Be honest now, how many times have you avoided doing something because you were afraid?
Akshay Nanavati is an ultrarunner, former Marine and the author of Fearvana, a book that will change the way you look at fear. You can even count the Dalai Lama among his friends, believe it or not.
Right now, Akshay is in the middle of a self-imposed challenge to run from border-to-border of every country in the world, and today he’s here to show us what we’re really capable of as human beings.
On this show with Akshay Nanavati, you’re about to learn:
- The monumental mistakes we make in trying to be happy and what to do instead
- One trick to breaking any habit
- Why he volunteered to run across every country in the world
- And tons more…
Let’s go hang out with Akshay.
Akshay Nanavati: How to Embrace Fear for Success & Happiness
Abel: Alright folks, Akshay Nanavati is an ultra runner, former Marine, and author of Fearvana.
Akshay, thanks so much for joining us, man.
Thank you so much for having me on the show, brother. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Abel: Of course. So, I know you’re stateside right now, but catch us up. Where are you at in your running adventures?
I’m at 9 countries. I just got back from running 167 miles across Liberia.
It was just under a marathon a day for a week. And then we did two weeks of humanitarian work out there.
This is why I love long distance running and why I chose this. Especially Liberia was a true representation of this.
Within a short time frame you get to live a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
Running becomes this microcosm for life, the intense highs, the intense lows, experiencing a new land, new people, all of it.
And I was blessed to experience all of that, especially in Liberia.
Abel: I don’t do it as much anymore because I live in the mountains at altitude, but when I was living, especially in Texas, I ran all the time. Many marathons.
And even before that, living in New Hampshire, I was running all the time. It’s one of the best ways to see the world. I think it’s one of the most human ways to see the world.
I remember, for example, I was with my parents in St Augustine, Florida, and I ran from about Jacksonville, which is up the coast like a 45 minute drive, and basically I just ran my own marathon with my dad as training.
And when you finish that you realize that on your feet you can cover major distances past all these landmarks.
So, for the people who might not have explored running as a hobby or a passion, can you explain a little bit more what that’s like?
Sure, absolutely. And I’m not a good runner, by any means. I used to hate long distance running.
I have scoliosis, I have flat feet, I have a blood disorder that transports less oxygen through my body. Two doctors told me Marine Corp boot camp would kill me because of this. And my body cannot absorb nutrients too well.
So I’m not a great runner, I’m not designed to be a runner, but I love it for the spiritual element.
For example, running across Liberia, you get to see this new land. And I love the way you said it’s a very human experience.
Many times, these little kids would run with me. And sometimes we wouldn’t say a word at all because maybe they wouldn’t speak English or something, but we would just look at each other.
I have this one picture of this little kid running with me, and the smile he has on his face. It was this beautiful deep moment of human connection that you feel when you run because there’s this intensity, there’s this human spirit that comes.
Whenever I would pass people and tell them I’m running from the Guinea border to Monrovia, they would be like, “What?!”
There’s this sense of awe about what you’re doing that immediately creates a comradery. Because human beings, to me, that’s what our divinity is. It’s humanity at its finest.
And so when we connect at that divinity, it’s also rising above our own suffering, rising above our own perceived limitations.
We connect at such a deeper level. And also just the internal journey of the highs and lows. Because running, you experience some intense lows.
I mean, I have moments where I’m like, “Why am I doing this? This is the worst thing ever. My life is miserable right now.”
But rising above those moments is tremendous.
And then you also have those moments where you’re just in pure bliss.
Running one day in Liberia it started drizzling, and I was in this rain forest, and I had just finished running with these two other kids. One of these kids who had lost his mom in the war.
So we had a fairly intense conversation while we were running. And then I’m running past him and it starts drizzling. And it was literally as high as a high could be. It was just pure bliss in that moment.
And running is obviously not the only way to exercise. But I love that it becomes a microcosm for life. You get to experience everything that an entire lifetime has to offer.
And it’s really, really spiritual.
Abel: One of the things that also happens is you leave everything at the door. You’re not running with a pack, are you? Maybe you have a little bit with you.
It depends. So in this case I did not run with the camel bag because of the extra weight.
It was the first time I had run 167 miles in a week, or anything more than 100 miles in a week. It was pushing myself for sure.
So we had to actually have a vehicle support crew. And even my buddy who was the camera guy on the crew, we became so close because he would run with me.
And now he’s coming to Indiana and we’re helping take care of his son through a heart surgery.
So we became so close. He’s my brother. And there was a bond that formed as a result of that.
Abel: Well, it’s so interesting because in the modern world, when you’re showered and dressed up and you have all your work stuff or whatever it is, then it’s like you’re not going to go for a run, in the rain especially, right?
But when you’re out there and you’ve already been running for a while, it’s the highest high you could ever have.
It feels the best. You’re free.
And also there’s something strange that happens where, if you were to not have your jacket or your briefcase or your backpack in the real world, then you feel naked. You feel like you don’t have something. You don’t have enough.
But a weird thing happens when you’re moving, if you’re hiking, or if you’re running, and you’re out there. You feel like, “I have everything I need.”
Most of the time anyway, if you have enough to drink.
But you feel like, “This is enough. I don’t need more stuff. I don’t need to buy anything. I don’t need to be on social media, or what have you.”
It’s like, “This is living.” Right?
100%. There’s a purity to that experience because you’re so present. You just are.
There were other days, too. I think it was day four or day five of the run where I was not in bliss, I was not in a low, I just was.
The time went by and you experience all of this. But that experience is so pure. It kind of sheds light on all those facades. You’re not necessarily thinking about all the other things you have to worry about in your life.
You just have one target. Life is simple. It’s reduced to the simplest thing, that one target in front of you. And that’s beautiful.
When you suffer, when you seek out that worthy suffering, as I like to call it, it just reduces everything else.
It shuts down all those facades we put on life and it just brings you out. I love tapping into that spirit within myself and seeing it in others, as well.
Like my buddy Jacobs, who was the camera guy, he would run with me.
And one day he got into that space where he was struggling with IT band pain and shin splints. Because he had never run before, and he was running almost a half marathon a day for a couple of days.
And he got into that space where he just was suffering. You could see him hurting, but he pushed through, he rose above it and fought through.
I actually told the camera guys, “Film him. I’m going to move to the side.”
We put a mic on him so he could kind of narrate what he was going through. And he got so emotional he started tearing up.
And the power of that moment and witnessing that in him. I to had my own moments like that as well, when I had this intense pain in my shin and I just tapped into something within myself.
Those five miles I ran with the pain in the shin was the fastest five miles I ran in the entire trip.
So when you tap into that space, there’s something so pure, you are just completely one with yourself, one with the land.
And there’s a true alignment and oneness of all that is.
Finding Your Worthy Struggle
Abel: Along those lines, you wrote in your book, “GDP increased more than 50% in the past 30 years, and happiness decreased around 5%.”
What’s that about? More money, more choices, more progress, as they say. All sorts of more.
We have more of everything, right? But what’s the matter? Why aren’t we as happy?
This is the biggest beef I have with the way we are as human beings. We seem to seek out our evolution and progress by making our lives easier.
We are not making our lives better. We are seeking the easiest way to things. Easier is not better.
Even in exercise, obviously you know this, but there’s so many things out there about the fastest way to get the result.
You can walk 14 minutes a day and you’ll look like the supermodel physique. You know that it takes a lot more than that. I train like a beast, and it takes a lot to get to that.
And so what that point is missing, is that it’s not the result that matters, it’s the person we become on the journey.
That’s why we see people who win the lottery lose their money rapidly, and it doesn’t improve the quality of their lives or make things easier. Because it’s not just the end result, it’s the struggle.
It’s the person we become in the struggle to achieve that end result that really matters.
But we live in a world that’s constantly trying to push making our lives easier and easier and easier, and then we have the paradox of choice, right?
This is again why I love long distance running, it’s simple. You have one purpose, one target.
To me, I had no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run across Liberia. The only doubt that I had was the degree of suffering I would endure in order to finish that run.
I call it finding your worthy struggle. You mentioned my book, and what Fearvana is all about is finding that worthy struggle. What is your path?
I don’t like the term follow your passion. Nothing wrong with passion. It’s good to have passion for your path, but it often conveys the idea that life will be filled with sunshine and rainbows, it’ll be magical and easy.
I hear this all the time with kids I interact with. But it won’t, there will be a struggle and that’s not a bad thing.
The biggest flaw that we have in our collective well-being is our negative relationship to suffering.
As a whole, whether you call it fear, stress, anxiety, struggle, adversity. However you put it.
When we alter that relationship and build a positive relationship with that, not only can we handle life when it punches us in the face, but we can handle whatever challenge we’re seeking.
And it’s that growth that matters. The journey is the destination. It’s not just about getting to Monrovia, right?
In my run. It wasn’t just that I had moved 167 miles. If that was the goal, I could have driven it.
It was the person I became in the suffering of enduring that that mattered. And it’s the same thing for any of us in whatever path we’re seeking.
That’s why we’re seeing more challenges than ever before in terms of mental health, obesity, whatever it may be.
Because we’re trying to make our lives easier, and easier is not better.
Abel: I was thinking about this. We do have more choices, but the choices aren’t necessarily better, and they’re not the choices that we ourselves as humans might choose.
It’s more the choices that are set up for us by marketers, politicians, and people who want us to buy their products, usually.
We have more choices, but who turns on the television for example and is just like, “This channel is perfect. I wouldn’t add or take away anything. It’s just great the way it is.” You know what I mean?
Abel: If humans were to set up their own choices it would be a lot different. Which choices do you think would be different for you if we were setting up this world?
I love that you said that, that’s so true. I myself have to be relentlessly aware of this because we are so at the effect of the information that we’ve bombarded with in our subconscious.
There’s a great quote that I love from this book, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution where he says, “Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He’s a machine that when recognizing he is a machine, he can cease to be a machine.”
And the point of that is that we are machines that are purely operating from our subconscious.
That information is bombarding us about how to live, about what will make us happy from the world, from marketers, from politicians, about what to be afraid of, all of it.
And as a result, unless we exercise that self-awareness to rise above and recognize that this machine-like brain that we live in and this information that we’re being bombarded by, we’re trapped by it.
So another quote which I absolute love, I think this represents, is Carl Jung. He says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
So for me, it relates to the practice of noticing, “Is this a path that I choose? Is this a path that’s being implanted into me about what will make me happy?”
And relentlessly practicing this awareness about separating myself from my subconscious, my machine-like brain, and noticing, “Is this my path?”
And now I’ve figured this out. Now I’m so clear on my path, it brings me joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of moments of anxiety, of low moments that I battle with on a regular basis. And I’ve learned to embrace those moments and channel that. But now I’m very, very, clear of my path.
I don’t have cable TV. I’m very conscious about the subconscious messages that are entering my brain.
I’m not letting them affect me. And that way I’m directing myself where I want to go.
I surround myself with people that are on my path, whether it be fitness and entrepreneurship, which are my main two journeys. And I immerse myself in that.
And I’m always looking at patterns. For example, going to war in Iraq. Why was there a kind of peace in that war that I struggled with in the reality?
When I got back from the war, I struggled. I was diagnosed with PTSD, struggled with alcoholism, got to the brink of suicide.
What was it about war that I found peace in?
I started going, I call it going meta. So, like rising above the experience to notice the experience, to understand the experience, to look for patterns.
I’m always looking for patterns and experiences that resonate with that way I’m consciously making my own choices.
“Okay, this experience brought me this joy, and brought me this pain. What was it about that experience that led to these experiences, that led to these emotional states? How can I then replicate that in the future?”
And I’m always doing that. What’s the problem, what’s the gap?
I broke my sobriety a bunch of times. Same thing. What’s the problem? What’s the gap? Find the problem, fix the problem.
And there were obviously things that were working, so let me enhance on those things. And that’s all that I’m focused on.
That allows me to choose my own path as opposed to being like a machine and having that path be directed for me. Does that make sense?
Abel: Yeah. A lot of people are just like, “I’m waiting to choose my own path.”
We can get into the reasons why, but even once you do, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, like you said. And you don’t actually want it to be anyway. .
I’ve actually been reading this book I got at some thrift shop about ancient mythologies from the 40’s or something, at the same time that I read your book, Fearvana. Which was interesting because there are a lot of correlations.
I was reading about Norse mythology, and how about Valhalla, their version of heaven, is not supposed to be happy.
Basically, they all know that once they sit with the gods or they become gods or whatever, they’re going to be destroyed by some other prophecy that comes afterwards. And they find solace in that.
They find peace in that because they have purpose. So, I saw some correlations with what you’re teaching as well.
Love it. I love the Norse version of Valhalla, it fascinates me too.
I’ve read a little bit about that. And that’s exactly it. It’s not that we’re seeking easy, but easy will not make it worthwhile.
A rebirth happens when we learn to tap into that suffering and rise above it.
I think at least once a week we should be going into a space where we get into a battle between two versions of ourselves, the one self that wants to quit, and the other that wants to keep fighting.
And the more that self wins the battle, the more we continue to evolve and rise into the new awakenings.
I think new awakenings happen by pursuing a struggle, by seeking out suffering. It’s not something to be demonized.
And it takes some practice, of course, but the more we build a positive relationship with that, the more we’re able to handle life, whenever it hits us.
That’s why it’s not just seeking it out, but digging deep when it hits.
As I said, I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. I battled survivors guilt from when I came back from the war. So today, when it hits, what I often do is I’ll watch clips from war movies.
And knowing that they will make me cry, and they do, I tear up every single time.
But sometimes I’ll watch these clips because I dig deeper into the pain. Because by being so fully with the pain, it actually subsides. Because then now I’m no longer affected by the impact of it. I’ve become one with it.
And by unifying with that pain, I’m able to rise above that pain in service of the next mission at hand.
It’s something really beautiful to be able to become one with our pain, with our joy, with everything, with all of that, and really align entirely with the self.
Abel: You’re right, experience is so important because you start to realize what your body, what your mind, what your spirit, and your emotions go through before any challenge.
When you first go up on stage to perform or when you first go down that ski slope, fight or flight is a real thing.
You definitely feel that and you want to run away.
What people don’t necessarily realize though, is for example, just the other day I did a livestream, Improv With Abel. I’m doing this new show series where I’m just making stuff up on 15 – 20 different musical instruments. I’m reading poetry for the first time. Some of it will ruffle some feathers and all that.
This doesn’t happen to be that much more anymore because I perform and record so much, I record so much. And I’m just like, “I don’t want to do this, I should just not do this.” And that flight thing really came strong. And I’m just wanting to run away.
But I noticed it in a way that was different because I’ve gone through that so many times in my life at this point that I’m like, “Oh, wow, hello friend.”
And as you mentioned in your book, that doesn’t have to be something that you squish down and turn into nothing and take all that energy away.
Instead you can kind of hold the hand of that energy and walk toward a better performance, hopefully. Use that as excitement, right?
Absolutely. I love the way you put it. You said you’re kind of saying hello to it, you’re noticing it, and you’re not letting it overwhelm you.
Often what happens is we define ourselves by our emotions, by our states, by our experiences. We don’t realize there’s a space between our emotions and that conscious higher self. You know?
I know I quote a lot, but Victor Frankl, he wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, one of the greatest books of all times, and I think this quote summarizes what it takes to live a happy, meaningful, life.
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.”
So in that space, exactly what you’re saying, there’s the stimulus of fear.
And we don’t control it. Neuroscience, spirituality is shown we don’t control what first shows up in our brain.
So, if I’m standing on the edge of a cliff and I feel fear, or if I’m in a room and somebody comes in with a gun, it’s natural to feel fear.
It’s normal to feel that fear, but it’s that stimulus, and there’s a space between that.
Often we don’t recognize there is a space and we just react to our emotions, because we’re becoming one with it. We’re actually consciously becoming one with it in a sense of how we’re going to choose to engage it, it just overpowers us.
So when we do exactly what you’re saying, we notice it, we allow ourselves then to engage that energy.
Before I do a talk, if I’m not feeling fear, to me, there’s something wrong.
Because I’ve built up, at this point now, such a positive relationship with fear, that I’ll try to consciously make myself afraid. Thinking about the talk, thinking about the audience.
And then when that fear shows up, I know there’s a different kind of energy. Before I do interviews like this, I still sometimes feel a little bit of anxiety, and so I have a little trigger that I use to set in.
It allows me to tap into that space and then channel it into something meaningful in service of the greater good.
So, I love the way you put it as separating yourself from that emotion and then engaging it.
Abel: One thing that’s so fascinating, and I see this happen all the time at almost any place where someone is speaking publicly and there’s a question and answer session.
The person is up on stage and they’re talking, and then just regular people start coming up to the microphones in the audience, and they start talking and asking questions.
And occasionally you can hear a little bit of nerves in someone’s voice, but like 80-90% of the time people are eloquent. They are on the ball.
They know exactly what they’re doing, they’re passionate. They sound as good, maybe even better, than the speaker. You know what I mean?
So I think that’s just an example that I use to help show people that once you do engage that feeling and then go forward, and then you do ask that question instead of running back to your seat and not asking.
Then it gives you more and more confidence every time you do that.
And the next time maybe you would have the opportunity to go up on stage and be that big important person. You can remember back to when you spoke and asked a question on a microphone to that other person. That confidence snowballs over time.
Absolutely. As you keep engaging that fear, as you keep pushing the line, you build more confidence in who you are, that spirit within.
You do that by engaging fear. You can’t have courage without fear. So fear is not something to be demonized.
People will say, “Be fearless, don’t be scared of things.”
And then what happens is when people feel fear they think there’s something wrong with them for feeling fear.
I worked with this one guy who said, “I just need a wait for the fear to go away so I can quit my job and start my business.”
And I said, “That’s your problem, man, you’re waiting for the fear to go away.”
It is scary to quit a job and start a new business. And who cares when fear shows up?
I’m sitting here in New Jersey, comfortable home. Sometimes I still feel scared sitting alone in a house. And it’s weird because I’ve done a lot of dangerous things. I’ve been to war, I’ve climbed mountains.
But to me, I don’t care when it shows up, how it shows up. What matters is that it’s there. What am I going to do with it?
And so a big part of that is, “What is the clarity?” Something to move forward toward.
Often when I do these talks, people say things like, “I’m scared of cats. What do I do?”
I’m like, “Does it affect you? Do you care?”
And they’re like, “No, not really.”
Then who cares? You don’t need to engage every single fear.
Sometimes engaging a fear can help you increase your confidence, but you want to do that, again, consciously.
And then what is waiting for you on the other side of that fear?
So having clarity of that mission, clarity of purpose, gives you a reason, it gives you a fuel to channel into that fear.
Same thing running across Liberia, winging the Marines. In the Marines, one of my jobs was to walk out in front of our convoys and look for bombs before they could blow up our vehicles.
There was constant fear, but we had a mission. So we always knew what the target was, what were we moving towards.
In Liberia, I was terrified entering a new land. I had gone through a war recently, you read all kinds of things about it. So there was fear entering that world, but there was a mission to get from here to here.
And it was just about how much suffering there would be in order to get there.
But there was clarity of purpose, and that clarity is a big thing in terms of moving towards our fear, and finding out what’s on the other side of it.
Re-establishing Your Memories
Abel: I think often people over-perform, maybe as a result of all of that adrenaline or excitement or nervous energy.
A lot of times, I guess, if you get way too into your head then some things can go poorly. But almost every time, in my experience, the people around me over-perform, they do better than they ever thought possible.
But even if you don’t, you describe a really important psychological—I don’t want to call it a trick, but it’s more of a strategy—that you can do to help massage your memories into being nicer to you later.
So let’s talk about how you can, in the case of maybe that biggest embarrassment that people have in their minds of when they went up there and they failed, that thing might be holding them back.
Can you help explain how to re-establish those memories in your mind? Because memory isn’t even what we think it is.
Yeah, exactly. Memories are very malleable. We often think of a memory as if it’s like a video camera.
So, if I’m remembering this event, let’s say it was being embarrassed on a stage. What happens is we’re not actually remembering that event. We’re remembering the last time we remembered that event.
Every time we access a memory, you can think of it like opening this door. And the neuronal structure of that memory changes every time we access it.
And this is a really valuable thing to understand. This is actually the problem I discovered in my own healing with therapy.
Often what happens is, every time we go into this past pattern, like being embarrassed on stage, or in my case navigating some of my survivor’s guilt, you’re entering into this memory from a very disempowered space, from a negative space.
And all that’s doing is reinforcing the impact of that memory in a negative way. Because you’re rebuilding this neuronal structure of the memory every single time you access it.
So what you want to do is put yourself in a powerful state, you can either visualize something in the future, go exercise.
That’s one of my favorites, clearly. Get those endorphins going.
And then when you access that memory, you’re actually putting in those chemicals, like the dopamine endorphins, into this neuronal structure of the memory. And you can start to alter the content of that memory.
There’s a great researcher called Elizabeth Loftus who talks about how she can actually implant fake memories into people fairly easily and very effectively.
So, it’s a really valuable thing that our memories work like this, as opposed to say a video camera. Because it makes it malleable, it makes it something we can alter all the time.
Because the past only matters to the degree that it serves us now, and in the future.
And that’s why memories work like this. They can be altered to the degree to who we are now.
So if we have this past embarrassment and we engage it every single time from this disempowered space, we’re just kind of reinforcing the content and fueling the negativity of that memory.
But by changing it, by recognizing it, that awareness is the first step. By recognizing that it is malleable, we can then put ourselves in this state, go into this memory, and find new meanings to it. Create new meanings to it.
So, I’ll give you an example in terms of my survivor’s guilt.
Today I have a picture of my friend up on my wall and it says, “This should have been you. Earn this life.”
This is an emotion. This was a memory. This was a trigger that was hard for me, it drove me into some dark places. It drove me to alcoholism until I was on the brink of suicide.
But by learning all these things about memory, by engaging it differently, I realized that I could alter the meaning of it.
Because ultimately no experience has any inherent meaning. We create meanings to it and the meanings we create shape our destiny.
So, when we recognize memories work like this, we put ourselves in a powerful state. We go back into the past and we’re actually realizing that we’re going back into the last time we recognize that past.
So, the memory’s now being altered. We’re infusing the neural structure with that positivity, if you want to call it that. And then we create a new meaning to it from that space.
I’ve done this with some clients. I do this with myself all the time, and it has a lot of power.
You can recreate new meanings to your past and find empowering meanings that will then drive you forward.
But it’s always valuable to remember that the past only matters to the degree that it serves your present and your future. Otherwise who cares?
You do not need to engage it for years.
How does it affect you now? How can you change those meanings and then use it to drive you forward?
Abel: We remember caricatures of the past. We don’t remember, like you said, the events like they were recorded on a video tape.
If you have people watch exactly the same thing, 25% to 50% of them will explain it completely differently. Maybe they even saw different things. They might disagree about major things that happen, and that’s just the way that we’re wired.
We are imperfect beings, we don’t have perfect brains that see a perfect world. We literally create the world. That’s what the brain does. It gives us an approximation. And with memories, it’s even worse.
One of the things that also happens when you remember things over and over again, is we exaggerate them. We turn them into these these caricatures.
And so a really interesting thing happened. My parents moved and I got all these old camcorder tapes and I started digitizing them.
And I saw some of the plays that I was in when I was like 15, and some of the people who I hadn’t seen since I graduated from high school.
And in the same way, it didn’t exactly match up with my memories. The stories that I’d been telling myself for 15+ years or whatever don’t match up with what I can literally see on that video tape.
So it’s been a process that I found very healing and valuable to go through some of that old stuff.
And give my younger self credit, and start to integrate, I guess, your inner child with the understanding that, hopefully, you’ve been able to get through experiences over the course of your life.
Integrating those things hopefully makes you a stronger person.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if the memories are accurate. It matters who are you. Who do you feel like, who do you want to be?
And I can say that going through some of that stuff from the past, even the painful stuff, maybe especially the painful stuff.
It’s like, “Wow, if I’ve been through that, why am I worried about traffic right now? Or why am I worried about hateful comments on social media that my 15-year-old self wouldn’t have cared about it?”
Abel: It’s like time traveling to change your past. A lot of people might see that as a dangerous thing to kind of revisit these past horrors or whatever.
But actually, they’re there anyway and you kind of need to go through it and integrate from time to time.
Yeah. Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
So it’s invaluable to integrate it. And it is sometimes scary to think that if all our memories are lies and we’re just manufacturing it, then isn’t everything kind of a lie?
But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that means we can just create our memories as we choose them once we engage unconsciously.
And like you said, in terms of your own experience about looking at your past. They did the study that I mention about 9/11. How right after 9/11 they interviewed people, then a year later, three years later, five years later. And their memory of the day had radically changed.
Sometimes it was small things, sometimes it was huge differences about where they were when it happened.
And it’s not like they’re lying, they firmly believed it. Their memory had been completely altered about their experience.
So, it was this thing about how we can transform ourselves, especially when it’s something emotionally intense.
Because emotionally intense memories leave a deeper scar, if you will, or sometimes just a deeper imprint where it’s not even a scar. But an imprint in the memory.
So, when you attach emotion to information, to memory, it leaves a deeper imprint.
And especially those memories that are challenging for us, whether it be traumatic or even the positive ones, the ones that make us feel good. They leave a deeper imprint in the memory.
And so, when you engage that, you can allow yourself to recognize that, and it also allows you to then create memories. Because you can say, “Okay, if I attach emotion to this experience, I can create a deeper memory.”
So it allows you to consciously engage your long-term memory by attaching emotion into it.
Navigating those emotionally intense experiences is invaluable because it’ll allow you to direct them, as opposed to it directing you.
Which, like I said, for me, it did for a long time until I became really conscious of some of these barriers that were trapping me into some very dark spaces.
Abel: There was another really helpful exercise that I saw in your book that I actually used yesterday during my monster lifts, my strength workout.
Running marathons or doing a big workout, a lot of people try to visualize being all covered in sweat and happy at the end. And I do that and it can help.
But what’s even more helpful is what you bring up. In the middle of whatever the hardest thing is, whatever that challenge is, is imagining yourself suffering, going through the hardest part, and persevering.
And I remember, I think it was mile 16 of one of the marathons I was running, my right leg just stopped working. You know, it started getting spasms and I started to hobble. And the road kill is looking delicious because I’m so hungry.
And that’s what I think back to in the times when I question myself, “Am I able to keep going and keep doing this?”
It’s not when I cross the finish line. I barely remember that at all, I was probably delirious. It’s the middle. It’s that struggle. That’s when you decide to keep going.
I’m thinking back to a marathon I ran in Austin. This was mile 14 or something, which made it even harder. People were holding up billboards that said, “Free Margaritas For Quitters.”
And no matter what your challenge is, no matter what your journey is, you’re going to keep getting that negative stuff the whole way. Right?
Tell us a little bit more about how we can go through that experience of visualizing the hardest part.
Why You Should Visualize the Hardest Part
Yea, that’s been a game changer for me too.
We live in the world where positive thinking and the law of attraction, which there’s elements I agree with, but it says visualize the end result. Visualize yourself happy in that dream house with the million dollars, whatever it may be. Or crossing the finish line.
And again, that has its value in its own way, but I’ve found, and research validates this as well, I mentioned the study in the book, that it’s far more valuable to visualize the struggle, to visualize the process, as opposed to the result.
That process is what’s going to get you the result and that process is going to be the hard part.
And so, if you immerse yourself in it. Like Michael Phelps for example, he didn’t used to visualize himself on the podium, he used to visualize himself swimming.
And when his goggles got flooded in the Olympics, it didn’t phase him for a second because in his mind he had already gone through that.
What our mind perceives as real that intensely is not that different than when we’re actually doing it.
They’ve shown they have these mirror neurons where if I’m watching you throw a ball it can actually activate my own brain as if I’m throwing it, but it’s myself.
So, when we visualize something intensely, we can activate the same mental patterns.
Michael Phelps wasn’t phased one bit, and he ultimately ended up winning gold. And I think he actually broke the record on that swim. Which is insane, right? Because his goggles got flooded.
So, I do that with my runs all the time.
I’ll visualize myself. Because I know every time I do a long run, I’m going to hit a low moment. It’s just inevitable. It’s going to come.
But preparing for it, visualizing it, understanding it, engaging it, allows you to better prepare yourself for the fight that’s inevitably going to come.
It doesn’t have to be just through exercise. I do this in my business when it comes to challenging goals.
What is going to be the one big challenge standing in your way?
Immerse yourself in that challenge, visualize yourself accomplishing it.
Like when I skied across Greenland. I spent a month dragging 190 pound sled for 350 miles across Greenland. I used to visualize myself pulling that sled in storms in -40 degrees. I’d visualize that all the time. As opposed to visualizing myself on the other end of the ice cap.
And so mentally, I’m ready for the fight because the fight is what’s going to get me there.
The end result is just the end result, as you said, you cross the finish line. Great.
But what matters is that 26.2 miles or whatever it may be in the case running a marathon, it’s each step of that mile.
And when you navigate yourself, navigate that fight in your mind, you’ll be far more prepared for the battle when it actually shows up. And it will show up.
How to Kick Addiction
Abel: You mention, as well, how it relates to alcoholism. Imagining what you’ll do, what reaction you’ll have when you have a craving like that.
You talk about so many different, important, things throughout the book. Could you help, whether it’s someone struggling with alcohol, sugary food, or anything else, how do you work through that?
Yeah, so whatever the challenge may be, as I said, the number one skill to develop is a positive relationship to suffering.
So, when it comes to behavior change, I’ve studied habits a lot, saying “There’s an easy way to do it.” I think that’s very destructive because again, it conveys the idea that it will be easy, but it won’t.
Essentially behavior change is, to summarize it in one sentence: You engage consciousness, engage awareness, to build a new pattern until it becomes subconscious, and then you’ll find a new pattern in order to re-create it.
So you engage the will, you have to be conscious about changing this behavior pattern until that behavior pattern then becomes subconscious, becomes a habit.
And then you constantly go on this journey to keep evolving.
So one part of it, for example, if I’m trying to quit sugary foods or trying to quit alcohol, I’m not going to put bottles of alcohol in my house. Or for sugar, don’t buy sugary foods and put it in your fridge.
So, without a doubt, setting up environmental triggers is invaluable.
And then you’ll start looking at, what are my behavior patterns?
When I got sober, I started noticing what triggers led me to drinking, which areas had drinking.
All behavior is essentially three things. There’s a cue, a routine, and a reward.
So, you’re trying to understand what is the trigger, the routine would be in this case drinking, and what was the reward?
The reward could be different. Sometimes it could be stress relief, sometimes it could be relaxation, sometimes it could be joy. Maybe I’m hanging out with friends.
So you’re trying to understand what are the triggers, what are the rewards.
And once you gain that awareness on it, then you can visualize yourself.
I used to visualize myself in all the areas that I knew would trigger drinking and visualize myself sober.
Practicing in my mind, what would it be like to be sober? Why did I want to drink in this scenario?
How can I be sober in this scenario or not feel the need? How can I still feel joy in that scenario?
And then inevitably you’ve got to engage that struggle because there will be moments where you want to quit.
That’s why you want to engage that battle between those two parts of yourself and learn how to rise above your feelings.
That’s why, again, exercise is one of my favorite ways.
Neuroscience has also shown that exercise is the best thing you could do for your brain.
One neuroscientist calls it miracle grow for the brain. Another, I think I heard them on your podcast, about how exercise if they could put exercise into a pill, it’s the best pill you could ever take to solve depression.
And beyond all the things that it neurologically does for your brain, what exercise does for the spirit, it teaches you to rise above your feelings.
Talking about when you hit that low moment when you run, if you rise above that moment, you’ve now tapped into a new space. You’ve evolved into a higher self.
And that will teach you to navigate those moments where you’re going to feel like quitting in whatever path you pursue.
So developing that positive relationship to struggle, learning to embrace the struggle, whatever the context of struggle may be, is a matter of practice.
And then of course there’s little things I talked about like visualizing, isolating yourself from the struggle so you can understand it.
But ultimately, the greatest lessons are in the doing.
So you could listen to you, you could listen to me, you could listen to a million podcasts, that could be a spark, but the greatest lesson is going to be in the doing.
And in the doing of that struggle you will tap into a space and something you have within yourself, because everybody has it. Everybody has that power within ourselves.
We have to discover it by engaging the struggle, by engaging the suffering. And through that we will discover our ability to keep rising above it.
And that builds confidence, that gives you fuel to keep stepping into action, to keep following through on your next commitment.
But ultimately the fundamentals are in developing that positive relationship to suffering.
Pushing Your Limits and Injury Prevention
Abel: Anyone who’s run a marathon or done some sort of insane physical challenge, like childbirth I would imagine, has come up to this point.
Where it’s just like, “I’m not capable of doing this.” Or, “Here’s my line.” Right?
Then you just have to blow past it and you’re like, “Wow I can keep going past that line?”
So my question is, once you realize that you’re capable of much more than you may of thought before, how do you make sure you don’t blow your knee out?
How do you make sure you don’t cause permanent damage when you’re either engaging with the pain?
How do you manage that? How do you make sure you’re not causing permanent damage, whether it’s physical or mental?
Great point. So this ties back into that find the problem, fix the problem. You want to go specific.
I read this great book, Peak: The Science of Expertise, and there’s also another book called “Relentless” where the guy who’s worked with peak performing athletes.
And what they do is they’ll break down the one key thing. So, let’s say I’m playing golf, one key thing would be hitting the ball out of the sand pit, right?
So, you’re not navigating the 20 different things or 100 different things that are in a business or in running or whatever. In any pursuit, there’s 100 different little pieces to navigate.
So you want to break down one thing at a time. What is the key issue there? What’s the challenge there? What’s the problem there?
And then you’re addressing those things one step at time. So there’s obviously a fine line between navigating the suffering or, “I’m hurting”, versus there’s an injury. In the context of running, to your point.
You learn that again through awareness, through practice, through developing a better sense of your body, mind, and spirit. That only comes through practice.
But you also then start figuring out what the gap is here. So that’s what I’ve done now.
And now with my running, I went through 20 different pairs of shoes, for example, to figure out what the right shoe for me to run in is.
I’ve recently become sponsored by Hammer Nutrition, they’re one of the best companies for endurance athletes in terms of nutrition and supplements. So they have transformed my running.
So figure out, “Okay, what is the right stuff I’m putting in the body? What’s the wrong stuff?” And you track all this.
Tracking is a game changer. You want to track everything, whatever goal you’re working on, business, fitness, anything. Track it.
So okay, if I eat this, this is how it affected me when I went running. I ran this time, how did I feel?
So I log my runs usually on a scale of 0-10 in terms of fun and difficulty. You can have fun and it can be difficult at the same time.
But tracking it allows you to understand what is the gap, what’s the specific problem? And address one problem at a time.
So the same thing in business. I was just emailing somebody yesterday, they were reaching out to me. Maybe you’re not getting enough leads. Or maybe you are getting enough leads and you’re not converting.
So maybe the problem is in conversions. Or maybe you’re converting with people that are re-funding, so maybe the problem is in your delivery.
So you’re understanding where is the specific gap and then you’re addressing one gap at a time in order to keep evolving.
But one thing to recognize when you’re doing this is that progress is not the elimination of problems.
Progress is the creation of new problems. You’re never looking for the end of problems because there will really be no end.
We see people who seemingly have everything, but they’re still struggling. There won’t be an end.
And again, that’s not a bad thing, because it’s only through a new problem that you’ll find a new evolution.
If you’re static and comfortable, you’re never going to grow into a higher self, whether it be spiritually, physically, financially, in any way.
So you’re looking for the next problem and you want to keep that in mind so you’re not really saying that, “Oh, eventually the problems will stop.”
Because that sets you up for kind of a failure, and misery really more than failure. It sets you up for a lifetime of misery if you’re expecting that to one day end.
But if you set in from the expectations that there’s going to be new problems, “Great, now let me navigate one step at a time, one problem at a time, and once I solve this one, I’ll find the next one.” And so on and so forth.
And the process is really as simple as breaking it down. And if you don’t know how to do it, find somebody who’s doing it and learn from them.
There’s obviously enough information, we’ve talked about that. Or get their course, listen to their podcast, whatever it may be.
Find somebody who’s done it. That’s what I did.
I have worked with an ultra coach for my running. Learn what is the gap, how do I improve my training, how do I run better, how do I run faster in a shorter time frame?
How do I put the right things in my body? I had a nutritionist help me do that.
So, finding out from people who know more than you do in whatever area it may be, and then fixing that one problem in order to evolve to the next one.
Where to Find Akshay Nanavati
Abel: I love that. I can’t believe it, but we’re almost out of time. Before we go I want to make sure that people can find you and also are aware of all the stuff that you’re working on.
So, tell us a little bit more about your book, and all the other cool stuff that’s happening in your life.
Yeah. With Fearvana, what I’m doing right now is building this concept of Fearvana into a global movement through a series of products and services to ultimately help people develop a positive relationship to suffering, and then find, live, and love their worthy struggle.
So, those three areas of the world of Fearvana. Because then that’s really what life is.
If you find your path, you live your path, and you love that path, that’s a path to a happy meaningful life. Again, I call it your worthy struggle.
So helping people find, live, and love your worthy struggle in order to live a life of boundless bliss, as I call it.
So, I’m creating a Fearvana Academy, Fearvana Fitness, Fearvana festivals, Fearvana retreats.
I have a non-profit called the Fearvana Foundation, and I’m building a whole ecosystem around that which is the next phase.
It terrifies me because I have no idea how to build such a monumental business empire that I have the vision for.
Abel: That’s how you know you have to do it.
Exactly. It’s my worthy struggle.
100% of the profits from the book are going to the foundation into charity. And right now for the charity, we have been continuing to support building a school in Liberia. It’s the first sustainable vocational training school in Liberia.
I used my run to raise funds, as well. But we’ve supported other charities throughout the world and are continuing to evolve that. And really building out this movement to help people transform their relationship to suffering.
Because I firmly believe this is the greatest barrier that’s standing in the way of our well-being, and if we navigate that we can collectively live a better life.
Abel: Your work is so important right now with everyone on their phones, feeling comfortable in a time when things are quite uncomfortable, if you really look at reality.
We need to take a little bit more responsibility ourselves, I think, to elevate our consciousness. To become a little bit more resilient and self-reliant.
And your book and your work is definitely doing that. So thank you so much.
Thank you, brother.
Abel: Love to have you back on the show when you’re running through some other country. Hopefully close to us sometime out here in the Rockies.
Absolutely, and thanks again for having me on the show. It was a real honor.
Before You Go…
Here’s a review that came in from Sally. She says:
I’m a regular listener of Abel’s podcast and I love it.
I bought The Wild Diet based on the fact that I love the podcast and I’m glad I did. This book is one of the best in the paleo realm of literature, I am sharing it with everyone I know. – Sally.
Sally, thank you so much for sharing it with everyone you know, that’s a dream come true.
If you’re looking for a health book worth sharing with some tasty recipes in it as well, check out The Wild Diet for sure. And thank you for all your support.
I know a lot of you have already gotten the book and read it and shared it with friends, left reviews and that sort of thing, and I just can’t thank you enough. Because that’s how we do what we do and that’s how we keep doing what we do.
So, many more shows to come and much more fun to come and maybe some more books to come, as well. I accidentally wrote a book of poetry that I’ll be releasing soon.
Now, how about you? Have you had any luck with eating the wild way, living the wild way or have you started exercising again?
Are you back to your high school weight? Have you cleared up health problems?
Let me know, just shoot me an email. Best way to do it is go to sign up for my email list, then reply to the email that I send to you with a bunch of goodies.
Also let me know what you would like to learn more about so that I can invite your favorite people on to this show, because at some point you run out of people to talk to. So, definitely don’t be shy, get in touch.
Now, you may have heard that for the past year and change I’ve been secretly recording over four hundred 360 Virtual Reality (VR) music videos. Some of them are music videos, a lot of them are adventures.
We’ve been sharing nature hikes that you can watch and explore in 360 VR, whether you’re on your phone, computer or using those goofy 3D virtual reality goggles.
I’ll be posting a brand new 360 virtual reality video every single day for a year, probably even longer than that. Go check that out at abeljames.com.
And if you’d like to support this free show and all of our music videos and free virtual tours, head on over to wildsuperfoods.com to get your own health-boosting goodies.
We started up our own venture to be our own sponsor, to keep our message pure for you folks and preserve truth on this show. So, if you’d like to support us, there are various ways, but checking out Wild Superfoods is definitely one of them and we hope you like it.
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