Dr. Neil Fiore – Awaken Your Strongest Self
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Jonathan: Hey everyone! This is Jonathan Bailor, back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Everything that we know here is about a way more than slimness, about living better. It’s about maximizing our potential and doing that with science ‘cause science has a lot of good stuff to offer.
Today’s guest is no stranger to that approach. He’s been doing that for a really, really long time. Also, he’s done some really cool work in the field, in the psychological realm, published many, many books. Two of which we’re probably most familiar with are ‘Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict and Self-Sabotage’ as well as ‘The Now Have It: A Strategic Program of Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt Free Play.’
He is a license psychologist, trainer and has a bunch of work all over the world. We’re talking Smithsonian Institute, Stanford University. He’s got things published in psychology. Today, the New England Journal of Medicine, all kinds of good stuff and he keeps it light so I like that. Dr. Neil Fiore, welcome to the show.
Neil: Thank you very much, Jonathan. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jonathan: Neil, for the listeners who are not familiar with your work and your mission, can you tell us a bit about that?
Neil: My mission is to make people less afraid of life and to fully experience their inner talents and to be able to express them and feel more fulfilled in life. I’ve worked in my coaching and in my webinars with people who are talented and many are very successful but they feel stuck, they are not living a full life. I want to lessen people’s fears, lessen people’s stress and have them feel more fulfilled in their life but also, just using more of their brain cells, more of their right brain and left brain working together.
Jonathan: Neil, what I like about your work is you contribute in an academic capacity to field which has a lot of, let’s say, less than academic gurus out there. What can we do? I know all of us want’s to live better. We want to avoid self-sabotage. How do we delineate the approaches that were rooted in science from the approaches that are rooted in something else?
Neil: Well, that is a rough question. A lot of it is gonna have to be from your own gut feeling about things and it does take a little bit of homework. These days you can get on Google and you can check something’s out. You can also go to NIH, the National Institute of Health. You can check things out pretty quickly. I just would be really careful about spending a lot of money buying supplements and so on, before coordinating things, checking things out.
A lot of what we do really has to be up to us and that’s the hard part. Instead of taking something that is external, what I called ‘looking in an external fixed or an internal issue,’ we really want to make yourself safe with you. You want to act from your prefrontal cortex, that’s your human forehead, your human brain, and override your stress response, override your fear and really make yourself safe with you.
When I hear people talking about stress, my job is stressful, of course the environment is stressful, life is stressful we get so much in the media about what’s negative, it’s creating a lot of fear. Yet, the largest stressor is you, what you are saying to yourself. For example, I have coaching clients, when I asked them, “What will happen if in fact you lose that account or that job or what happens when you don’t get what you want?” and typically, they’ll say, “I’ll make yourself miserable.” There you have it, you’re threatening yourself.
If you would ask me one thing that someone could do today and that’s to create a contract with yourself, it says regardless of what will happen today, I will not beat you up. Regardless of what happens today, I am choosing my attitude. Regardless of what other people think, I’m on your side. Regardless of my scores, my success, my failure, your worth is safe with me. It’s a dialogue because you are operating from your higher brain. That’s what ‘Awakens Your Strongest Self’ is about. It’s operating from your human brain located typically in your forehead. The human brain is the last thing on the planet as a place of choice, the ability to choose how you will behave rather than react.
Jonathan: Neil, so much of what you said resonates with me on a personal level. I know that there’s research that suggest that people have a bit of a baseline level of happiness, meaning that if they get in a car accident, they lose their legs, over time they tend to go back to just the standard rule of happiness. If they win the lottery, it doesn’t matter. They could go back to this baseline level of happiness.
There’s something similar just for stress because this is totally anecdotal observational but it seems like there are individuals who are in it, in like objectively stressful situations. They’re incredible stressful at all. They have a lot going on, huge demands. Other people lives are on the line and they are less stressed than an individual that has nothing going on and invent stress. There’s stressed out about what’s going on a reality television which is not something to be stressed about but they get stressed. Do we have a base line or a set point level of stress?
Neil: I don’t believe that, no. No, because I know that people can learn to shed off the stress response in ten to thirty seconds by doing a different exercises but primarily, what you’re doing in addition to breathing and exhaling, because every time you exhale consciously, you are shifting to the parasympathetic peaceful response instead of the sympathetic stress response part of your nervous system.
When you sigh, you’re exhaling and basically stopping your ego, stressing your consciously controlled muscles, and you’re allowing the rest of you to take over and work for you and you are floating down into the chair, floating down into the bed at night and you are getting your ego out of the way. The way I do it in my workshops and webinars is I asked people to take their left hand and hold it out at shoulder height and imagine that you are holding a briefcase or a book all week long. That part of you is going to get tired and yet that represents part of you over your left ear, that is a bounded sense of identity.
There’s a very small part that operates as if alone but when you bring that part in and you connect that with chi or your core center of your body, you connect it with your right brain. You connect it with the chair, the floor, the earth. That part of you relaxes but otherwise it’s out there as if operating alone and that’s what we do and that’s what I say in ‘Awaking Your Strongest Self’ is most of the problems come from operating as if we are separated ego identity and most of our solutions come from a connecting to a largest sense of self.
Jonathan: So, the topic, if I understand it correctly, Dr. Fiore, that we have an amazing amount of control over how we feel about some things like how tall we are may have a very strong genetic component, our state right now and long term emotionally. Something we have a massive amount of control over that.
Neil: Yes. It has to do with the issue and the ability to choose. An animal reacts. An animal has a fear or a need and reacts. A human has the same fears, the same needs and chooses how to act in a way that is consistent and congruent with her higher values and goals.
So I choose to be less stress today. That means, I am saying to my body and to myself, “Your worth is safe with me. I’m not going out there allowing anyone to live out your way as a person.” You can give me feedback about my work, or about my book. I will take the feedback and I’ll make my work better, but I will not accept criticism of me as an individual. My worth is not up for evaluation.
When you have that kind of contract with yourself and Viktor Frankl says it beautifully when he says, “When everything is taken away the last human freedom is the freedom to choose your attitude, to choose how you would treat yourself.” It is an issue of choice and if you had a functional MRI, if your brain were on an MRI machine taking motion pictures of your brain, your forehead would light up whenever you choose because then you’re using your human brain; you’re not just reacting.
In California we talk about an earthquake. In other places we talk about hurricanes. If that external stressor were take in place now all healthy people would have stress response which is a survival response. Your palms get sweaty because the blood rushes from your hands towards your heart and your muscles. You tighten your muscles. You shut off digestion and if the building doesn’t start to fall down in the first few seconds, you shift from your lower fight-flight brain and your adrenal glands to your human forehead and your ability to make decision that it’s not a 10.0 earthquakes or hurricane. It’s not an eight. It’s not even a six. We are not going to die. It is safe to exhale. It is safe to sit still and you calculated as perhaps 2.5, maybe just a truck rumbling the windows but it’s safe to sit still. It’s safe to exhale. That communication in one breath, in 5, 10 seconds, perhaps 30 seconds, you can shut off the stress hormones.
Jonathan: Neil, it’s very exciting. What has been your experience with, obviously you’ve got a huge power to choose with this massive mode of control. We can make meaningful, demonstrable change that in a matter of seconds. Are there situations or substances, I’m thinking of an addict. Someone who is addicted to heroin – and you’ll see what I’m going here in a section of heroine, what is he talking about? You just described this sort of zen/ying state. Seems like it requires a little bit of pre-work.
For example, telling a heroin addict, “Just take a deep breath.” It’s like there’s something else going on their brain for them to crave heroine. The reason that I mention this is that it seems that there’s a lot of things in our modern culture which may, not as much as heroin, but certainly like this opioid stimulating sweeteners and blah, blah, blah, that may, let’s say, complicate some of this like our ability to choose. Have you seen any of that or are there any tips regarding that?
Neil: There’s an act of humility which means I need to understand that my brain has morphine receptors and that it would be, like a child walking into a candy store. It is going to be easily addicted to heroin, to morphine, to nicotine, to sugars, to fat. I need to be protective of my body and my child and my mind. I do not allow a child to eat poison even if she says, “But it’s sweet and I really want it.” I keep the child out of that store, first off. In all humility, I don’t bring a gallon of ice cream home. On occasion I will fool myself and bring a bag of chocolate cookies home and find out once again that I have no control.
The choice point, for example, if I am writing a book then my remote control to my television is locked away in my office. It’s not in my home because I know if I turn it on I will stay up too late; I’ll watch something. I will lose a couple of hours of sleep but also a couple of hours of work. That was an act of humility but it’s also you being in a protective role. This, again, empowers your strongest self to protect the child from eating poison, protecting the child from going into that heroine neighborhood and you are empowered to protect your body but there’s an act of humility. You’re not testing yourself all the time by going to a party where there is all of these desserts. You are staying away ahead of time and there is the active choices there.
We are vulnerable to addiction, especially if that left arm is out there all day long. It gets tired and it says, “I don’t know how to do this. Life is stressful,” and you need to stay from your higher self, “Yes, I know. I accept you in myself, in my body, in my brain as human. Come and join the rest of the body, the rest of the core. I’m standing tall. I’m protecting you. I’m not giving you that poison even if you say you want it.” That ‘want’ and ‘has to’ is the procrastination issue that I mentioned in ‘The Now Habit’ and ‘The Now Habit at Work’ and that is when people are procrastinating, they’re splitting themselves to two parts. You have to but I don’t want to. As you say to a teenager, “You have to,” you automatically get rebellion and resistance. Also, your own brain is saying to your brain, “I’m ambivalent about this. I don’t want to do this and therefore I’m not going do it.”
There’s a third place. There’s a choice. You don’t want to have a root canal surgery or chemotherapy but you can choose it. You can also choose exercise. You can choose to buy more vegetables. You can choose to do something ahead Of time that makes it easier for you to have available healthy foods. I keep a plate of fruit on my table because that offers me that healthy choice. There are things that you can do ahead of time coming from a place of humility. Humility, humus, and human are all the same root. We are part of the earth, part of the humus.
I’m not going around saying, I’m God and I’m in control of everything but I am operating my choice muscle and the more you use it, the more you operate from choice the more the other aspect of you quiet down because you are showing up as a leader and your life and saying, “I am finally taking charge of my life. I am choosing to live according to these values and this particular mission and this future goal.”
Jonathan: I love it. I think that is a wonderful approach. We’ve got obviously choice, from what I understand, we’re being proactive. We really understand the responsibility is on us but that also doesn’t mean that we actively put ourselves in situations where we’ll have to brute force; like just don’t have the stuff in the house. Step B, make a choice beforehand to make the choice in the moment even easier. Is that about right?
Neil: Yeah. That’s why I want to have fruit and vegetables in my refrigerator, not a gallon of ice cream. That’s right.
Jonathan: I love it, Neil. You’ve been doing this for a long time. Folks, if you are not familiar with Neil’s work, he has been doing this for quite some time and helping people around the world.
Neil: For about 30 years.
Jonathan: In a good way, in a good way. You can learn much more about him and his awesome CV over it, Neilfiore.com and it’s spelled as F-I-O-R-E. Neil, what’s next for you in this journey?
Neil: I’m doing webinars on effective goal setting and that’s kind of what we’re talking about today. How to get all aspects of yourself to gather, integrating all parts of you around your higher vision and mission, effective goal setting, time management, life management, living a fuller life.
Jonathan: Neil, I love it! It sounds much more integrity based approached rather than it’s being this tip or this trick. You’re looking really for an integrated long-term approach.
Neil: Yes. I want people to have tools at their fingertips that they can bring from the back of their minds to the front of their minds on the spot. A lot of these materials are on my website and on my blog under the free articles and they are available to anyone at Neilfiore.com.
Jonathan: Love it. Folks, today’s awesome guest is Dr. Neil Fiore. He is the author of many, many books. The two of which you are most familiar with and if you’re not, you would likely be best serve checking out is ‘The Now Habit’ and ‘Awaken Your Strongest Self.’ Dr. Fiore, thank you so much for joining us today.
Neil: Thank you Jonathan.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did and please remember, this week and every week after – eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Chat with you soon.