Re-Wire Your Brain To Thrive During Stress with John Assaraf

Content By: Ari Whitten & John Assaraf

In this episode, I am speaking with John Assaraf – the founder of NeuroGym and author of the bestselling books Innercise™ and Having It All. We will talk about how the current fear and isolation can affect your health and how you can easily re-wire your brain to thrive during stress.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, John will cover:

  • How the current levels of fear affect your physical and mental health
  • How Innercise can help re-wiring your brain for success
  • The best 1-minute Innercise to calm your mind and body right now
  • The four areas to focus on for optimal health
  • The critical importance of building good habits (and how long it takes to establish them)

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Ari: Hey, everyone, welcome back to The Energy Blueprint podcast. Today, I have a very special guest, someone who actually lives right down the street from me, that I go for walks with all the time. A very important person in my life, a very close friend and mentor, like a big brother to me. He is a New York Times bestselling author. He’s one of the leading mindset and behavior experts in the world. He’s the creator of NeuroGym, the founder of NeuroGym and the author of Innercise™.

He’s going to be talking to us today about how to manage your mindset, how to manage your emotions, how to manage your brain and operate your brain during times of stress, which of course, we’re all in right now, amidst this pandemic. I want to say on a personal note, John has been a mentor of mine for about 10 years now, since what seems like a lifetime ago. It seems like I was a little kid back when I first met him. He’s been really instrumental in my own personal growth.

I say this with the highest level of literalness, I cannot think of anybody that I’ve ever known that is more qualified to speak on this subject. I’ll just say a couple of personal stories that I remember from many years ago, in my mid-20s when I was John’s personal trainer at the time. I would show up to his house and there were some mornings that– He would show up, I will say, he showed up to work out no matter what, every day without exception.

There were a couple of times in particular during this period of time where some interesting things happened. One was the stock market crash of 2008. Another one was one of his businesses at the time, his business partner, I think had a stroke. He was the main guy operating that business and just chaos in the business. Both times amidst just terrible, life-altering circumstances, John showed up to his workouts, and he showed up with a smile, and he was happy.

I remember saying to him, “How are you happy right now?” I was baffled as to how he could be managing his emotions like that and be in a positive emotional state. He said to me, “What good would it do if I was stressed and angry right now?” I went, “That’s interesting. I never thought of things that way.” This man walks the walk, and he is a true expert. John, welcome. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages because we’re on lockdown but it’s such a pleasure to get to hang out with you virtually.

John: Great to hang out with you virtually as well. Literally, I could walk from my house to Ari’s in, I don’t know, three minutes and that’s if we’re walking slow. It’s great to be on. It’s great to be on just having a chance to really talk about what people are really feeling and experiencing right now in this hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. I’d like to give you some tools that they can use, what I call are innercises. You help me train my physical body and my internal organs, and I’ll help people with their brain and innercises to strengthen their mindset and emotional skills today.

How the current level of fear and chaos affects your brain

Ari: Talk to me about the broad overview of what’s going on right now. Obviously, there’s no way nobody’s not aware of the pandemic that we’re all dealing with. It’s on the news 24/7. That’s part of the problem, is that we’re all hooked to the news, on the TV, on the internet. We’re reading about what’s the latest death toll, what’s the latest bad news, how many people are in the ventilator, and the hospital, overwhelmed, and just the chaos and the fear that’s happening right now. On a very broad level, what do you think are the biggest things for people to understand right now as far as how to operate their brain?

John: Sure. First and foremost, everybody is 100% human and normal. Let me explain what I mean by that. If we forget about our friendships and our families and all that stuff for just a moment and let’s just think of our brain. There are about 107 billion humans that have lived on planet Earth. We’ve been walking for about two and a half million years from Homo erectus to now for two and a half a million years. Our brain has been developing for that amount of time, first with what a lot of people will consider the reptilian brain, then the mammalian brain, then the neocortex, the logical part of the brain, but the most developed part of our brain is that part of our brain that is focused on four things in this order.

One, survival above all else. Two, avoidance of pain or discomfort. Three, conservation of energy. Four is gaining of pleasure. Let’s talk about number one first. When our brain senses that there’s a predator, it goes on flipping high alert, cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, high, high, high alert, that danger is around. Well, we have this thing called coronavirus, COVID-19, which is a real threat.

Imagine being in an environment where there’s a constant feeling that there’s a predator that may get you. That is going to put your brain on high alert 24/7, and you are going to be drawn towards anything, and everything, and anyone, and everyone who’s talking about it where the threat is real and imminent to you. Number one, high alert. Number two, if you happen to get the virus, there’s a real chance that death is there. Now, of course, there are certain people in certain categories that are more susceptible or prone to dying, I get that, but the very fact that the threat is not just out there for everybody else, but you, the threat is real for you, and it’s an enemy you can’t see.

Now, we have unpredictability. Now, we’re not in control. Now, the threat is real. Now, there’s all this shit and misinformation that is confusing us and creating chaos in our minds and the market between friends, between smart people. One expert says this, another expert says this. In a brain that wants to conserve energy, in the brain that wants predictability, we’re activating what I call is the Frankenstein brain.

Ari: What is that?

John: The Frankenstein brain is the part of our brain, the right prefrontal cortex, that’s tied into our memory bank, that basically goes like this, “What if I get the virus? What if I die? What if I lose money? What if I lose my job or what if I lost my job and I can’t pay my rent, my mortgage and I don’t have enough food? What if, what if, what if, what if,” negative. We are biologically wired to ask that question at a conscious and subconscious level, which means what? It means that we are consistently flooding our bloodstream with these stress hormones, the stress-energy that is going to keep us anxious and stressed and that is the same circuit that is causing our fear.

Whether the fear is rational or irrational is irrelevant. If it’s possible, we are going to focus on that because survival and avoidance of pain and discomfort are number one and number two in our brain’s hierarchy of performance. When that happens, and we don’t catch ourselves in these, what I call these disempowering, destructive negative loops that we go into, then all of a sudden, that pattern becomes a habitual pattern. Since the brain wants to conserve energy, it says, “Let me make this destructive pattern automatic for you and I’m going to keep you hyper-focused on all of the negative stuff.”

Here’s what’s actually happening to people who don’t understand how to use their brains better, even though it is the trillion-dollar organism that you own, but you don’t have the user’s manuals for but we’re going to give you some tools today.

Ari: This may be a bit of a digression, but it’s something that’s been on my mind, I want to mention it to get your thoughts. This is something that I would probably say to you in person if we were going for a walk, which we haven’t done in a few weeks now. There’s the famous cliche of, humans are constantly at war with one another. We’re fighting, we’re fractured as a species. I forget where this comes from, maybe Star Trek or something like that.

What if there’s some other force, like, aliens show up, in this giant spaceship, and they’re here to destroy all of humankind and take over the planet, then all of humanity would unite, and we would all join forces and connect, and become one to fight against this threat. What’s really interesting to me right now is we actually have that scenario in the sense that we have this threat that we’re all fighting against, and we have not united. We have become even more fractured.

The amount of fighting that I see among people on social media and arguing and, “You’re wrong, you’re an idiot,” insults, nasty stuff. It seems like we went the totally other direction. There’s this big threat that we all should be uniting and yet we’re fighting with each other more than ever. Just curious to hear if you have any insight into that.

John: Whenever we agree that we have a common enemy, we unite. Whenever we disagree on the enemy, or the severity of the enemy, we fracture because now we cannot– If there are aliens that came to Earth, we could see them, we can understand, “Holy mackerel, they got here, they’re smart enough to wipe us out. Why are they here? Friendly or foe?”, but with this silent, invisible enemy that looks like to some people the flu or SARS or H1N1, or the measles, or chickenpox, and most people don’t have the knowledge or the education on what it really is or the ability, and you and I have talked about this many a time, to be able to research the research and to decipher the real stuff from the bullshit.

You and I, just in the last few days, we’ve been having this dialogue about different articles and different experts, and what about the vaccines and what about not? Most people will not take the time to A, question the experts, which they should because there’s plenty of experts who are wrong, and make some smart decisions for themselves based on, “Okay, here’s me, here’s what I can do for me, for my family, for my environment, that’s going to keep me mentally, emotionally, physically, and let’s even say financially safe.”

What happens is when we start to look outside of ourselves to opinions, and people are sharing their opinions. I always tell people, forget about opinions. Everybody has an opinion and most people don’t understand between opinion and expertise. Even experts who are sincere could be sincerely wrong. The question is how do we–?

Ari: Add to that, there’s a genuine lack of good data right now, so even the experts are speculating to a large degree.

John: Yes, the experts are speculating because this is new, right? This is a new combination of something that we haven’t seen. Let’s leave all of the conspiracy theories away for now, where it was started, why it was started, how it was started, for what purpose. Let’s leave that away from now. Let’s just deal with this virus. Here’s what we know. It’s dangerous. It spreads pretty fast. It can kill us, what are some decisions that we can make, just to be safe like that? Let’s start with the fundamental basics first. Then we can get into levels of complexity and arguments, but if we want to be safe right now, there are some protocols that I’ve taken, that you’ve taken, that certain towns, cities, countries have taken.

Ari: I’m with you. I have my garage filled with toilet paper right now. I’m way ahead of you. That’s what you’re referring to, right, is just to stock up on toilet paper?

John: One thing we’re probably short of here, and the stuff that I was able to get in the last couple of weeks, I don’t know what it is, but certainly isn’t toilet paper because it’s falling apart in my hands.

Ari: Now I’m afraid you’re going to break into my garage and steal my toilet paper. I shouldn’t have told you that.

John: I’ll just ask nicely.

The best actions to take to overcome fear and anxiety

Ari: What are these things that we should be doing right now?

John: Well, whenever we’re in this reactive, I’m going to go back to, Frankenstein’s brain, we’re disempowered. We are usually behaving irrationally, sometimes destructively, we revert back to our old patterns of how we do things, and the highest level of skill that we’ve been trained to do things at, but we also have another part of our brain, which is the left prefrontal cortex, which I like to consider as the Einstein brain.

What is Albert Einstein known for? Well, he’s known for being pretty smart and having some deductive reasoning abilities of, “Should I try this? Should I try that? What about this? What about that? Does this make sense? Does that make sense?”, but he was also really good at using his imagination. What if we could deactivate Frankenstein in order to activate Einstein?

We know when we are anxious, stressed, when we don’t have enough sleep, which you taught me to get lots of sleep many, many years ago, which has been awesome. When we aren’t healthy and our immune systems aren’t strong, and we’re disrupting all of our rhythms, then we know that our sympathetic nervous system is on high alert. That means that we’re not breathing fully. We’re not expanding our lungs, our heartbeat is going too fast, our blood pressure’s elevated, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and releasing those stress hormones. What we also know is that we can shift from that part of our brain to our parasympathetic part of our brain.

One of the first innercise I’ve been teaching all of my clients, every walk of life, is doing this. Put your hand over your belly button. One hand over your belly button, one hand just around your heart. If you take a slow, slow, slow, deep breath in through your nose, very, very slowly, and make sure that your belly button extends, diaphragm breathing first. Slow breath in and then fill out your lungs or fill up your lungs, and hold your breath for three seconds. Then breathe it out like you’re breathing out through a straw for as slowly as you can.

When you do that six times, I call it to take six calm the circuits. Take six calm the circuits is really, really simple. What it does is it deactivates that stressful part of your brain, and it activates that ability to be calm so you can respond, and in a calm, responsive way, you can now retrain your brain to still receive or perceive the same stimuli, but now in a calm way, you can direct your attention.

That’s when I usually will tell people, now do innercise number two, which is called AIA, A-I-A, which stands for awareness, intention, action. Now awareness of what? Well, I want to be aware of, “What am I been thinking?” or, “What am I thinking?” Awareness of your thoughts, first. Your feelings and emotions, are they constructive, are they destructive? Are they empowering you? Are they confusing you? Are they making you more stressed or less stressed?

Awareness of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. We do this in a pure state of awareness without any judgment, blame, shame, guilt, or justification. Zero judgment, blame, shame, guilt, or justification. Why? Because we know that if we can be mindful, without labeling or giving any judgment on ourselves or what’s happening, then we can set an intention.

Well, my intention is to be calm while this is all going on. My intention is to stay focused, my intention is to be healthy, my intention is to fill in the blank. Then, if we just take one small action step. One, not big ones. One small action step towards our intention, now, what have we done? One, we’ve deactivated that fear center in our brain. We have deliberately shifted over to the genius part of our brain that can observe, and direct, and command, and be in control, and now I’ve recreated a neural pathway that will empower me versus allowing a disempowering pattern, whether its thoughts, emotions, or behaviors, to reinforce itself and become a habitual destructive pattern.

Ari: Beautifully said. Is this a practice that you’re just describing? Like is this a practice that takes a few minutes or is this an overarching framework for how one should operate their brain in a big picture way? Do you get what I mean? Can we practice what you’re just saying in the next five minutes or is it a bigger picture paradigm shift?

John: Great. If we get back to neuroscience and the science of neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to either wire or rewire itself, if people don’t naturally do this, that means they are not wired or conditioned to do this. When you shared earlier that I was calm no matter what was happening outside of me, that’s as a result of practicing to be calm every single day. I practice every single day, awareness, and mindfulness, and calmness, and the ability to be able to respond instead of reacting automatically.

Imagine if you’re out of shape physically and you decide, you know what, I’ve been following Ari and the Energy podcasts and I’m sleeping well. I’m taking all of the Energenesis products and I’m feeling good. I want to start to exercise or I want to get better at exercise. If you were totally out of shape and you just started walking for three minutes a day, would you be in better shape 100 days from now?

Ari: Absolutely.

John: Of course, you would be. Why? Because the act of exercising changes your brain, changes your muscles, changes you. Well, when you innercise every day, a little bit each day, you practice your breathing to be able to be calm. There’s something– actually, let me finish this and I’ll share with you another innercise called Flip the Switch Actor’s Studio. When we practice being mindful, when we practice being aware of our emotional state, and what I tell all of my clients and students around the world, put a little timer on your phone or your computer for it to go off every hour

If every hour, all you did was do some breathing exercises, and all you did was the exercise that I showed you, the innercise I showed you, and as you did one of these per hour, you said, I breathe in calmness and certainty. I breathe out without stress and uncertainty. If on the inhale I breathe in calmness and uncertainty and on the exhale you breathe out, when you breathe out, whatever you want to breathe out. Breathe out fear, or breathe out stress, or breathe that anxiety. The very fact that you do it every hour, you’re training your brain to be in the desired state. The very fact that you are speaking words activates the neurons in your brain that are associated with those words and those feelings.

You are now directing your brain and managing your emotions deliberately. If you did that every hour for three, four, or five hours, for two to three minutes because of the science of neuroplasticity and because of Hebb’s Law of the neurons that fire together, wire together, now, you can start to develop a habit of being in that state. We know from some of the research at University of London, that 66 days to 365 days is how long it takes to develop a new habitual pattern that overrides an old pattern.

Not 5 days, 4 days, 3 days, 12 days, 66 days, all of my students commit to one thing together. 100 days of doing their innercises to change their brain to create a new neural pattern that is an empowering construct, a positive one, as they choose to release the disempowering, destructive, possibly negative ones.

Ari: I had for two or three weeks, as this pandemic began. I would describe it almost as an addiction to the latest data that’s coming out and the news. Also, an addiction to debating other people that I perceived to.

John: What do you mean?

Ari: Well, we debated a few specific points, but there are some people who get nasty, like some even for example like posting, “John, I wanted this.” The Stanford researcher who is one of the most respected scientists in the world, I shared a video with his take on the situation because I thought it was an interesting take and I thought this is one, like I said, one of the most respected scientists in the world with a very reasonable, sensible analysis of interpretation of the data.

There’s some debate among some experts but he has his interpretation, and I shared it and I had, not a lot of people, but maybe two people who just came after me and said, “He’s a hack. This is not a real scientist. He’s trying to kill his parents and who are you? How dare you post this information?” I’m like, “Whoa, where did this come from?” It just became an interesting phenomenon for me to understand and I’ve done a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. That’s an area of interest of mine. I like to explore how people think about things and the cognitive biases that lead them to arrive at certain conclusions.

I start to explore, to debate, to ask questions to see how people are exploring. I got addicted to it for a few weeks there but it ultimately consumed so much of my mental energy and time and put me in a stress-like anxious state. I would respond to somebody and then I’d have to wait for them to respond and be engaged in these debates for several days. There’s an addiction to negative emotional states. An addiction to doing things that are actively sabotaging your own health and happiness.

I’m just wondering like, I think a lot of people are probably in that state right now, maybe debating, like I was, but certainly addicted to the news and maybe just the anxiety and fear of constantly watching the news, hoping that there’s going to be some positive update. What would you say to people who are in that state right now and how could they recognize it? How could they work their way out of it?

John: I have so much to say about that, but I want you to just be aware. When you study addictions, whether it’s gamblers in Las Vegas, or crack addicts, or cocaine addicts, or sex or alcohol, or pills, it doesn’t make a difference. You’ll see the greatest spike of dopamine in the anticipation of the behavior, not the actual behavior at all. You can get addicted to this negative cycle because your brain’s releasing the dopamine in the anticipation of the answer and the response.

Our brain doesn’t give a hoot whether it’s a constructive or destructive behavior, it becomes addicted to anything that’s there for survival or avoidance of pain or discomfort, but also, if there’s gaining of some a pleasure, where there’s this dialogue going on, then we become highly addicted to that, what I call as a negative doom loop regarding regardless of who we are, because of the neurological processes that are happening.

The first part is this awareness of what’s going on. What am I doing? This one I’m going to go back to, as soon as you become aware of that pattern, you can say, “Stop. I am not going to reinforce this negative, destructive pattern, because it’s not good for me,” because you’re the one releasing not just the cortisol, epinephrine or adrenaline in that anticipation, but then you’re getting that dopamine hit in the anticipation. If you’re sharing it with other people and there are group discussions happening, now, you’ve got oxytocin being released as well, which is the bonding neurochemical.

Now, you have this cacophony of neurochemicals that are creating this addictive behavior that you don’t want. It’s this exact same thing that a drug addict says, “I know I shouldn’t have it, but I’m going to do it anyway.” It’s this crazy, crazy, crazy thing going on in people’s brains. There’s actually one solution. You and I have talked about this because I’ve had no sugar addictions most of my adult life and their only solution is abstinence. It’s like shut it off, done, game over.

If you want to break the habit take a digital detox for two, three, four, five days and just stay off of there and let somebody know that you’re doing this, who you love and trust to say, “If something happens that’s critically important for me to know, please tell me.” Get yourself off of that neurological cocktail that’s destructive and shut yourself off and then you can say, “Okay, I’m going to watch the news once a day or twice a day. I’m going to not pick up my cell phone and check Facebook and all these communities that I’m a part of.” Get back to a normal constructive empowering routine as quickly as possible, activate your Einstein brain to ask yourself, what do I need to do to be mentally safe and focus? What do I need to do to be emotionally safe and comfortable? What do I need to do to make sure that I manage my finances right now so I have safety there?

Ari: There’s an element here that’s very counterintuitive biologically because we feel reflexively intuitively, if you want to use that word our biological urges are saying, “Watch the news, pay attention to what’s happening. Be constantly monitoring this threat that could harm you or your family and spend all of your mental energy occupied with that.” It’s like we have to override what our instincts are telling us to do.

The question is, and I know you’ve alluded to this through everything you’ve said but I think it’s worth addressing maybe directly, what are the benefits of not being in a state of fear and anxiety and stressed 24/7? Apart from the obvious health benefits of not being stressed but in terms of how we’re living our life, what are the benefits of getting ourselves out of that state into the calm mindful aware state that you’re describing?

John: Awareness is what gives us choice and choice is what gives us freedom. Imagine having more self-confidence, imagine having more certainty, imagine your IQ actually rising as a result of it as well. Imagine you feeling in control, imagine you being able to take deliberate focused action that’s rational versus irrational, imagine you being able to thrive in this environment instead of just survive.

One of the things I’ve been talking about with a lot of my students who have businesses, Ari, is one of three futures is what I can predict for every single person right now. Future number one is because of this, they are going to be back three to five years in a variety of different areas of their life, possibly financially, possibly relationship-wise, possibly emotionally they’re going to just get massacred that way.

Number two, is they’re going to be in a constant fight or flight modality and they’re going to do well, not do well, do well, not do well, do well and not do well in different areas of life. They’re going to pretty much be where they are right now in six months or 12 months and for a select few people, they will actually rise because of this. They will become mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, relationships stronger than before. The answer that people ask me, how do I thrive instead of surviving is all in your mental and emotional control and all in what strategies you implement starting right now.

Ari: What you said, the way I interpret that is stress makes you stupid.

John: It does.

Ari: [chuckles] You make a lot worse decisions in every area of your life when you’re in a stressful state with your relationships, with your career, with your kids, with everything that you’re doing. In a moment to moment how you’re spending your time if you’re spending it doing something productively or destructively. Are you using this moment in time as we’re waiting? This is a bit of a digression but a lot of people don’t understand that this is not just going to go away after a few weeks of lockdown, we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time to come.

Best case scenario is maybe there’s a vaccine that’s developed in record time and the vaccine is really safe and effective somehow. We all can get vaccinated and saved from this and we stay in social distancing lockdown mode until that happens for a year or more, which itself has a whole bunch of consequences we could talk about. The more likely scenario is we’re all basically going to be exposed to this at some point, probably before a vaccine has ever developed and most likely the majority of the population will get it.

We have this moment in time right now that we can either use to create something, we can use it productively or it can be destructive. We can be bored, we can sit on our butts, watch Netflix and eat pizza or we can use this opportunity to work on our health, to learn new skills, to build the next phase of our lives in a state of intention. Really with that vision of what do we want to create and how can I intentionally work to spend this time right now to create the vision of my life that I want to create? Most people are not doing that, most people are bored watching TV and addicted to the news or watching movies on Netflix, eating junk food. What’s your take on that landscape?

John: When we’re under an enormous amount of mental and emotional stress, the habit part of our brain gets hyperactive and we will fall to our habitual patterns that are the strongest. If we have a pattern of behaving destructively under stress we will actually exacerbate and strengthen those negative disempowering destructive habits, which means in 30, 60, 90 days you’re going to be a mess. You’re going to sleep more now, drink more alcohol, not exercise as much, even if you were just walking from your house to your car and from your car into your office before and now you’re not, you’re just going in a retroactive pattern and reinforcing disempowering or destructive habits.

However, and this is what happens when a forced change in such a magnitude has happened [unintelligible] some people are in shock and denial and disbelief. They’re going to go to what makes them comfortable first, but they don’t understand that in those comfort zones they become our habit zones, and then our habits zones drive our behavior and our life. This is the time to actually stop. Slow down to pick up speed is what I teach everybody. Slow down to pick up speed, what does that mean? Slow down and ask yourself a few questions.

Am I managing my mindset as best as I can? Yes or no? Am I managing my emotions as best as possible? Yes or no? Are my habits, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, are they constructive and helping me build and live the life of my dreams, or are they destructive right now and moving me away from my life’s biggest goals and dreams? If you do this in a calm state as I said before with no judgment, blame, shame, or guilt, just a pure state of awareness then the ones that are serious that are listening right now that really want to end up in a better place 90 days from now here’s the question I pose to each one of you.

If you wanted to be healthier 90 days from now, do we know how you could be? Yes. If you wanted to have more emotional control so that you’re not as stressed out, could you learn how to write now? Yes. If you wanted to achieve any goal, you want to start a business and make some money, you want to have a side hustle because you’re working from home right now, is the how to do that available for you right now? Yes. The question now becomes are you going to do whatever it takes to make sure that you’re mentally, emotionally, and whether it’s physically or financially or business-wise, doing the things that you can be doing right now from home?

The answer is going to be yes or no and then you’re going to ask yourself the question, are you interested in being better off in 90 days or are you committed? Because if you’re interested and you’re going to do what’s convenient and easy and you’re going to come up with stories and excuses of reasons why you can’t but if you’re committed, you will do whatever it takes. You’ll upgrade your knowledge or upgrade your skills, you’ll change your beliefs, you’ll shift your identity, you will do whatever it takes so that 90 days from now you have a lease on a new life.

It’s a decision, and that’s what I said awareness is what gives us a choice. Let’s get you into an aware state and then make a choice that you are going to be better off a hundred days from now in one or two or three years of your life versus worse off.

Ari: I think this is a really interesting opportunity to reevaluate our lives, we’re all forced or stripped of all these things that we would normally have access to. You and I go for walks on the beach all the time and the beaches are closed, I mean like closed-closed. The police will kick you off the beach if you’re there, just even by yourself not in a group. Nature trails are closed, the gym is closed. We’re at home, our kids– I have little kids. You have two sons in their 20s but my kids are at home with me, my son can’t go to school as he was going to school before.

It’s given me all these new perspectives to think about, “When things go back to normal how do I want things to be different? Do I want to just go back to the way it was or now that there’s this opportunity for a reset how do I want to redesign my life? What’s really important to me? How do I want to spend my time?” One of the things that are become apparent to me is to slow down. I was pushing too hard, too much, too fast and I really had to examine that chronic low-level sleep deprivation because I’m working so hard every day, chronic over-exercise which links up with the sleep deprivation.

Because at the same time as I’m busting my butt and trying to take care of my kids and doing a million things with work projects, more than I can handle every day and not sleeping enough and trying to do loads of intense exercise every day, it’s just chronically taxing my system. This right now is the worst time to be doing that because I don’t want to be in a chronically overtaxed state in terms of my physiology when I’m exposed to a deadly virus. I’ve really had to examine those things, I’ve been forced to examine those things instead of just continuing to burn the candle at both ends.

I’ve been forced to be like, “You know what, if you don’t want to be harmed, if you want to live to take care of your kids you might want to slow down and take care of your own health too as you’re working so hard to put information out to help other people’s health.” I’ve had to do that. I’m curious if you just have any thoughts on this opportunity to reexamine what we want in our lives.

The importance of SEMP

John: Yes. My first book many years ago that was a New York Times bestseller, was Having It All. When I was younger in my 20s all I focused on was how do I make money, money, money. My parents didn’t have any money and I wanted to just make enough money so I would never have to worry or listen to the screams that I listened to in my house because there wasn’t enough money. I got sick with ulcerative colitis when I was 22 and at the time I was taking 25 Salazopyrin pills a day, two Betnesol enemas, one in the morning, one at night, and the sigmoidoscopy looking in the wrong side of me once a month to see where my colon was at.

I was sick and I was sick because I was so stressed out and not eating healthy, drinking too much alcohol, et cetera at 22 years old. I started to do a lot of research on beliefs and how they drive behavior, and values and how they drive behaviors, and emotions and how they drive behavior. What I realized was that there were certain things that I wanted to have in my life as the daily routines that I wanted to make decisions from. I came up with what are my top five values in my life and value number one is my relationship with God. I’m not religious, I consider myself spiritual and I consider God a spiritual or the intelligence in the universe. Number two was my health.

To consider health I came up with an acronym for myself, SEMP, S-E-M-P, which is like hemp but just SEMP. Spiritual health is critical for me, emotional health is critical for me, mental health is critical for me, and physical health is critical for me. I asked myself, “What can I do every day to work from my highest values to my lowest? What can I do every day to connect with the source? God, whatever it is? What can I do every day, mentally, emotionally, physically?” Then the third one is my family, how do I make sure that my family is in my daily routine and practice? Then number four is my contribution to the world, whether it’s for my clients, my friends or through my books or courses, et cetera. Then number four is fun and experiences.

All my decisions are made through that lens every single day whether I’m in Japan, Alaska, Antarctica, or wherever I am, and I’ve just gotten into a ritual and a routine to focus on that. With that said, and there are two things I want to digress to, is when this pandemic started I was on flipping high alert as well, I was watching CNN and Fox and reading your stuff and several other experts that I listen to and watch and communicate. I was exhausted, just exhausted trying to analyze how severe is this, what’s the real risk here? How lethal is it, how contagious is it, what is it, et cetera?

For probably three weeks– I normally exercise every morning and I want to apologize to you, for you exercising so much because I know one of the reasons you’re doing that is you want to look as good as me and so you’re doing it.

John: I wish I looked as good as you. I got myself off track for about three weeks where I wasn’t exercising in the morning and I was saying I’ll exercise tonight at four or five o’clock when I have a break, and every other day I wasn’t exercising. I was like, “I’m off of my routine.” So I quickly, after three weeks said, “Get right back to this routine.” Because I know where it was going. I was waking up at three-thirty, four o’clock in the morning, five hours after I went to bed and I was like, “What’s going on? I usually sleep seven or eight hours a night?” I realized what was happening that I was on high overdrive in mental activity so I got back to a normal routine.

This is an opportunity as you said for everybody to hit the reset button. When I was in the Galapagos there’s a hat that I got it says evolve or become extinct. One of the things I’m teaching all of my clients is how do you safely become an adaptationist. Right now we’ve got forced adaptation, which we hate. We’re being forced into behavioral changes and the question becomes, how do I take what’s happened and how do I use it to get back into alignment with what I really, really want for my life?

We can say because of this, I can’t or I won’t do that. Or we say because of this, this is really a time for me to get– let’s get really healthy, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially. Let’s put all of our focus and attention, the Einstein part of our brain, on how we will because that’s really what we want to trade our life for versus why we can’t or why we’re not.

Flip the Switch Actor's Studio – Innercise/Exercise

Ari: You mentioned another exercise, the flip the switch?

John: [unintelligible] the switch? I want everybody to imagine for just a moment. Think about first who is your favorite Hollywood actor or actress or producer? It could be any one of those. Ari, do you have a favorite one?

Ari: I don’t know, the thing that popped into my head just as you were talking was Quentin Tarantino. I don’t know if he’s actually my favorite, but that was the first name that came to mind.

John: Let’s say you’re at a place for coffee or tea or lunch and Quentin is sitting at a table, [unintelligible]. For those of you that don’t like Quentin or don’t know him, just choose a Hollywood actor or actress or a producer that you like and imagine your eyes catch and then, Quentin to you, Ari, comes over to you and go, “Hi, I’m Quentin Tarantino.” You go, “I know who you are, I actually enjoy your movies, thank you.”

He goes, “Listen, there’s a movie that I am creating and I think you would be really good for one of the roles but it would involve you making some shifts from being happy and sad, angry, mad, depressed. Would you consider coming to the studio? I’ll give you an acting coach to help you, would you consider getting really angry right now?” Then you go [laughs], “You’re so funny. Oh my God, I can believe it.” [laughs] Would you consider doing that if I pay you $1 million?

Ari: Yes, I think I would.

John: What did I just do and what just happened? What I just did and what just happened is I switched from angry to happy to sad. I’m crying in a nanosecond, [snaps fingers] in a nanosecond. What if I shared with everybody here that if you’re in a depressed state you can change your state in a nanosecond if you choose to. If you’re in an unfocused state you can change your state into a focused state in a nanosecond. If you’re angry, mad, unhappy, stressed, all of those emotions are in you right now, unless you practice they will always control you. Calm and relaxed and focused is within you right now and so is stressed and angry and anxious and so is being a victim versus victorious.

It’s all within you right now, the question is what are you choosing? Are you choosing to be empowered or disempowered? Are you choosing to be positive or negative? Are you choosing to find out all the things and reasons why you can’t or are you focusing on how you will? Each one of those states is your possible state. You get to choose it versus being a victim of circumstance and what’s happening outside because there’s nothing happening outside of your brain, it’s all happening in your brain. That’s where reality actually happens, not outside.

Ari: First of all, I love what you just said there. Is this practice something to do on a daily basis or is it a one-time practice to flip the switch?

John: If you practice Innercise number one and two and then your practice number three, there’s a variety of different innercises. If you would like I can give you guys access to some brain training audios, there’s nine of them that come with my book that I’ll give to all of your guests who are listening where I will guide them through nine of them if you’d like. They could just practice with me as their mental and emotional coach to use visualization and mindfulness and meditation and affirmations and a variety of different evidence-based tools. I’ll be more than happy to just give them to everybody, I’ll do that for you.

Ari: We’ll put that on the podcast page for this episode. It’ll be at the, that’s the best place to put it. I-N-N-E-R-C-I-S-E, the You can get free access to John’s innercise audios. John this has been phenomenal, thank you so much. It was a pleasure I have to say just hanging out with you since we haven’t been able to hang out in three or four weeks now. Are there any final words that you want to leave people with?

Everything you’ve said this whole podcast is just filled with so much profound advice but are there any final words that you want to leave people with right now as we’re dealing with this pandemic? What do you think is the single most important thing you want people to take from this?

John: I’ve been asked that so many times. Number one is together we will get through this. We are bigger than this we just need a little bit of time to figure it out, and we’ve got some of the most brilliant minds and caring and loving hearts in the world working on this. We are bigger than this, we will get through this together. My hallucination and belief are that this will and does show that we are responsible with and for one another. If I don’t take care of you and you don’t take care of me, we’re screwed as a species but if we all rise and lift as we climb, and we help each other right now, this is the beauty of all of humanity.

We are in this together, we are really all one, the illusion that we’re separate is just an illusion. Right now let’s do everything to be mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically healthy, and let’s help each other get through this together.

Ari: I’m debating in my mind whether I want to leave it there but there’s one thing that I’m being called to say, which is a little tricky. You mentioned earlier we’re in a state of panic, there’s a predator out there. What’s weird about this situation right now is we are now looking at other human beings as the predator or as carriers of the predator and we’re on lockdown, we are scared of contact with other humans. There’s this, on the one hand, this beautiful thing that you just express, and on the other hand the fact that we’re scared of contact with other humans and we are forced into this separation.

We’ve lost community, we’ve lost contact with friends, my kids can’t go to school and have contact with their friends, we are not hanging out, I’m barely seeing my family. There are all of these degrees of separation now between friends and family and communities and yet we need to come together. I don’t know, I’m sorry for even adding this because I almost wanted to leave it with how profound your last comment was, [crosstalk] but I just feel like it’s important to mention that the predator is now– we’re looking at each other as the predator, which is a problem.

John: It is, and it’s also an opportunity. Listen, in the middle of all brain surgery it looks like the patient is dead. This is new, what we don’t see yet is what’s all of the beauty and love and innovation and what are you going to do when you see your best friends and your family? What kind of a hug will you give them? What kind of a, “Oh my god, I missed you so much.” Listen, do you remember 911, you were a little bit younger, but 911, 3500 families died, and devastation beyond here in the United States. Think about how much love and kindness and goodness came from something as horrific.

In quantum physics, there’s a lot of talk about you cannot have a [unintelligible] without an electron, you cannot have good without a bad, you cannot have an up without a down, an inside without an outside. Right now as we are observing, I’m going to call it the burning building, we can’t see beyond that unless we see with our higher level of cortical functioning how much do I really love and appreciate health? How much do I really love another human being? How precious is life, this gift that we squander sometimes with stupid decisions and not taking care of our physical bodies and our mental health and our emotional well-being or other people’s as well, and how important it is right now?

How do we look at what can come out of this that’s positive and enlightening and life-giving versus life taking? We live in a universe and a world of duality and while we are hyper-focused on I’m going to call it the negative, we cannot see the positive if we step aside and look for some of the good that’s happening or some of the good that will happen. My belief is if there is equilibrium in the universe, that it doesn’t mean that there’s balance, which means there’s positive and negative right now, I think of it more like harmony. Right now we got that trumpets blaring but soon thereafter we’re going to hear the cello or the saxophone or the piano.

We’ll look back and go, “Holy mackerel, because of that I decided to get healthy. Because of that I actually started saving more money so that I’m never feeling this stress financially again. Because of that I really need to communicate with my partner better. Because of that I really want to spend more time with my children or mother or father. Because of that here’s all the stuff that I get the opportunity to do now.” I like to shift the frame from the pandemic and pandemic destructive, negative, disempowering to a pandemic, and what can come of this, and guess what we’re going to see, whatever we focus on.

Ari: Beautifully said, my friend. Thank you so much. On a personal note, as I tell you all the time I owe so much to you, I’m so grateful for having you in my life and having you as a mentor/ big brother. You’re a stud. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with my audience, I really appreciate it as always and it was great hanging out with you. For everybody listening, go grab John’s book on Amazon, Innercise. You can go to the website, is the best place to go?


Ari: Then at the, we are going to have this podcast page and the link to download the free innercise trainings. John, thank you again, this has been awesome. I really appreciate your time and hopefully, we can go for a walk together like old times here in the near future. [chuckles].

John: I couldn’t end without telling you how proud I am of you, you are doing so much amazing work in the world helping so many people. You’ve got one of the brightest, sharpest brains of anybody that I know, and trust me I put you through the tests over the years to make sure of that. You’ve got a big huge heart, loving caring kind, and you’re all about finding the truth and helping as many people as possible. For that, I’m so proud of you and I’m so grateful to have you in my life. Thank you.

Ari: Thank you, brother. The feeling is so mutual, I’m so grateful for you. I love you, brother, thank you. For everybody listening, I hope you enjoyed the show and hope you start actually practicing innercise on a daily basis. This is something that genuinely can transform your life and there’s no better time to get started than right now.

Show Notes

How the current level of fear and chaos affects your brain (3:46)
The best actions to take to overcome fear and anxiety (13:33)
The importance of SEMP (40:14)
Flip the Switch Actor’s Studio – Innercise/Exercise (45:23)


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