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315: The Monkey Mind

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Buck: Welcome back to the show, everyone. Today my guest onWealth Formula podcast is JF Benoist. He is a health pioneer in mental health, and he’s also a best selling author. His specialty is teaching people how to quiet the negative voice in their head and instead develop a powerful new mindset that creates a long lasting change. He’s the author of Addicted to the Monkey Mind, Changed the Programming That Sabotages Your Life. And we’ll talk about that as well. But in the meantime, welcome to the show. JF!

JF: Buck. Thank you so much for having me. 

Buck: Great to have a change of pace. We talk so much about personal finance, and we talk about success and finances, how to make money, how to grow money, all that stuff. But there’s other stuff to consider when it comes to wealth, and it’s more holistic. But along that way, there’s also a lot of things that involve that go through people’s minds and their lives during the process of creating wealth. And one is the idea that there’s a little bit of a fear that often holds people back from getting to their financial goals in the first place. Now, I know you’ve worked with a lot of people who are higher performers that are maybe they’ve not come from a lot of money before, but what drives the fear of financial success that sometimes can hold people back? 

JF: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think most of us are not aware of actually the simplicity of where our anxiety actually comes from. So what I like to refer back is kind of like a nervous system that is dysregulated. Okay. And most of us overuse our analytical mind to try to solve all the problems that we’re facing. And we don’t realize that that tool is really helpful, but it’s not helping your nervous system. So if you’re not attending to your nervous system, then what’s going to happen is that your mind is going to keep spinning, and maybe sometimes you find solution. But even when you find solution, your anxiety is not going away. So if you don’t learn to attend to your nervous system, then you’re basically repeating the same pattern and using the wrong tool for the job. So to give you a simple example, if you observe a child who’s really upset. Right. And you look at the child and you start telling them to stop, to be upset, that’s using the analytical mind to try to solve the problem. How is it working? Well, you can observe it doesn’t work very well versus if you simply say to the child, well, I see that you’re really upset right now, or I see that you’re really anxious right now. So the nervous system speaks a different language. It needs to be seen and it needs to be acknowledged. And for most of high functioning people, we sort of learn as if what’s going on in the nervous system is something to ignore or something to treat as it’s a weak, it’s a weakness that we might have, and it’s none of that. The truth is that when we are in anxiety, we need to learn to attend to it. 

Buck: When you have that kind of self sabotaging fear, what are some of the actions that somebody can take, just examples of tools that you can use to overcome the fear of success, maybe, or make it so that you don’t self sabotage yourself? 

JF: Yeah. So a lot of anxiety is directly correlated to our sense of self worth, and most of us are not aware of that. So meaning what happens if I fail at my business or if I fail at my business deal or in my investments or what happens? Well, you could say analytically, okay, well, I’ll get over it and I’ll move forward. Or that’s the analytical mind looking at it. But at the nervous system level, there’s a place deep down in our core that we associate that with being a failure ourselves. And that’s not the same as failing. There’s a great book Good to Great that a lot of us have read. And if you look at one of the research that I think is really important to pay attention to is he said that he found out that the difference between a good leader and a great leader was that a good leader when they were anxious, they’re trying to get rid of the anxiety versus a great leader thrives on their anxiety. So how do you drive when you have a fear that seems to be so dominant about it. Well, you have to understand that it’s not personal to you. And if you’re making it personal to you, that’s why the anxiety is persisting. So you have to be able to attend to that belief system that exists. And it’s not analytical. It’s like there’s a part of us that believes that somehow we’re not enough if we fail at this. Right. And that’s a different mindset than people who are charging fully and say, yeah, I’m great, regardless of what happens. 

Buck: I think in my amateur psychology, the way I think about it, I am part of this cohort that is the a student in school, I went to medical school, neurosurgical residency, so on and so forth. It’s sort of the typical success academic success story. But what’s not typical about me is that I went an entrepreneurial route that required significant amounts of risk. And what’s always interesting to me is when I am in a group of successful entrepreneurs, when I’m that different kind of cohort of mine, I am frequently the only one in the room who has any kind of significant successful academic pedigree. And so for me, one of the hypotheses that I have is that the early success, highly successful academic types who end up in medical school and law school and all the professional schools, creates even more anxiety towards the potential of failure because of such a positive, strong, constant feedback of success and basically not having that feeling of knowing what to do with failure. What do you think of that? Tell me. Of course I’m playing armchair psychologist here, but I’m curious what your take is. 

JF: Well, what you’re describing is that we are performance based and that’s not the truth about us. You’re not a performance, right? You can do well at something you have skill set, but that doesn’t make you a good person or a bad person. What makes us great people is the values that we possess and the values that we live by. But the nervous system doesn’t know that. Meaning that when you fail at something, your nervous system is associating that with a performance say you didn’t perform well here. So therefore you’re not enough. And we have to come to an understanding that’s not logical. So one of the skills that I think is super important to develop is to be present in the nervous system. So I developed this circular breath that I do, and I do it a couple of times a day for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t need much more than that. But if you develop this sense where the nervous system needs to be seen and needs to be witnessed, and once it feels like you’re giving it attention, it actually starts to shift. And then you can use your analytical mind to verify the construct and the beliefs you’re operating from. The sequence is missing for most of us because most people don’t learn to breathe. Most people don’t learn to first be present with the anxiety and acknowledging that that anxiety possess intelligence in it. Right. So that performance you’re describing is epidemic in our society and especially for high achievers, it haunts us. Right. We just can’t imagine not succeeding. And if we do, it’s like even unconsciously driving our bus. 

Buck: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about specifically the title of your book, and it’s The Addicted to the Monkey Mind. So what exactly is the monkey mind? 

JF: So the monkey mind is a conditioned way of thinking that was developed most of our programming occurs between the age of one and seven and usually gets reinforced between seven and 20. And what that is is just like, think of a simple for us high achiever. The comment might have been, why didn’t you do your homework? The conditioning might have been that you just look up to your dad, who’s very successful, or your mom. And so the conditioning is like, oh, I need to be like that or don’t cry, don’t be assisty. So whatever it is sends the message that if I cry, I’m weak. So there’s all kinds of different forms of conditioning that happens depending on the type of family we’re raised in. And this conditioning, which is we call the monkey mind, exist sort of as a memory system in our nervous system. And so what happens is when we get trigger and we get emotional, that’s when this monkey mind becomes active. Right. It’s not like when you’re operating and you’re functioning just fine and you’re not having high fluctuation of emotion. You’re not under the monkey mind spell, but as soon as you are triggered, then you are definitely operating from that. And it requires, like the book talks about developing an observing mind in order to be able to basically give what I call is that this monkey mind and this conditioning needs integration. And as soon as we learn to integrate it, take responsibility for it, integrate it, then it doesn’t have a hold on us. And for a lot of people, I can tell you that the easiest way to find out about your monkey mind is in your personal relationship, like your marriage, your relationship with your children, and oftentimes your relationship with your co worker or the people that work for you. 

Buck: I guess I’m trying to break that down a little bit so I can understand it. When you talk about the monkey mind, then are you saying that that’s sort of your raw versus id kind of thing where what you developed when you were young, whatever lashing out you do or holding your breath and standing in a corner or whatever that is, the part of you that you’re referring to is the monkey mind that gets reverted to in times of anxiety? 

JF: Yes. It’s a false sense of identity. So meaning think of the performance identity as if I do well, right. Then I am worth something. I have value but if I don’t do well, I don’t have value. So now I’m trying to operate out of the system that will cope, to make sure that I perform. And then if I don’t perform, I’ll have some coping mechanism that most of us are unconscious that we’ve developed to try to attempt to deal with it. But all they do is make us feel more anxious. I mean, some people ultimately will revert to drugs or alcohol to try and suit their nervous system when that happens. But other people might be overworking. They might never be able to relax and read a book and just sit. Yeah. It’s a false sense of what gives us value, which is what the ID really is. It’s a false sense of who we are. We’re not a performance. 

Buck: What is the observing mind, then? Is that the way to basically kind of look in at the monkey mind intellectually? 

JF: Yeah. It’s actually a physical experience. That’s why the breath is so important. Right. So the observing mind doesn’t have an agenda. It’s about witnessing energy that feels that’s operating in the body, witnessing emotion, witnessing thoughts. Right. It’s like one of my quote that I really like is like, think of it this way. It’s like I love my thoughts, but I’m never tempted to believe them. And so it’s like that illustrates the relationship of the observing mind wants to be able to observe things before it decides whether I should believe X-Y-Z. But if we don’t leave space to observe what we’re doing, what we’re feeling, then we’re just operating from that conditioning. 

Buck: A lot of what you talk about here and what you’re referring to when you kind of are looking at thoughts outside of kind of looking in or some of the same tenets of mindfulness meditation and that sort of thing. Is this different? 

JF: It’s different in terms of meditation and there’s so many different forms of meditation. There’s different forms of breath. So I think what’s important is to realize that witnessing in an observing mind cannot have an agenda. Some of the great spiritual people have used meditation. I’ve heard some of them say, you know, it took me 20 years of meditation to figure out I wasn’t meditating. And it’s just like, think of if we have an agenda. So I’m going to sit down and meditate. Why? Because I want to feel calmer or because I want to be more at peace or because I want to solve my problem or my anxiety? That’s an agenda. And that is not what we’re talking about here. And that will eventually create a problem because the nervous system, the emotion system, everything that exists in our body as an experience needs first acknowledgement and to be witnessed and be seen. And that can only be done by witnessing and not having an agenda versus if we have an agenda to feel calmer, we’re sending a message to the anxiety. You’re not welcome here. I’m looking for calmness. I’m not looking for anxiety, but the anxiety is already here. So how can you not be looking for it? It’s already there.

Buck: I think you have some actually holistic treatment. Treatment center. You have one in Oregon. I don’t know if there are multiple ones. Can you tell us a little bit about the process that people go through there? 

JF: Yeah. So the foundation is all in the book, but this is like an intensive for 30 days where people come to learn this language of the nervous system, to learn the intelligence of emotion, to learn basically the relationship between the mind and body is so important. And most of us have especially high achiever. We’ve overused the mind and we’re like discarding the body, and that’s extremely problematic. So in psychology, we talk about it’s kind of like top down, bottom up, and meaning the relationship between my mind and my body. And sometimes my mind can come first and take care of a situation. But in situation, when I am triggered, I need to first go to the body and then I can access my mind, then I can access my conditioning, and then I can change those core beliefs I’m operating from. So this is an intensive where people learn these specific skills and we practice them every day. And it’s incredible the result we see from this. 

Buck: How do you keep metrics of results in something like this? 

JF: A lot of success rates. They’re very false based because they’re based on the outcome. So think if somebody has an issue, whether it’s with food or they have an issue with alcohol or with drugs or they have an issue with overworking, so they’ll measure the result by are you able to stop the behavior? So if you can stop drinking, then you succeeded. Okay. What’s problematic about that approach is it’s not looking about what is driving the behavior. So if your anxiety is driving the behavior, then when you want first to succeed by managing your anxiety, because if you manage your anxiety, then your behavior will change. So this is what we teach people, and it’s very false because we’re obsessed with the end result. It’s constantly the end result. Like imagine you run a company and all you look at is the bottom line. You’re just interested in bottom line. Just give me that result. We’re looking for this amount of sales, this amount of people, whatever. And in the process, you’re bulldozing over the relationships of the people who serve you. And the level of anxiety is rising up in your company. And eventually there’s going to be a tipping point where it’s not going to go well at all. So we have to be able to be aware that this level of anxiety is really how we can measure success, the better we get at it and not obsess about the behavior. The behavior might take a little time to change, but it will change absolutely will change. And when it changes for good, it’ll be like permanent. And that’s what we see. We help people shift from the mindset of like, I have to stop the behavior. Stop the behavior. And we tell them, let’s attend to your nervous system first. 

Buck: The book, again is called Addicted to the Monkey Mind Change the Programming That Sabotages Your Life. I assume it’s available at all the usual places like Amazon. 

JF: It is on Amazon. I’ve had a lot of compliments on the audiobook, which you can get in 52 different. That’s really great because a lot of people were really busy, don’t necessarily have time to read. So listening to it in the car, I highly recommend that it’s available in hardcover and paperback and also in Kindle. 

Buck: Now one last question for you before we go. People are going to read the book. But in the meantime, what is one action step the listeners can take to build and maintain a healthy mindset? 

JF: I would say definitely learn to develop a breathing practice. Take the time to do that every day, even if you start with five minutes a day. And the way I do it is imagine that our belly button and our chest. Imagine that’s around balloon. And you just want to fill up the balloon with air. And when it’s full, you want to empty it out. And you just sit in a chair comfortably square and you just breathe into this fashion. And this is called this is how dogs and cats and animals breed. It’s a circular pattern of breath and time yourself for five minutes on your phone. And basically the only focus is to witness what happens. There’s no other agenda trying to put the focus on your breath back and forth. You will start seeing results just from that, because the nervous system will immediately feel different because you’re attending to the nervous system when you’re doing that. 

Buck: JF Benoist everyone. thank you so much for being on the show. I’d love to have you back again in the near future. 

JF: Thank you so much for having me, Buck. 

Buck: We’ll be right back.