Akshay Nanavati:


057 – To Fear is Human with Akshay Nanavati, the Author of Fearvana

Akshay Nanavati:


057 – To Fear is Human with Akshay Nanavati, the Author of Fearvana

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In this episode, author and speaker, Akshay Nanavati, joins us to discuss his new book, Fearvana: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear into Health, Wealth and Happiness, which uses neuroscientific and psychological research to aid personal development. Akshay talks openly about his personal journey, struggle with drugs and alcohol and post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis that led to the research in his concept of Fearvana.

  • Akshay’s definition of Fearvana as the state of bliss that results from engaging our fears to pursue our own worthy struggle
  • Why Akshay believes that we should change our relationship with, and the benefits that can flow from handling differently our most primitive and basic emotion
  • The view that we should Feel whatever we feel, whatever shows up, it’s what we do with it that matters
  • Ashkay’s research into neuroplasticity and the ability to rewire neuro-connections in the brain through introspection and habit changing

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • The importance of acknowledging and accepting our own fears without judgement as the key to mental, physical and spiritual growth
  • Proven techniques to allow us to change the relationship to our emotions
  • How approaches such as visualizing obstacles can help us avoid procrastination, or other proxies for fear, and improve our performance in the space between stimulus and response

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Podcast

Summary

In this episode, author and speaker, Akshay Nanavati, joins us to discuss his new book, Fearvana: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear into Health, Wealth and Happiness, which uses neuroscientific and psychological research to aid personal development. Akshay talks openly about his personal journey, struggle with drugs and alcohol and post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis that led to the research in his concept of Fearvana.

Akshay Nanavati

Akshay Nanavati is a Marine veteran, speaker, author, adventurer and entrepreneur dedicated to helping others turn their fear into their greatest ally so they can accomplish their biggest goals and dreams.

What Was Covered

  • Akshay’s definition of Fearvana as the state of bliss that results from engaging our fears to pursue our own worthy struggle
  • Why Akshay believes that we should change our relationship with, and the benefits that can flow from handling differently our most primitive and basic emotion
  • The view that we should Feel whatever we feel, whatever shows up, it’s what we do with it that matters
  • Ashkay’s research into neuroplasticity and the ability to rewire neuro-connections in the brain through introspection and habit changing

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • The importance of acknowledging and accepting our own fears without judgement as the key to mental, physical and spiritual growth
  • Proven techniques to allow us to change the relationship to our emotions
  • How approaches such as visualizing obstacles can help us avoid procrastination, or other proxies for fear, and improve our performance in the space between stimulus and response

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Podcast

Welcome to the Innovation Ecosystem podcast. This is Mark Bidwell. With me today is Akshay Nanavati who is an author, speaker, and an adventurer who is currently running across every country in the world. Now, his first book, Fearvana, was reviewed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama who said, and I quote, “Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own organizing experiences and find the positive side of our lives”. So welcome to the show, Akshay.

Thank you so much for having me, Mark. Great to be here.

So, let’s get into this, what is Fearvana? Maybe this is the entry point, what is Fearvana?

So, I define Fearvana as the state of bliss that results from engaging our fears to pursue our own worthy struggle and what I mean by that is we all have our own worthy struggle. It could be raising a child, running a marathon, writing a book, climbing a mountain, anything, and when you do that, when you engage and when you pursue it, it is hard, it’s scary, it’s filled with stress and anxiety and fear but that’s not a bad thing. There is beauty in that process and Fearvana is about turning those seemingly negative emotions into ultimately beautiful experiences and health, wealth and happiness as the subtitle states.

So, I think in the book you talk about fear as the first response of the brain to any kind of risk and it’s the most primitive and most basic emotion, right?

Yeah. Anytime we do anything unknown, a new experience, the brain is asking you, ‘Is this thing going to kill me or not?’, so fear is the most primal emotion that shows up and I pair fear, stress and anxiety as I just did because neurologically they’re very much the same, so however you choose to label the emotion, we all feel either one of those if not all of them at various points in our life.

Yeah, let’s call it out as it is. In your book, and I’ve read this several other places, one in five Americans they say are suffering from extreme stress, and that’s very extreme but I would imagine that underlying low-level background stress characterizes most people’s lives in one shape or form or another, right?

Absolutely. We all feel it in some way, right? It always shows up no matter what. Even if you don’t pursue a worthy struggle, life is going to hit you in the face anyway, right? And I think anybody would agree to that. You can’t avoid that experience, and the biggest reason it shows up in a negative way is simply because of our perception of this word. When I say the words fear, stress and anxiety, or struggle or adversity, these are not quote-unquote ‘positive words’ in the general belief system, and that was what inspired this book in the first place is that in my life everything worthwhile has been hard, it’s been scary, it’s been stressful, I mean, joining the Marines, climbing mountains in the Himalayas, even writing this book on fear was insanely stressful, it was extremely scary. The whole time writing it I kept wondering, is it any good? Is it garbage? Are people going to like it? So, all these experiences, these emotions are part of the experience of doing anything worthwhile but when we change our relationship to the emotion itself, we can learn to harness it and embrace that energy that it offers.

And just to make it very clear for our audience who, as I explained before, many of them are leaders in large organizations, whether you’re fearful of having a new boss, or a new entrant to your market, or a new technology, or the ‘classic’, where the chairman stands up and says, ‘We want you to work a little bit harder and your budget has been cut by 20%’. What we’re going to get into I think is relevant for all of these situations not just if you want to write a book or climb the Himalayas.

Absolutely, yeah, because no matter how fear shows up, that’s one thing that I stress to clients that I work with in every context. I speak about this in corporate settings as well. I’ve spoken at Verizon, at Shell, at SAP, however it shows up; fear is fear, it doesn’t matter. Objectively it might appear different to an outside party. So, for example, when I was in Iraq my job was actually to walk out in front of vehicle convoys and search for improvised explosive devices before they could be used to blow us up. So, as you might imagine it’s a fairly dangerous job, right? Now, objectively I could tell you that and people think, ‘OK that’s scary, that’s intense’ but that’s no different than fear showing up in any other setting whether it be in the corporate environment. I worked with a client who was terrified for traveling to Iceland on his own even though it was a luxurious vacation but he had just never gone out on his own on vacation before, so people might think, ‘Oh, that’s a whole different kind of fear than walking in front of IEDs’, but to the brain, fear is fear, so the principles in embracing it and handling it are very much the same.

And you touched earlier on your experience which was in Iraq, in that role which clearly would be fearful for most people if not everyone, and you came back with post-traumatic stress disorder, you found yourself in a deep dark place. Two-minute biography before we get into what took you out the other side, if you like – can you just tell your story very quickly?

Sure. So, before joining the Marines in high school I spent about a year and a half on drugs. I was addicted to drugs, I lost two friends to drug addiction, I managed to find my way out thankfully because I was very much headed down that path as well. I did join the Marines. From the Marines I started pursuing outdoor sports as another way to challenge my limits and explore what those really are and ultimately shatter them so I went mountain climbing, skydiving, cave diving, glacier caving, you name it. So, I did six years in the Marines. In 2007, I was deployed to Iraq. Came back from Iraq, finished my masters in journalism. I did a corporate sales and marketing job for about a year and a half and then got out, started my own business and that’s when I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and then I struggled with alcoholism that kind of drove me to the brink of suicide where I just woke up one day thinking that there’s no point going on, and that led to the research in neuroscience and psychology and spirituality that ultimately led to this concept of Fearvana and the book itself about it as well.

Now, I guess it wasn’t quite like that in the sense of – in your darkest place, what was the something that really triggered you to proactively get yourself out of it versus taking the alternative route which you alluded to earlier on in terms of suicide? What was it that made that shift do you think?

Honestly, for me, it was just when I thought that. I still remember very vividly it was after waking up after a five-day binge drinking session. I can still picture it. It was downstairs on my couch living room, and the shock of that thought, that I would even think that you know? Because while going through this I was still relatively functioning, I was still kind of running a lot, I still had a fairly successful business going so in many ways I was still doing the right things but triggers would often hit that would lead to this five-day binge session because I wasn’t the kind of person who would drink every day but when I did drink, it would often lead to excessive drinking and a handful of times, more often than I would like, it led to multiple days of excessive drinking and so that shock of that thought was honestly a trigger that led to, ‘OK, something needs to change’, and from there I ended up moderating my alcohol and but the trigger still would hit just rarer than before and eventually I got to a point where I decided, ‘Why am I even trying to moderate it?’ I just embraced the fact that I have a fairly addictive personality and just channeled it into more positive things like running ultramarathons and building my business.

And I remember you touched on, I think you’d read, or maybe it’s a friend of yours, that guy, is it Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon runner?

Dean Karnazes, yeah.

Yeah, that’s right. He tells a wonderful story of actually going out drinking and deciding to take part in a marathon, it’s a wonderful story, I think he throws up all over the dashboard of his wife’s Lexus, but it was a very visually compelling point of no return, if you like, which got him down that path. It sounds like you had a similar experience?

Absolutely. When that hit, it led to a lot of realizations and figuring out what was causing it, what was causing me to wrestle these demons, ultimately understand those demons so I could rise above them and that’s what I did. I turned all my negative quote-unquote ‘negative experience’ into my allies as I continue to build my business and to work on making a greater impact in the world.

So, let’s get into this. So, someone listening to this at the moment may be commuting to work and let’s say, for example, they’re fearful of a new boss who’s going to come in and change things and perhaps make this person do something they want to do or lay them off – you touched on it a little bit, ‘fall in love with your fear, make fear your ally’. What are the steps that someone can do straight away practically to turn this around and get in control of the fear, if you like?

Sure. The number one step, and I’m going to get into more actionable, tangible things to do, but the number one step that I cannot stress enough no matter where I talk about fear is simply changing your relationship to fear, simply saying that this is not a bad thing, saying that realizing that that emotion is not a negative emotion, and when you do that it transforms how you handle it, and they’ve shown plenty of studies. There’s a great book called The Upside of Stress where Dr Kelly McGonigal talks about how simply by choosing to view stress in this positive light, it shifts the physiology of fear into the biology of courage and it actually makes fear work for you. So, OK – you’re afraid of, let’s say, your new boss doing something. So, accepting the fear saying, ‘OK I’m feeling it, this is a very normal fear to feel’ and not judging your fear, because what happens is, like I mentioned earlier, working with this client who was traveling to Iceland, the problem was not his fear, the problem was he started feeling like his fear was a bad thing, saying, ‘What’s wrong with me for feeling afraid? I shouldn’t be scared of this’ and judging his fear and beating himself up for feeling fear. So, the first step is, don’t judge the fear, just accept the fact that you’re feeling it and it’s OK to feel it. Once you do that and accept it, then you can step out outside the fear and understand it, and then it also helps you acknowledge the fear instead of trying to beat it down and hide it because more often than not, because people perceive fear as a negative thing, they avoid it with code words, so it might show up in procrastination, they might try to run away from that fear but when you accept it and say ‘It’s not a bad thing’, then you can understand it – ‘OK what am I afraid of? I’m afraid of my new boss doing something to hurt my career’ or something like that. Then what you can do is step outside of it and understand the fear and isolate it so you can say, ‘OK, here’s what I’m afraid of. Why am I afraid of this? What is the worst-case scenario I’m afraid of? OK, what happens if that worst-case scenario shows up? What can I do to prepare for that?’ Because fear propels you to prepare for that. When I was in Iraq, my job was dangerous, even beyond my job everything I did in Iraq was dangerous, so, going out there we were scared but fear propelled us to prepare, prepared us to train better for the war, so really understanding all the elements of the fear, digging deep into your fears to understand what’s the deeper fear so you can prepare for it, you can prepare for the worst case scenario and also after it shows up, and/or in order to prevent that worst-case scenario for showing up. Once you do certain things like that, a great technique is to also visualize the obstacle. So, let’s say you’re about to go into a meeting with your boss. Visualize yourself going into that meeting. You often hear sometimes in the personal development world to visualize yourself all successful on the other side of your fears but studies have shown it’s far more successful to visualize the obstacle itself. So, before I go for a long run, for example, I visualize myself feeling pain that I inevitably will hit when I go for a long run and then I envision all the elements of that pain and envision myself overcoming it. You can do the same thing when going into a meeting with the boss; visualize yourself going into that meeting, what kind of things are happening, visualize the room, go into detail with that and then you’ll be better prepared to face it. That’s one particular technique. Another one when you’re dealing with fears is to remember the reward and the consequences. So, what’s the reward in engaging your fears? Maybe you’re going to go talk to your boss about some changes you want to be made or maybe about getting a raise, right, and what is the reward? So, you’re actually remembering not only the reward on the other side of your fears but also the consequences of inaction. So, when writing my book, I often would picture myself on my deathbed and not having shared Fearvana with the world and that was a really scary thought that would often drive me into action and stop me from procrastinating. So, there are a few techniques you can use that are very helpful in dealing with your fears.

And the book, a bit of a plug here because it is a remarkable book, one of the reasons I find it fascinating is-

Thank you.

Akshay, you obviously did your research. It’s a very broad range of quotes and materials you draw on and one of my favorite quotes was from Richard Branson and you know I’m originally from the UK, the quote here is, ‘It’s important not to feel fear but to harness it, fear is energy’ and that’s really, as you say, the first step where you’re recognizing that fear doesn’t need to be negative, it can actually be neutral and it can be positive.

Exactly. There’s one thing I’ve definitely learned through all these experiences is that there are no bad or good emotions. Even the quote-unquote ‘good emotions’ are not inherently good. Anything is just an emotion and you can channel it to make it work for you. So, like in the Richard Branson quote for example, when you do harness fear, it actually releases these very powerful chemicals that learn to make it work for you. One chemical is called Anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit word Anan which literally means ‘bliss’, so fear is truly the access point to bliss. It also releases things like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and even a chemical called oxytocin which is the quote-unquote ‘love hormone’ as they call it, so fear actually releases that which allows you to engage in fear to handle it, to serve people better, which is why you see people in stressful and scary environments bond together, like men in combat for example. I have a friend and I talk about this in the book, it’s one of the first stories, he ran into a burning Humvee to save a fellow human being because fear released oxytocin to say, ‘OK, you know what? This is something more important than my own life, to run in and do this dangerous thing to save my fellow human being’ but that applies in any setting, even in a corporate setting when you’re leading teams, to say, ‘OK, what matters is my men, and I say men in military combat but of course my people, so men and women, and also and/or the people we want to serve. When you think about it from that point of view it helps you engage your fears and ultimately embrace them and focus on them.

And as you list those naturally produced chemicals that come from changes in the brain, I’m reminded of a previous guest, Steven Kotler, who talked about Flow and he talks about this in a lot of detail. He talks about the ‘helper’s high’ which I think your example of your friend rushing into the burning Humvee is a very, very extreme version of that, is that we are social animals and that’s a source of releasing some of these chemicals, of course.

Exactly, exactly, and that comes from embracing fear. Obviously in the context of my friend, he was terrified and he’ll openly tell you that, but the fear allowed him to focus on the task at hand as opposed to having multiple things to focus on and it just allowed him to literally leap out of his turret and go into the Humvee before he could do it, but it’s sure in multiple settings, of course, it’s not as intense as running into a burning Humvee but they actually did these studies with public speaking, and public speaking is rated as the number one fear people feel even more so than death and they had this group come in that was terrified of public speaking and they had half the group say things like, ‘I’m calm, I’m calm’ to eliminate the fear and the other half say things like, ‘I’m excited, I’m excited’ to embrace and harness the fear, and the group that did the latter performed far better to objective third-party viewers than the group to try to eliminate the fear, so the same thing applies to every setting not just obviously running into a Humvee.

Yeah, yeah, and I think the other piece, there’s science throughout your book but this concept of neuroplasticity is a really important concept because this gives us reassurance that actually we can essentially reprogram ourselves, we can train ourselves, we can build new habits, we can build new neuro-connections which enable us to move away from these behaviors over time, right?

Yes. So, science and neuroplasticity was game-changing for me personally just to get out of wrestling my own demons but it’s absolutely true that no matter where you are now, no matter where, and no matter how old, no matter what’s happened, you can change your brain and it’s simply a matter of rewiring the patterns in your brain. So, for example, I worked with this one client who suffered from severe anxiety every time he used to sit down at a computer to write. So his brain created this highway essentially, this pathway that said ‘computer equals anxiety equals running away from it to watch TV’ so that pattern had been created in the brain but through some of the steps that we’re talking about, you can rewire that brain to say, ‘OK, computer is no longer equaling anxiety but it can be embraced and channeled into actually writing and doing the work needed to succeed’ so we can all change our brain simply by applying focused attention and then when you do that it’s called a quantum Zeno effect, where you apply attention, the more attention the brain plays, the more elaborately the informational will get  encoded into the brain and that allows what’s called Hebb’s Law which says, ‘Neurons that fire together wire together’. That allows Hebb’s Law to take place and that’s why you create these neuronal pathways in the brain.

I was going to touch on that because I think this is what’s so interesting as developments or advances in neuroscience continue, a lot of things that we’ve been reading about and we’ve thought we’ve known about but there’s never been the evidence there is now actually being proven in the scientific laboratories around the world of course.

Yeah, exactly, and talking about the science in neuroplasticity though as I mentioned with this client with anxiety, what’s really important is once again, and I touched on this and I repeat it intentionally, it’s to not judge your fears because this client worked with many others, he tried to go to therapists and all the therapists were trying to help him eliminate the anxiety, the first thing he came to me I said, ‘We’re not going to eliminate the anxiety’ because, in all honesty, you don’t actually control what first shows up in your brain, and neuroscience is also showing that we don’t have that control and they’ve been able to actually show in the brain that they can measure and predict an action before you actually are consciously aware you’re doing it. So, for example, if I’m standing on the edge of a cliff and I feel fear, that’s just my brain’s response to fear. I can’t control that fear at least not initially. You can condition yourself to feel it, but your job is not to try to fight away the emotion, that’s what we did with my client is not saying, ‘OK, our job primarily, at least initially is not to get rid of the anxiety, to feel it, embrace it and then channel it into action’ and it’s as simple as starting by just, as we talked about, labeling that emotion not judging it. So, ‘OK, I’m feeling anxious’ What’s causing the anxiety? Understanding the meaning behind it and then saying something simple, I do this myself all the time, ‘This is not me, this is just my brain, going through a state of anxiety or a state of fear but I am not my brain and my brain is not me’ so you separate yourself from your brain and you realize you’re something more than just that, because if we were our emotions we’d all be this neurotic mess that’s constantly changing every two seconds, right?

Yeah, and that goes back to one of my favorite books which is Man’s Search for Meaning which you touched on by Viktor Frankl, the only real freedom that we have is actually to manage our response to these stimuli essentially, right?

Yeah, he says this quote I’ve memorized because this is a game-changing quote, he says, ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom’ and really if you look at life, the greater that you can embrace that space between stimulus and response, that space shapes your destiny, and stimulus is not just the external stimulus, it’s also your internal instinctive response because as I said, we don’t control that initial response our subconscious brain does, but what’s essential is to separate ourselves from that stimulus and choose what we do in that response because that space is really what shapes our life.

Yeah, absolutely. And your books coming out I think it’s by the time the show has come out. Remind me the date of the launch of the book?

The official launch is early October but it’s available right now pre-launch. In fact, while it’s in pre-launch, we are giving away the book for free, we just ask you to cover the shipping cost, so it’s available at www.fearvana.com for free.

Wonderful, and we’ll put that in the show notes along with the handout which you very kindly made available which is, I think it’s a summary of some of the themes to help people who might be listening to this and saying, ‘Well hang on a second, OK I want to try this’, the technique’s mapped out there.

Yeah.

There’s also, you got there first but I see Tim Ferriss talks about the fear setting versus goal setting approach which is a spin on it, it’s not as robust, it doesn’t have the same richness of science behind it but it’s very interesting how these approaches and ways of thinking about fear are beginning to become far more mainstream. Why do you think that? Is it to do with this fact that so many people are suffering from this extreme stress or is this something else going on here? What are your thoughts?

I think so. I think we’re seeing this rise in mental health issues and a big reason is, one, partly this negative general belief that we have about these emotions. You always hear people say things like, ‘You should be fearless, Don’t be scared of anything. Eliminate stress in the workplace. Don’t feel self-doubt. Eliminate self-doubt. Don’t compare ourselves to others’ and the problem with all of these things is we’re telling people not to feel what they feel, and you should never resist an emotion that shows up. Feel self-doubt, feel scared of failure, feel fear of success, feel all those things, it’s OK. Feel whatever you feel, just feel whatever shows up, it’s what you do with it that matters in that space between stimulus and response, so I think part of it is as we’re seeing these mental health issues and challenges arise in all kinds of forces. I mean, we just saw Elon Musk talk about how he struggles with potentially feeling depression and how he struggles with feeling these anxieties, it shows up in all kinds of places and workplace environments. They say up to 80% of employees are disengaged with their work and so we’re seeing this kind of rise and I think ultimately, we have to address it because I think the second part of the problem is, it’s the way we collectively as human beings are viewing progress, that everything we do is looking at the next thing to make our lives easier, new technology to make our lives easier, and that’s a huge problem. That’s partly why we’re seeing greater problems in mental health issues because making our lives easier is not making our lives better. The whole thing about Fearvana is we find bliss through fear and through stress but it has to be a worthy stress, a worthy fear so making our lives easier in this instant gratification world that we’re living in is not a good thing. We should be looking for struggle and finding a meaningful struggle.

And let’s talk a little bit more about some of the struggles that you’re embarked on. I know you’re a very keen runner, you, like me sometimes, sit on the rowing machine which is possibly the most frightening thing certainly in my life. I’m curious, for the listeners, let me just say a little bit, this is the only form of sports I’ve ever come across where every single moment of your activity or exercise is tracked and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s not like on a run or when you’re biking where you can slow down because everything is fed back to you in seconds and strokes per minutes. How does fear show up in your very rigorous outdoor life, if you like, or sporting life and how do you handle that?

It shows up all the time, just in my daily workouts it shows up, whenever I’m planning intense workouts, whenever I go for long runs and I’m very conscious about that, in fact, I make myself feel that fear and that stress. So, for example on a poster up on my gym wall right in front of my rowing machine actually, I have the words that say during a workout you should think four things: one – I’m not going to make it, two – I want to quit, three – I’m going to die if I keep going, four – I’d rather die than finish this, and right under that big capital letters that says, ‘Are you working hard enough?’. So, what I’ve done by putting this stuff in my gym, I have another poster up right on my wall, it goes into a long thing so I won’t read the whole thing but essentially it says, ‘You’re not entitled to a thing, you don’t deserve a thing, if you want something you gotta take it, you gotta learn to fight for it, suffer for it, bleed for it, learn to give a piece yourself in order to get it’. So, I have these reminders all over the place to say that the suffering is a good thing, struggle is a good thing, so reframe my relationship and to say that, OK if you feel that point ‘I’d rather die than finish this’, that’s when you’re growing. Whenever you engage a battle in yourself that one party wants to quit and another wants to fight, that is a monstrous opportunity for your mind, body and spirit to grow, and changing your relationship to that experience is the best you can do because then it will help you seek out that experience and that’s what I try to do. I’m not necessarily saying on a daily basis but on a fairly consistent basis, definitely at least once a week if not more I will go through some moment where I’ll say, ‘I don’t want to do this’ and that’s how I keep growing.

And so that’s the sport, that’s the exercise side and I can relate to that. What are you most afraid of at the moment? I mean, you’re doing a lot of media appearances, the book’s being launched, you’re running across the world, you’ve got a business, what is the thing that you are genuinely most afraid of today at half-past nine on a Tuesday morning on, I think it’s Tuesday, on a Tuesday morning in the US? What are you most afraid of?

I feel it all the time right now as I launch my book, I feel the fear of, ‘Is my book going to do well? Is it going to make the impact I want to make?’ but on a personal and spiritual level, the greatest fear I feel is this fear of stillness. My wife isn’t here in the house in Jersey, even my puppy isn’t here, so I’m all alone in the house and it’s weird, considering everything I’ve done in my life, it’s a bit weird that that scares me sometimes, but sometimes it’ll show up after coming back for a run or going out all day doing stuff and then suddenly it show up, and that stillness is a really scary thing. It’s a fear I’m engaging, it’s a fear I’m absolutely processing and learning to handle and that simply means sometimes just being with the stillness, just meditating. One tremendously powerful practice I’ve taken on that I’ve learned from an ultra-endurance cyclist friend of mine, and I cannot recommend this enough for anybody in every setting especially in corporate settings and driven individuals, is actually sitting still staring at a wall so there’s no painting, no music, no TV, no stimulus at all, so not even a visual stimulus like a painting, and just staring at a wall with your eyes open so you’re not meditating and just sitting there for – my friend actually, my endurance cyclist friends will do this for twenty-four hours and then go cycling for twenty-four hours. I’m not ready to do it for twenty-four hours, I’ll probably lose my mind, so what I’m working on doing is adding fifteen minutes a week to it. I’ve kind of put a pause on it in the book marketing process but I’m going to be getting back to it actually this week. You know, the first time I did this I did it for forty-five minutes and I still remember thinking is my timer broken because it felt like an eternity, but it is a hugely powerful exercise because to just be with yourself, I mean, we’re avoiding that all the time, right? We do that through TV through music through our Phone through our iPad, we’re always finding something to distract ourselves from just being present to the experience of our own mind, our own thoughts, and everything within ourselves so doing this allows you to feel all of that stuff and it’s scary, it’s challenging but it’s beautiful as anything worthwhile is scary and challenging, exactly.

You used a really interesting phrase, you used ‘if you’re a driven individual’ right at the beginning of that. Now, for people who are listening to this who wouldn’t characterize themselves as driven individuals, who are perfectly happy going for a walk around the block every three or four times a week or whatever, and don’t want to publish a book, but for people who are nonetheless wrestling with the realities of instant gratification and trying to improve lives that we live in in the 21st century, how is your message relevant for that kind of person?

It’s especially relevant in this instant gratification world because the most important thing is learning that struggle’s not a bad thing and stop looking for the fastest and easiest way out. So, I actually have a mantra I repeat to myself, ‘If it’s easy it’s wrong’. Obviously you don’t get carried away and take this to an insane extreme like if I’m going to my aunt’s house I’m not going to take the one hour route, I’m going to take the ten minute route just to get there, but the point is you apply this mantra consciously to settings that matter. So for example, it would be much easier to sit and watch TV than it is to write or it’d be much easier to not go to the gym than it is to go to the gym especially when I’m tired. This weekend, for example, just two days ago before we were recording this interview, I had a nine mile run on Saturday and then I did an eleven mile run on Sunday and between this was filled with a bunch of book work, writing and stuff like that, and it was challenging the eleven miler, I was tired, I didn’t want to do it, but if it’s easy it’s wrong, and the fact that I planned it, I went on it, I started the run, it was hard, but it was the best thing ever that I did it, so learning that struggle is a good thing and seeking out that struggle will help you find your next level of growth in every way you’ll help you reach the next stage of your own personal evolution.

Yeah, got it. So, thank you for that. We’re just going to go to the last three questions which I sent you before. The final question before I ask those is, you’ve touched on this before we came online, if you look at the people who’ve written testimonies on your book, I’ve mentioned Dalai Lama, you’ve got Jack Canfield, you’ve got Marshall Goldsmith, you’ve got Seth Godin, you’ve referred to a very broad range of activities you’re involved in and business interests, I’m curious, how have you actually gone from waking up after a five-day binge having been diagnosed to actually building out this rich ecosystem which is clearly very supporting of you and enabling you to do all these things, I’m curious, how did you go about doing that?

When you’re in the depths, when you’re in the pits in that abyss, the lower you are – you know, when I was in that moment, I wouldn’t surround myself with inspiring things because that will often make you feel worst about yourself so slowly climbing out, understanding myself, getting to doing some of the things that I’m talking about, digging deep into my fears, into my things that are causing me to feel these things, so just a quick example about that, I struggled for a long time with survivor’s guilt. I lost a close friend of mine in the war and that guilt used to drive me to drink but now I have a poster of my friend up on my wall and it says, ‘This should have been you. Earn this life’. So now, my guilt is my greatest ally in staying sober. So, reframing some of these negative things and slowly climbing out of that abyss and as I climbed out, then finding that worthy struggle to pursue, realizing that if we don’t seek out a worthy struggle, struggle will find us anyway, so that’s why I cannot stress enough to find that worthy struggle and seek it out. Until the day you die there’s room for growth and you often hear one of the greatest killers of elderly people is retirement, right, because they’re not doing anything anymore and so it’s about seeking out that worthy struggle in any way, whether it be finding a marathon, physically, mentally, spiritually, in any context seeking out that worthy struggle and that’s what I did. I kept growing, I realized what I want to do, I focused on the impact I wanted to make in the world and I was blessed to receive these really noteworthy endorsements from amazing people in all walks of life, spiritual leaders like His Holiness, marked authors like Seth Godin, Jack Canfield, and even executive leaders, I mean, Marshall Goldman is the number one executive coach and leadership thinker in the world, and so getting these endorsements was really sharing what the vision for Fearvana is, the impact we want to make in the world. We’re giving away all the proceeds from charity after the pre-launch and the book giveaway when it goes back to its retail price, we’re also giving away everything to charity, so not just to the content we want to change lives but through the fundraising as well and all of that brought people on board and supported the vision and now that vision is all consuming. Having that reminder of my guilt that says, ‘Since I’m still alive let me do something meaningful with this life, let me not waste it,’ and it keeps me focused, it keeps me focused on the work I want to do and the impact I want to make.

If we were having this conversation in three years time, what would be different in your life? What would people be saying about you and your contribution?

So Fearvana beyond the book, the intention is to be this launch pad for a movement that goes so much beyond just this book. So for example, again we mentioned Sir Richard Branson who you clearly admire and I clearly do too, is we’re kind of following the Sir Richard Branson Virgin model, Fearvana will embark in a very different vertical, but unlike Virgin which has sort of two hundred different verticals, Fearvana’s primary objective will be enhancing well-being and improving the quality of people’s lives so our verticals we focused in that realm. So for example, the next step is a Fearvana Fitness, a Fearvana Academy, Fearvana Festival, Fearvana Adventures, so the next immediate one that I’m focusing on is Fearvana Academy which will be an educational institution for the younger generation to teach them these life skills they’re not learning in school, teach them about resilience, teach them about leadership skills, teach them about building effective habits, how do you actually find your path in life, how do you seek out that worthy struggle? So, teaching all these things through this online educational institution so that’s the next immediate step. In three years we envision building out Fearvana in a few different verticals and continuing to expand that one step at a time.

Wonderful. Well, we’ll certainly get you back on the show when the time is right later on perhaps next year to give us an update on that.

Thank you, I’d be honored.

I’m sure that, as I said, it’s a different kind of conversation because even though you work with corporations, your message is very, very relevant but we’ve come at it from a slightly different angle and I’m sure our audience will find the materials that we’ll put in the show notes but also the conversation and some of your approaches very valuable. So Akshay, what I’d love to do now is just get into to the final three questions that I sent across to you-

Yeah.

So, what have you changed your mind about recently?

I love this question, Mark, and actually, for me, it’s been my approach to faith. So, I’ve always been very good at someone who fights my way through things, through willpower, and I’ve always been pretty good about that but fairly recently, just a few months ago, I ended up breaking my sobriety and it was a little while ago now, it’s been a while now and I’ve been consistently sober since then but I had a lot of family stressors, very, very intense stuff that I don’t necessarily need to get into and I don’t blame anybody else, I’ll take responsibility for my actions, but it led to me breaking my sobriety and in a way that was a good thing because what happened was I figured out what’s causing it. Every time I make a mistake I try to understand it and try to figure out how to address it, and that drove me to explore my own faith and it drove me to this book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and it helped me understand that when you combine faith with will, with willpower, you can actually tap into a whole new level of growth that’s a really superhuman level so what I’ve changed my mind recently about is this idea of faith and tapping into my own divinity. I was never somebody who would pray or have faith, I was very ‘Science Guy’, the pragmatic, you’ve read my book, everything is researched with neuroscience and psychology, I was very much this pragmatic guy but I’ve really explored faith in a new way recently and it’s been a beautiful thing.

And the book, that’s a specific book is it, When Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Yes, that’s the name of the book. Very, very powerful book that for me personally, it hit me when it needed to in the right phase in my life that helped transform my relationship to faith, and a movie that combined with that to really hit home the point was the movie, Hacksaw Ridge, I don’t know if you’ve seen it-

No, I haven’t.

New war movie, it’s very, very powerful, about this guy who single-handedly saved seventy-five people off a cliff and every time he saved one person, he would say, ‘Please God help me save one more’, and it’s a true story about this Medal of Honor recipient who was a conscientious objector in WWII. I’ve read his book, I’ve read his Medal of Honor citation as well, seen the documentary about this guy and that movie, again, being a war veteran war movies obviously trigger me in a very, very powerful and emotional way but that movie combined with that book at the right time in my life was this series of events that was game-changing for me and helped me find faith in tapping into my own divinity and sometimes just saying that it’s not all about fighting your way through it with will but really just exploring that faith and it’s been very powerful for me.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, I’ve heard people refer to it as grace shows up, whatever one’s belief system is but just-

Exactly.

-things happen, grace happens.

Exactly.

Wonderful. Second question, have you got a specific personal work habit or practice you can share with our listeners that has helped make you more effective in your myriad of activities?

Yeah, it’s definitely creating stringent structures in my life to manage everything, to follow all of it, so what I’ve done is replicated the simplicity of life in war in my real world. So, one quick example is I follow one hour to one hour ten minute work shifts and then I take a ten-minute break, so when I was in Greenland for example, when I skied across the world’s second largest ice cap, we used to ski for one hour to one hour ten minutes, take a ten-minute break to eat and drink water and then go again, so I do the same thing in my work, I follow these shifts and I set a timer and during that time I do one very specific thing and then I take a ten-minute break, but the practice that’s been game-changing for me in embracing these shifts and being focused is before every shift what I do is I now play a very particular song and I created this anchor by pairing the song with the running, so the way you do this is the way you create this anchor. You find an activity you really enjoy and it’s really peaceful for you so for me it was running, and then for about a week or two if not longer, I would play this particular song before going for a run and then after about two weeks, I started playing this particular song before an activity that was, let’s say a little bit harder, so for me it was writing, writing was much harder than running, I would often procrastinate on writing by going and running a marathon but now that song becomes anchored in your brain and says, ‘OK when this song plays this means ‘go mode’ this isn’t something you enjoy’ and I do that now before any one of my work shifts. I’ll sit there, it’s a two-minute, three-minute song, play that song and it gets me into ‘go mode’ and that’s been really powerful for me and an effective technique to trick my brain into embracing whatever struggle that may show up ahead of me in work and/or life.

And that’s powerful because each of those as independent strategies is very powerful, segmenting your life by an hour or an hour and ten, or playing music, but actually doing them both together you get the compounding effect of that as well.

Absolutely. It’s been very, very powerful for me in harnessing my productivity and the multiple different settings and things that I keep working on.

Great, great. And final question, we might have already touched this and perhaps there’s another example but what’s been your most significant failure or low and what have you learned from it and how do you apply that learning? Obviously, we’ve talked about the big one which is your plunging the depths of you know, of suicide-

Yeah.

Anything else more recent perhaps that would fill that criteria?

I think, yeah, we definitely touched on obviously, one of my greatest lows was that moment of considering taking my own life but I would say more recently and even some ways greater was when I broke my sobriety because even after making that decision, when I hit that low moment I started looking at what caused that low moment but I never really said I’m going to quit drinking, I learned to moderate it, but when I said, ‘I’m going to quit drinking’, to me I’m the kind of a person who doesn’t like to go back on my word, not just to others but to myself, and when I commit to something I usually am pretty good about it so when I broke my sobriety that was a really harsh failure and a low for me, and what I learned about it was that tapping into faith. Just to quote one passage from that book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, he says in the book, I can’t remember exactly how it goes, something along the lines of, ‘That to me the surest proof of the existence of God and not that it’s something religious leaders made up, is that when people pray for strength, hope and courage, they find a level of strength, hope and courage they did not have before they prayed’. So, to me again, whatever your belief system is, it’s all good obviously, but to me what that meant for me was finding the divinity within and we all have our own divinity within, and realizing that sometimes the greater the demons we have to battle with, the greater the divinity required to defeat those demons. So, the lessons learned from it has been tapping into my divinity in an even greater way, finding faith, being able to pray, more prayer is now in my morning ritual that I’ve added into it recently as a result of this, and just actually a very quick example of how it was game-changing, when I was working out the other day, in fact it was, I think, three or four days ago before recording this, I was doing a deadlift, it was a deadlift session, I was working on my one rep max for my deadlift, and I was having a kind of off day, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to hit my PR’, so I just had about 285 pounds on the deadlift and immediately then the song from Hacksaw Ridge, this movie I mentioned, came on, and it triggered that movie for me, that scene in that movie where he’s saving people and he says, ‘Please God help me save one more’, and I immediately told my friend, ‘OK, we’re going to PR’ so my personal record, my previous was 305, we put on 310 pounds and I just sat there saying, ‘Please God help me get this one more’, and I did, I PRed at 310 pounds on a day that I did not feel like I would do it, and so that prayer was, even though in a setting like saving human beings from war is obviously much more intense, but the thing is in that setting it helped me reach a whole new level of potential that I just did not think I would do on that day, so that was very cool.

Interesting. And it sounds like that faith example is one that six months ago, if we’d had had this discussion of what you’re going to be doing or this is how you’re going to be looking at these issues, you’d have just said, ‘Forget it that’s not the kind of person I am’ but you’re clearly willing to explore these things and have been overwhelmed by the results.

Yeah, I think any leader can do it, any capacity is always looking for how you could be wrong and where you could be wrong and that’s how you grow. I’m always looking, ‘OK what can I’ – because we all get caught up in the ‘I’m the expert’ thing, ‘I know all this’ but if you start looking at, ‘Where could I potentially be wrong?’, you find that next level of growth and it also validates and enhances your own expertise about your topic so that’s how I helped write my book is, ‘OK what could be wrong about this?’ and then searching for the means to either prove that right and/or prove myself wrong and that’s how you learn new things and advance in your life.

And it’s a very frightening question to ask actually, ‘What could be wrong about this?’, particularly if you’re a leader in a large organization who has got there and is worried about the future, how they’re going to stay there. Fascinating. So, we need to wrap this up because I know time is tight. Where can people get in touch with you?

www.fearvana.com, that’s where the book is available and you can also reach out to me there. There’s a contact information space on that www.fearvana.com website and I’m definitely one of those authors that like to be very accessible and very reachable so feel free to reach out to me, I’m here to serve in any way I can.

Wonderful, and we’ll load up the show notes because we’ve covered a lot of ground and a lot of references. Thank you very much for that handout which we’ll put in the show notes as well.

My pleasure.

Great to talk, I was very much looking forward to this. Best of luck with the book launch and as I say, let’s keep in touch and we’ll track your progress with interest and hopefully get you back on the show once a couple of these verticals are up and running.

Thank you so much, Mark. I appreciate it and thank you for having me on the show, it was a pleasure.

Not at all. Have a great day. Bye.

You too.

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