I first met behavioural mindset expert John Assaraf around ten years ago when I cornered him at one of his events in Australia. I'd read his New York Times bestseller The Answer, and was intrigued by the mind behind it.
We had lunch, and I loved how open and curious John was. Super successful, he's built five multi-million dollar companies, is the founder of NeuroGym and has sat next to Ellen DeGeneres on the set of her TV show. We brainstormed about a ton of things and we parted that day as friends. Since then, we've worked together in the US and have stayed in touch, so as COVID and lockdown rolled into their seventh month he was on my mind because I knew he'd have a smart, informed take on the world.
And of course he did, when he joined me on #Perspectives podcast 'The question that will change your life'.
We spoke for over an hour, in a conversation that ranged from both losing a parent during the pandemic—John's mum died in May at age 87 of coronavirus and my dad passed away in September three days after Father's Day—to business strategies, procrastination, neural networks and authenticity.
Generosity also came up, because it's something we both value. “I seek to be a go getter but also a go giver," says John. "I’ve discovered I can’t out-give the universe.”
The great thing I always find about talking to John is how he's not just smart and measured, he's informed. It was natural to spend a lot of time discussing the human brain: his passion is "the neuroscience and neuropsychology of stuff" and that's the prism through which he looks at everything.
We talked our ability to deliberately manipulate our brains to evolve faster than normal, and procrastination. For John, putting things off is an effect of one of three causes: an arousal mechanism in the brain of about one per cent of the population, self image, self worth and self esteem, and fear.
“So we have all these unconscious patterns that are activating the brakes of our lives and that’s what causes procrastination. So if you work on understanding which one or two or possibly three you are, then you focus on the cause then eliminate it.”
He says you can use affirmations and declarations, and mental contrasting techniques to retrain your brain. If you tell yourself something like, 'That was the old me, this is the new me', 100 times over the next 100 days it is possible to “activate neural networks” in the brain.
“You're building a brand new neural network that overrides the old network, possibly, that is actually how we do it," he says, comparing it to an actor who learns a script by practicing over and over.
“What are the tools, techniques and processes you are using right now to become the person that’s capable of achieving his or her goals? Most people have the goal but they don’t have the process by which they become that goal and create that unification between their head, their heart, their gut and their behaviours.”
When I asked John—who has two sons aged 25 and 23 and in September celebrated 15 years of marriage to wife Maria—how much mental rehearsals have played in what he has created, he pulled out his Exceptional Life blueprint and says he refers to its 43 pages of pictures, prayers, goals, visions every day. He also has it on his phone.
“People ask, ‘Why do you do it? You’ve already achieved so much success'," John says.
"It’s because I’ve achieved so much success that I want to maintain it. If you get into really great shape physically as soon as you stop you get out of shape. Why would I want to take neural muscles that are strong and weaken them?
"Why would I want to stop doing the things that work?”
As for the question that changed his life, John told a great personal story about being a 19 year old high school dropout in Canada who was in trouble with the law, was dabbling in drug use and drug dealing, and had a narrow vision for the future.
His brother set up a lunch with a real estate developer called Alan Brown, who asked John his vision and goals for life. The reply? “I want to get a job, get my own apartment, I’d love to buy my own car.”
Then he was asked at what age he wanted to retire and how much net worth he wanted. “I said I want to retire at age 45, I want a net worth of three million dollars. I want to travel the world, I want a Mercedes Benz, I want to retire my parents.” (He was inspired by TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous.)
As John tells it, Mr Brown asked one question: “'Are you interested in achieving these goals or are you committed?’ And I said, ‘What’s the difference?’
"And he said, ‘If you are interested you will do what’s easy and convenient and if you are committed you have to upgrade your knowledge and skills, you have to have beliefs that match the goals you have, you have to create habits to achieve those goals.’
"And that was the beginning of my career as a real estate agent and someone who built an 85 office, 1200-person real estate company over the next ten years doing four and a half billion a year in sales.
"One question, one answer, one lunch, one decision.”
John has been on Larry King’s TV show eight times and has also returned the favour. He once asked Larry what makes him so good at what he does: “He said two things that were really interesting. Number one, I ask the questions the audience wants me to ask because that’s what they’re thinking about. Two, I am just insatiably curious and I just want to know stuff and have a full idea of the things that are of interest to me.”
Like the US TV host, John has a knack of drilling down to know what people want and how to give it to them. On 'The question that could change your life', he references the saying ‘Success leaves clues’, saying 90 per cent of what makes successful people successful is the same and 10 per cent is different.
“That ten per cent is a big clue so I am fascinated by finding little things and big things. Ways of understanding that things that work for you may not work for me.”
That's just one of the things I took away from my inspirational conversation with John. If I had to pick a theme, I'd say it's dedicated to being the best selves we can be and fulfilling our truest potential. Hope it inspires you.