centers of the brain. I just brought together every year world-renowned experts. People loved it so I just kept doing it.

I developed my own little methodology to train people right from their homes whether they come for an hour or eight hours. It doesn’t make a difference. I wanted to give world-class training to individuals and then introduce some of our brain training methods to people while they were there. That’s what we did. Now, we’re expecting about 100,000 plus people this year to sign up for our Brain-A-Thon. It will literally blow peoples’ minds, once you know more about how to use your brain better. One of our clients is a psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Cady. He’s a child, adult, forensic psychiatrist. He said, “Before, I was driving around with a Pinto. You gave me Lamborghini.” He’s a child, forensic psychiatrist telling us that. Just great, great, great people.

John, I just want to say thank you on a personal level for taking the time today and for everybody listening, what a blessing, what a joy. Bookending this show as we do each time, to be in gratitude, to recognize that our life is such a blessing. Regardless of whatever life’s challenges may be or may not be at the moment, it is so special. It’s holy. Today is holy. This moment, this breath is sacred. What I wish for everyone is that you wake up tomorrow and I get to wake up and John and everybody that’s listening that you get to wake up tomorrow and both physically and metaphorically that we get an opportunity to be a bit more conscious, a bit more awake, a bit more aware tomorrow than today. That we’re grateful because as we are waking tomorrow, there will be people who will be taking their last breath on this blue ball, this blue Earth. There is an assignment for us. If we’re not certain with that assignment, that’s okay. That’s good. What a beautiful place to begin. Just enquiring as to what that assignment is. Then of course, if you’re inclined to do so, stand up, put your hand on your heart, declare out loud, I love my life. I love you all. Thank you so much for being a part of the podcast. John, love to give you an opportunity to say anything you’d like before we conclude the show.

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Power of Challenge: Wake up right now to your true inherent beauty and genius and love.

I just want to piggyback on what you just said because something just popped into my head that may sound arrogant but it’s not meant to be that way. Wake up right now to your true inherent beauty and genius and love. Just remember, wake up. What’s breathing you right now? What’s dividing yourselves right now? What’s digesting your food right now? What’s creating your saliva right now? What’s giving you life right now? Just wake up to that and you’ll remember how freaking spectacular life is. Get out of your trance. As I say this, this is a message to me too. Get out of my trance. Just remember, “I got now, right now.” I just thought that just came to me as you said tomorrow, I said now.

To me and through me. John, do you love your life?

I love my life.

Everybody out there, again, if you have not yet subscribed to The Conscious PIVOT Podcast, go ahead and subscribe. Get all of the episodes and we’d love to catch up with you on Facebook. You can go ahead to Start My PIVOT Community on Facebook where you’ll find a lot of other people who are doing things that will both be interesting to you and supportive in your pivot journey and you can share there. Be real. Be vulnerable. It’s a beautiful community. We curate it and there’s just incredible context for you to learn and grow and be yourself, be real. Until we see you there or somewhere else, I’ll say ciao for now.

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Comments

  • Mary November 14, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Loved this episode. What was the book you mentioned about “flow” by was it Steven Cutler?

    Reply
    • Adam Markel January 19, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      Hi, Mary – Many apologies for the delay. The book Adam referred to was Stealing Fire!

      Reply