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How to train your brain for a better life with John Assaraf

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On this episode of the 40+ Fitness Podcast, we're going to have a conversation with John Assaraf author of the book, Innercise: The New Science to Unlock the Brain's Hidden Power, and creator of the free online workshop Brain-a-Thon. We will learn about how you can train your brain for a better life, including positive changes in body composition, fitness, relationships, and career. 

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This episode is sponsored by Usual Wine. There are times you don't want to open a whole bottle of wine. Usual Wine solves this problem with single-serve, “heavy pour” bottles. Use the discount code FITNESS for $8 your first order.

Innercise is also available in audiobook format at Audible.

Brain Experts used to believe that by the time you turned 40, you were hardwired to be who you are, but brain research is showing that when you train your brain you can change it. The term for this is neuroplasticity. John shows us that you can even train your brain for greater success in health and fitness, and any other aspect of your life. And he does it without getting you all buried in all these complex neuroscience concepts. 

Since recording our conversation, I've gone on to attend John's Brain-a-Thon and it was fantastic. I've also signed up for a couple of his other programs and I've gotten so much from them. He's really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. I'm creating better daily habits, such as doing Innercises every day now to train my brain and the positive changes I've gotten have been awesome. The book and the workshop are fantastic resources.

John Assaraf is one of the leading experts on creating a positive mindset and a calmer brain. He has appeared numerous times on Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

John has built 5 multimillion-dollar companies, written 2 New York Times Bestselling books (Innercise is now his third), and has been featured in 8 movies, including the blockbuster hit “The Secret”. 

Today, he is the founder and CEO of NeuroGym, a company dedicated to using the most advanced technologies and evidence-based brain training methods to help individuals and corporations unlock and ignite their fullest potential. And if you didn't know he was nearly 60, you'd swear he was in his late 40s, early 50s.

You can listen to the podcast on the player above or read the transcript below. If you hear/read something that resonates with you, please share it on social media. Thank you!

Transcript

00:03:07.080] – Allan
John, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

[00:03:10.780] – John
Thanks, Allan, great to be with you

[00:03:12.700] – Allan
Now I got your book, Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain's Hidden Power, and, you know, I've read a lot of books and I've read a lot of books about the brain and about neuroplasticity. This was probably the most practical book on neuroplasticity that I've ever read.

It was not just the theory of this is how the brain should work or should fire, this was set Innercise, exercise for your brain that actually makes this stuff happen. And, you know, you said in the book, don't do all of them at one sitting because it's too much. But I found myself as I was reading, trying to do them.

Yeah, it was exhausting when you got to the beach one, it's funny because I um, that was just a meditation I started doing for myself to fall asleep if I woke up and I was feeling anxiety and I would just imagine myself walking down a beach. And so it was just it was interesting. You started going through that. And I was watching it and reading and it was like, oh, goodness, I had to go take a nap.

I was like, so relaxing and so awesome. So, again, I really enjoyed the book. And then I went on to even go do the Brain-a-Thon, which again, was awesome. So thank you for that. I appreciate sharing that. I really appreciate you being here today.

[00:04:41.960] – John
Thank you. The book Innercise was all around when I came to the realization that I have and everybody who is with us today has a trillion dollar brain, but we weren't given the user's manual for it. And, you know, everybody knows that I could exercise to build up my cardiovascular system and to build up my lung capacity and to strengthen my muscles if I want to exercise. But what about our brain, the greatest neuro muscle and bio-computer in the whole universe?

[00:05:18.320] – John
What are some techniques that we can use to get our brain to work better and to get us to focus more, to create empowering habits, to let go of stress or anxiety or uncertainty or fears that hold us back? What about that? And for many, many years, I've been practicing the mental and emotional techniques that I laid out in Innercise and actually give people the audio, enjoyed it and have a great dialogue about it.

[00:05:49.160] – Allan
Perfect. So in the book and I think this is where it clicked for me to understand this, is that I work with a lot of clients and they're trying to lose weight and they're trying to get fit and trying to get healthy. And for some of them, it just seems so hard.

[00:06:08.340] – Allan
And, you know, they struggle and they struggle and I'm like, you know, I know you want this. I know you're committed to this, but it's not happening for you and we've got to break that down. And you use this term cohesion and dissident's kind of talk about one of those kind of things that holds us back that we're not even necessarily aware is happening. Can you talk about that?

[00:06:30.130] – John
Sure. So, listen, we all develop our habits, right? We have habits the way we think on a regular basis. We have a habitual way of feeling. We have behaviors that lead to our results. So when we understand our brain just a little bit better and we understand that every one of us is already one hundred percent disciplined to our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings and our behaviors. And so changing is hard if you don't have the right process. So whenever we're looking to change our eating patterns, when ever we're looking to change how much activity we get in the day, whenever we want to change, how much sleep we get when ever we're looking to change our own self image of ourselves, which is something we've had for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, that requires understanding.

[00:07:32.140] – John
How do I make change easier not easy, but easier. And this is where most people have an issue. It's not in the intention or the goal that's the problem. It's what happens after that that's the problem. And so when we understand that our brains all work identically, every human beings brain works identically and our brain works on a couple of principles. So let me give you a couple of these principles.

[00:08:04.570] – John
Number one is any time that our brain experiences a change, a change in our behavior, a change in our diet, a change in our exercise, our brain goes, hey, what's going on? You're using energy and our brain wants to conserve energy. So anything that is going to use up more energy the way I think or behave, our brain is going to go what's going on here? And it's going to resist. So that resistance is our brain wanting to move back into its comfort zone. Right. Just like a thermostat is meant to keep temperature in a room at a certain temperature that's set in the thermostat. Our brain wants to have you keep the same settings. You're awake, you're eating your exercise energy expenditure. That's one.

[00:08:55.320]
Number two, whenever our brain feels that there might be real or potential pain or discomfort, it says, hold on a second here. I don't want to feel any pain or discomfort. Well, guess what? Changing our diet is considered uncomfortable to our brain, starting to exercise, even though it feels good to do it, it also means we might have muscle soreness. It also means that we might have aches and pains, etc.

[00:09:23.170] – John
So our brain is trying to resist anything that's going to cause us pain or discomfort or having less than what we had before. So understanding that these are natural mechanisms of our brain, we can start saying, OK, are there some techniques that I can use to make this easier versus easy? And the answer is yeah, there's a lot of techniques that we can use to re-commit to reframe things. So first thing that I share with people who want to lose weight, first and foremost, stop thinking of what you need to do is losing weight.

[00:10:05.680] – John
As soon as our brain thinks of losing anything, it resists it. Why? We're always taught to find what we lose, find what you forget. So what if we instead said, OK, what do I really, really want? Is that weight that I want to lose or is it fat that I want to release? Right. So if we think about body weight as extra calories, extra energy, what we want to do is we want to release that energy and use it.

[00:10:34.390] – John
But that's really not what we're looking to do. You know, the reason we want to, I'm going to use a term that I don't like to use is lose weight, is not for the losing the weight. It's for how we're going to feel about ourselves. It's for the love where we're seeking. It's for the self belief about ourself that we want is for the lifestyle that we want its for the energy that we want. And so what if we instead of focused on losing weight, we focused on what's the lifestyle that I want?

[00:11:09.830] – John
What are the benefits of that lifestyle, instead of focusing on what I'm going to have to give up, what am I here to gain by doing this? Instead of focusing on a diet, why not focus on a new way of eating as a new way of being. The very fact that, you know, the word diet, the first three letters are die? OK, dieting is hard, but figuring out a meal plan, a way to eat that sustains me that I could that I could keep doing past one week or three weeks or six weeks, that's a totally different focus.

Instead of focusing on what I'm going to have to give up, what am I here to gain by doing this? Instead of focusing on a diet, why not focus on a new way of eating as a new way of being. @johnassaraf Click To Tweet [00:11:52.970] – John
Now, most people try to lose weight and they say, OK, I'm going to lose 10 pounds with 20 pounds or thirty pounds or fifty pounds or whatever the amount is, and they alter their behavior until the point of reaching their goal, and then they revert back to all of the old behaviors that got them to gain all the weight. So instead of having their brain focusing on the behaviors and the way to be for losing weight, why not say, nope, let me make a lifestyle change that will empower me or make me feel better for the rest of my life instead of for a week or two or three.

[00:12:30.530] – Allan
And so what you're basically doing is you're kind of getting cohesion between what the body wants, which is to be what the subconscious brain wants it wants to be able, wants to have adequate energy. It doesn't want the knees to hurt when you're walking up and down the stairs and losing weight as it will, we would think about that logically. The words we use is doing that. But you're using the term release, which is a very different thing than the losing.

[00:12:56.300] – John
And the other thing that we need to understand is water is weight. Muscle is weight, we don't want to lose weight, you could lose two, three, four, five, six pounds of water and weight in a week. But you're going to get it all back. You can have one dish of pasta or rice and it retains two and a half times its own weight and water and gain it all back. So what we want to do is we want to activate fat release so that we use our fat stores as energy. And that's really what we want to do.

[00:13:33.130] – John
We want to create an environment within us so that the food that we're eating gives us energy and what it is that we're doing for basic survival needs but then through hopefully a little bit of exercise, we are using fat as fuel for the energy requirements that we need. And we create initially a slight imbalance between how much we're consuming and how much we're using.

[00:13:58.340] – John
And in doing it slowly instead of fast and really focusing on fat release and sustainable weight release or weight loss, if that's what we want to call it. Now, we're looking at a totally different game and we're not looking at going on a diet which is is really detrimental to a lot of people's heads and hearts because they suffer these, or they gain these high wins and then they suffer these lows by gaining all the weight, which happens for ninety seven percent of people.

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[00:16:03.350] – Allan
Now, when you're talking about exercises, I mean Innercise excuse me, know, one of the things that you brought up there was there's lots and lots of different ways to Innercise, much like with exercise. So I could I could decide to go ahead and do an aerobics class where I can go lift weights or I can go for a run or I could go skiing or I could go hiking.

[00:16:22.220] – Allan
There's so many different ways that I could exercise to affect different things balance, mobility, strength, endurance. It's much the same way with innercise. But there's about seven key areas that you identified in the book that we can innercise to benefit ourselves. Can you talk about those?

[00:16:38.670] – John
Sure. So let's just take the, you know, the self-image side of our brain. Everybody knows that they have a self-image of themselves. And so if I was to ask you to draw yourself out or to write down what you feel you look like, would that either visual or written description match the way you want to look? And for most people who are maybe overweight, there's a mismatch. What if I said that if you, for example, went to some magazines where they had people with your type of physique that you want to have, those realistic. What if you cut out a picture of a physique that you wanted and you took your own face and you put it on top of that picture.

[00:17:35.730] – John
And what if every day you looked at that picture and you started to see yourself moving towards that over a period of time, whether it's one month, three months, six months or one year? You said this is the body that I'm going to have. This is the body that's giving me energy. This is the body and physique that's going to make me feel the way I want to, look the way I want to. What if you start to just visualize that every day?

[00:18:01.650] – John
What if you started to emotionalize what would it feel like to actually be in that body? What would happen is you would start to develop a new self-image that would override your old self image. It's almost like recoding software on a computer. Your self image is nothing more than cells in your brain of recognition of what you have seen in the mirror ten thousand times and what you have thought about a hundred thousand times.

[00:18:34.000] – John
And so when we start to use, for example, visualization, visualization is a simulation. When we start to simulate in our mind's eye on a new body, the new energy, how we will feel, the complements we might get, the things we might start seeing to ourselves about ourselves, we start to rewrite our own hidden self image and overlay a new self image around that.

[00:18:59.830] – John
And when we start using innercises, whether it's verbal analyses or emotional innercises or mental innercises to activate cells in our brain and then reinforce those cells and patterns in our brain, we know that whatever we do consciously, repetitively over time becomes an unconscious pattern. And so we can use a variety of different innercises to rescript, reshape imprint what it is that we want instead of what is.

[00:19:36.410] – Allan
Yeah, so, you know, the way I kind of look at it and you said something really important that I want to go back to is realistic, you know, don't don't sit there. I can't pull out, you know, you know, say Arnold Schwarzenegger and put my face on his body and say, you know, when he was at his prime and say, that's what I'm going to look like in a year or two, that's not realistic. But if I do find, you know, a body body style, I think that's going to fit me, and I begin to think of myself in those terms that's going to affect my subconscious, which is going to then affect my behavior. And make me start doing the things that are necessary to have that body type.

[00:20:13.650] – John
Absolutely. There's a visual that I like to share with everybody just to show them how this can work. I'm going to ask everybody who's listening right now a question. And the question is this. Can you slowly jog a marathon right now?

[00:20:32.300] – John
And I work out almost every day, and I cannot right now. Like I'm not in shape to jog a marathon 26.2 miles. Now, here's the second question for everybody who's listening, as if we agreed today that a year from now or 18 months from now or even two years from now, we're going to jog slowly and healthy and a healthy way, a marathon, 26.2 miles. And today all we did is we got from a seated position and stood up and then sat back down.

[00:21:07.640] – John
That's all we did today, maybe five times during the day. And then tomorrow we did it five times and the next day we did it five times. And we figured out what would be a really good eating plan for energy. What would be a good little movement plan for flexibility and some balance. Could we maybe in a week, if we were sedentary for the last five years, could we maybe walk in our apartment from the sofa to the kitchen? And the answer is probably yes.

[00:21:35.640] – John
And then once we did that five or 10 times, could we walk outside maybe a tenth of a mile slowly. And then could we walk two tenths of a mile, then can we walk five tenths of a mile, then can we walk one mile, if we did it in a healthy way? The answer for almost every single person is if I started off that slow, yes, I could do it.

[00:21:57.850] – John
Well, let's take it out to three months. Could we get faster, stronger, better in three months and build a foundation? Yes. Well, what about three months later? What if we hired a professional to help us get in better shape? And then we started to slowly once we release the weight, once we felt more comfortable, we started having more energy. Maybe at a certain point we needed to do a slight, very easy job. Could we do it? The answer is, of course we could.

[00:22:29.880] – John
Well, then guess what? If we could do that, could we build up the muscle and the endurance as we got stronger, as we release the weight? Could we possibly in a year or a year and a half or two years slowly jog a marathon? And the answer is yes, and how do we know that we know that because millions and millions and millions of people start off just that way.

[00:22:54.350] – John
So even though we may not see the end outcome right now and even though we don't have the knowledge or the skills or even the resources to do it, could we gain the mental and the emotional and the physical fortitude to be able to do it if we committed to it? And the answer is yes. We have all the knowledge, the skills of how to do it right now.

[00:23:19.460] – Allan
Yeah, you've just described how I trained for a Tough Mudder. I was in no shape to even consider doing a Tough Mudder. I could do a 5K obstacle course, I couldn't do a 13 mile one. And so I was I was watching the videos of the people that were completing it and they were doing it. And I was like, OK, that guy has a grip strength. That's how he's able to do what he's doing, that person stronger.

[00:23:41.990] – Allan
That person isn't carrying as much body fat. And so the visuals I had in my head was a person is doing that. That's not me today but that will be the day that I do that race and I committed by signing up for it. I wrote my check, you know, give my credit card number. I got the ticket for my daughter and I. And so the commitment was there.

[00:24:02.110] – Allan
And what that meant was each day was, OK, I've got to get my grip strength a little stronger. If it's just hanging from a pole, you know, a pull up bar, that's how I'm going to start getting my grip stronger. And then I was doing pull ups and then I was doing, so it's just a progressive thing over time. And it's those little bitty things like if you put a penny in a jar every day and then and then after two weeks, double it and put two pennies and after two weeks double it and put four pennies. After a while, you realize you basically have your retirement taken care of. It's that kind of building that you get out of all of this.

[00:24:35.320] – John
Yeah, and whenever you're looking to, you know, to change from one habit to another, from a destructive to constructive, from disempowering to empowering, there's something that I teach all my students and that is reduce it to the ridiculous. So reduce whatever it is that you need to do or want to do to the ridiculously small. Right, and so one minute a day, two minutes a day, three minutes a day, five minutes a day for 100 straight days builds the habit.

[00:25:09.270] – John
Once we have the habit, we can build the intensity and the duration. And so instead of trying to do everything in the first week or two weeks, why not focus on I'm going to develop empowering, constructive habits that I'm going to stick to instead of something that's not sustainable. And so when we're thinking about our brain. Let's understand how it works and our brain resists big changes, our brain resists anything that takes a lot of time and energy.

[00:25:44.790] – John
And so when we want to develop a habit of this is what I would like and I'd like to sustain it, let's reduce it to the ridiculously small so that I can develop the habit that I can add layers afterwards.

[00:26:03.750] – Allan
Now, one of the things you went into the book, and I think it's it's really important, is that if you don't set a goal the right way, your likelihood of accomplishing that goal goes way, way down. But you talked about a function of something called brain friendly goals. Could you go into that briefly?

[00:26:20.910] – John
Sure. So it actually piggybacks on. What I just said is there's different parts of our brain. If you think of your brain almost like an orchestra or a band, you know, there's different musicians who play different instruments. Well, there's different parts of our brain that does different things and when we can get our brains, different parts to work together in synchronicity and harmony, it works a lot better. So, for example, there's a part of our brain I called the Einstein part of the brain.

[00:26:52.320] – John
That's really good for imagination. What I would like, what it would feel like and be like and how can I achieve it. All right. There's another part of our brain which I call is the Frankenstein part of the brain that is analyzable. What can go wrong here? What if you start and you don't continue? What if you get hurt? What if you embarrass yourself? Or what if you're ashamed or ridiculed or judged because you give it your best and you fail?

[00:27:18.810] – John
So our brain, in order to make brain friendly goals, works like this. What do you want to achieve? Write that down. Why is it really important for you to achieve it? Write that down. How can you get started? OK. Write that down. When are you going to do it? Put it on your calendar. What are the tools or resources or people that you need in order to help you get that all together? That's a brain friendly goal because now I have the what, the why, the how, the who, and the when, and our brain goes, OK, are you committed to doing this or are you interested?

[00:28:02.400] – John
And this is the question of all questions I have, because when somebody says, here's what I want, I always ask them, well, are you committed to that or are you interested? And many people say to me, what's the difference? I tell them, what if your answer is going to cover stories or reasons or excuses, why you can't or why you won't if you're interested, you know, when it's time to do it, you're going to come up with a story, reason or excuse.

[00:28:26.370] – John
But if you're committed, you will overcome the story, the reason, or the excuse. If you're committed, you'll do whatever it takes. If you're committed, you will override the “I don't feel like it.”

If you're committed, you will overcome the story, the reason, or the excuse. If you're committed, you'll do whatever it takes. If you're committed, you will override the "I don't feel like it." @johnassaraf Click To Tweet [00:28:39.540] – Allan
I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be? What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?

[00:28:47.220] – John
Well, number one is, what does it mean for you to be well? Right? How are you thinking? How are you feeling? What are you doing? Whose life or whose whose life is impacted other than just yours? And so whenever we think about wellness and well-being, define it for yourself. Define it for yourself. For me. Tell me, how do you define success? For me success is harmony between health, wealth, relationships, career, business, fun experiences, charity, spirituality. For me, it's that harmony. That's success. It doesn't make sense for me to have so much health, but not wealth, so much wealth, but not health. So for me, it's that harmony. So that could feel like my life is in flow.

[00:29:43.520] – Allan
OK, thank you, John. If someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain's Hidden Power and all the wonderful things you're doing over there with your company, where would you like for me to send them?

[00:29:56.420] – John
Thank you. I think they can hop onto Amazon to take a look at my book Innercise or my other book Having It All, which is also New York Times Bestseller (also available on Audible). They can if they want to go deeper into the brain around making more money and to financial success. They can go to brainathon123.com. I'm on Instagram. I'm on my Facebook fan page. I'm on Twitter. And then obviously our websites JohnAssaraf.com or myneurogym.com, which is my company.

[00:30:31.220] – Allan
Yeah, I did the Brain-a-Thon this weekend. I made it about three quarters through and I just a lot it was wonderful. And then I just joined your Exceptional Life Program, so I decided I'm seeing a lot of you lately, but yeah some really cool stuff. Thank you so much for being a part of Forty Plus Fitness.

[00:30:51.660] – John
Thank you my friend. Thank you so much for doing this.

Patreons

The following listeners have sponsored this show by pledging on our Patreon Page:

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