Health & Fitness:Mental Health
Ep 7: I Am Not My Anxiety
Today my guest is Neil Young. He is a peak performance coach living in Dubai, who helps entrepreneurs move past barriers and experience greater freedom in their lives.
He has created and grown his own businesses into very successful ventures. Tony Robbins is Neil’s mentor and known for having attended 22 Tony Robbins events in 22 months. He also appreciates the work of Joe Dispenza and Sadhguru. Intentions, feelings, habits and energy are what Neil believes must be mastered to live one’s dream life.
Today however he is here to share his personal experiences of anxiety.
What about your life are you proud of, Neil?
Quite a few things. I most recently had a son, a 1 year old son that I’m quite proud of and my health and three of my businesses I could go on and on. A family, health & my business is what I’m most proud of.
Let’s get to know more about your experiences with anxiety. Give us an overview, not the nitty gritty, but your history.
Sure, my story began when I was three, living in Dubai, I had a severe infection in my ankle, a large growing lump and the doctors were concerned that it was dangerous and could travel. So I was bed ridden for 3 months. I wasn’t eating and lost a ton of weight, and this was my earliest childhood memory. I remember my parents looking down on me, and thinking poor little boy, so weak and helpless. Being weak and helpless became my identity then and also for the next twenty years of my life.
I became a big observer and copied what everyone else did. So I did what my parents said, worked hard…did what others did.
Fast forward 20 years…
I was at the university in Dubai, working for a contractor, sitting at the computer all day, and I’m a people person, and had a panic attack at work. I snuck out and jumped into my car and drove to the beach. I felt suicidal, felt terrible, sat down on the beach and realized I wasn’t coming from my heart.
My whole life I had copied others in terms of work and health, relationships and other bad routines. I wasn’t living my life.
My body was screaming at me to wake up… “All these emotions are not you. It’s not you. You have to come from your heart”. That’s when I woke up, lost my job, started drinking, put on tons of weight, cut off peer groups. I was really alone; it was a dark time. That’s when I started getting involved in personal development.
I started taking morning walks on the beach and listened to Joe Dispenza tapes and podcasts (Entreprenuer on Fire was my favorite). Getting good vibes…. from other successful entrepreneurs, and learning about their success and avoiding mistakes that they made helped me so much.
I found a class in Tennessee where there was a mastermind program, virtual, for 2 years that raised my game to a different level.
In 2017, I did business mastery with Tony Robbins; this changed my life so much that I signed up for the platinum partnership for 85K per year program, a sponsorship.
2 things I learned: 1) Life is all about mastering your intentions, feelings, habits and internal energy, and 2) Peer group support is essential
Panic attack and anxiety taught me that I wasn’t coming from my heart. Anxiety and stress stems from our human needs, and there are 4 of them: contribution, growth, love connection and certainty.
Contribution and growth are the top 2 needs in order to live a fulfilling life.
Love connection and certainty are important too, but shouldn’t be in the top 2.
Love life is not at the top, because if you are too dependent on a loved one, it’s all about emotions and feelings and that can lead to depression. Conversely too being too dependent on certainty, physical things, money, or don’t have a partner, how your body looks etc. can also lead to becoming anxious, having anxiety about the future.
I was too dependent on certainty and emotions and associated with others. I was so dependent and desperate for a love connection in my life.
Let’s circle back to the life threatening infection you had as a child. Your parents were extremely concerned if you were even going to live. But you were having a different internal experience of feeling weak and helpless.
How did you recognize your thoughts and know this was happening? You heard your parents say, “Oh poor Neil” and internalized it. Comment on this Neil.
Babies are born with a blank slate. As we go through life, we experience the good and the bad emotions, which shapes our character. For instance a 4-year-old child has success skiing down the hill and then goes faster, flying by as he/she hasn’t had any accidents, but the parents are saying, “slow down.” They have experienced pain. If the kid falls, he will have a negative experience about skiing.
My experience of being weak and helpless, I did a close eye process. I tried to remember my earliest childhood memory. Anyone can do this, just go home, close your eyes and breathe. The earliest memory will stand out, as it is based on very strong emotions.
For instance, Sept 11 was a pretty big moment for the world, it happens that everyone remembers where they were because of strong emotions we’re attached to that moment.
Do you remember where you were? I remember where I was.
Host says, “Yes, I was in Turkey; I was living there”.
Everyone remembers where they were and conversely, the earliest childhood memories are the ones with the most emotion, either happy or painful ones. For me it was being in bed, feeling weak and helpless with my duvet. I just wanted to stay in bed, didn’t want to go out. My parents were very worried. I was in a lot of pain and helpless. I had wooden crutches and kept falling over, I couldn’t walk in them as I was small, and that felt very painful. Even now talking about it is painful. It was painful that I couldn’t do something.
Did you parents recognize this? Or were they overwhelmed/focused with worry?
Some parents project their emotions so much the child accommodates those strong emotions.
Did they have any awareness of how helpless you felt? Or assumed that was what you were experiencing?
I’m not sure. They did the best they could. I was so little and I was so sick for 6 months, and after I recovered they sent me to the U.K. to live with my grandmother for a few months to sort some things out. It was a tough time. I’m so conscious of my kid now and how when I look at him in the eye. I’m focused on his emotions. You can be intentional about your emotions.
Anyone I’m with, I focus on their emotions. It's what I teach. Focusing on what you have and what you want to do.
When you went to the UK what did you do with that trauma? Your grandmother hadn’t been there during this very difficult period so did she notice anything different about you?
I was quite young, only 3-4 years old. It was a summer holiday. I had a 3 month break; I lived with them for 2 months, but I don’t remember too much except they looked after me and were feeding me quite a bit because I had lost a lot of weight.
When you went home, did you start playing again? You mentioned that you recognized that you became almost hyper-focused on imitating people instead of recognizing your own emotions and being able to resonate with what you wanted. When did you know that this started or did it happen over time?
It is something that I recognize now. In the 4 main human needs (contribution, growth, love connection and certainty) love connection was always one of my primary needs, but it is about the emotions.
Emotions are the identities, and you can be very addicted to emotions; they are identities. If they are not intentional, this is what I can give to you from a place of contribution. Even if their identity or they are going somewhere you do not want to go as you are so desperate for that connection, you’re happy to follow that person just to fill/satisfy that need.
For instance, I didn’t like sports and some topics, but I did it because others did. I was so desperate for that love connection. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I put my needs aside.
And you were conscious that this was happening to you.
No, no no. It’s something that I’ve realized now. At the time I just wanted to hang out with my friends. Friendship meant a great deal. I never wanted to be alone.
So a lot of my clients don’t necessarily remember or recognize that they wanted to be like others but remember this discomfort. This angst and this heavy energy all the time and that never went away because they truly weren’t free. Growing up didn’t they didn’t have the words, but a lot remember this heaviness or tension of not wanting to play sports but doing it anyway and there is just some resistance but they didn’t know what to call it or be conscious of it.
For me it comes out of human needs. If your human needs are certainty and love connection you are going to be focused on that. Emotions, are they serving you? Know this answer.
And then focus on courting the physical things around. Comfortable?… How do you feel?
It causes a lot of vulnerabilities in relationships, even when you are young because you don’t know the consequences of giving your power away. Having a sense of interests and your command of your thoughts and emotions is mostly lost just out of not knowing. And all of this is building up over the years.
So you were 25 when this incident happened. Is that right?
Yes, the contractor job, but I had quite a few jobs, this was the 10th since I was 17. I jumped from job to job. If I was going back in time I would have been more selective about the jobs. By the time I was 25 I reached enough pain in my life. Pain is a good thing. Sometimes.
There are two ways to change: pleasure or plain.
Pleasure is setting New Year’s resolutions, but it is not as big a motivator as pain.
Relationships hit rock bottom, have no money, gain weight, no friends, and you had to feel the pain to achieve the success.
At the time I was not grateful. Looking back now, its nature taking its course, you’ve reached this level of pain now and you need to step up and do something or people don’t and commit suicide because they are in so much pain, and they don’t have the education, knowledge or support around them.
And you contemplated suicide didn’t you?
Well, yeah, everyone has contemplated suicide at some point when in pain. In that particular moment, yeah. It was very painful.
And that was new- that hadn’t crossed your mind.
No, it hadn’t crossed my mind before.
Right. Ok that happened and you’re having the panic attack. And you didn’t have all this wisdom you have now. You said you started on your personal development journey. How, what got you there? From being at work and having a panic attack and having this very dark time in your life, your body screaming and drinking and all this pain and confusion and frustration. How in the world did you get to a path of personal development?
Through the human needs, the top two needs, love connection and certainty. I was in pain and I needed to do something different and search for answers. So I went back to contribution, where do I need to get to in my life and that comes out of human needs to makes things better and with growth taking massive action. Searching, searching.
How did you do that, through the internet?
I talked with people, searched the internet, lots of things, books, podcasts which were really helpful, like books by Steven Curby, Simon, Tally, Dumas, etc.
Every morning on my walks on the beach I listened to that podcast. “Entrepreneur on Fire” by John Dumas. It’s a free podcast.
It’s still on?
The reason I’m asking is that this is a really essential for people who have anxiety to see/understand the path of others – is really helpful to understand. Where you are now, your capacity for insight, you’re determined, its almost a natural part of you now but during this time how people get from being in the dark night of the soul to personal development is a huge challenge. Beause when you are overwhelmed with pain and panic, with negative thoughts, and even though you know to search the internet, you don’t want to do the search. That’s why I’m asking these questions. Did you have people around you?
Yes, I stopped talking to a lot to people but, my girlfriend/wife and parents knew.
When you were in this dark period how did others relate to you. Did they recognize after the panic attack that something compromising was happening to you?
I became a bit of a recluse, looking for different peer groups and answers.
Was it hard for your family and girlfriend to observe and witness this? Did they share anything about their experience?
Yes, I was very volatile. Very up and down. Very grateful to my family, especially my wife for hanging in there, and holding my hand.
Did any of them give you advice?
So that podcast my wife recommended to me and she also recommended Tony Robbins.
So that’s really important. Already, you had people around you who were engaged in growth.
Yes my wife, but my family not so much.
That’s amazing, so you found what would become your favorite podcast, what resonated with you so much for taking her advice. Cause that’s a big step from volatility to being overwhelmed to walking on the beach listening to this amazing podcast every morning.
She recommended it to me, I didn’t think this was the thing that would change my life, may have recommended 4 other things, and I listened to one episode and it resonated with me.
Someone else recommended “The 7 Habits of Highly effective People” by Stephen Covey and that resonated with me. 10-20 things were also recommended and some things stuck and I stayed with them.
Can you describe to us from the time you started listening to the podcast, what started changing- of course everything doesn’t change overnight. Can you describe what you noticed - even the first thing. You started listening to something daily that inspired you. What happened from that point forward, what little changes did you notice that cumulatively really made a big difference in your life?
So, my journey, ….there were 2 things, the first mastering internal self. At the time I didn’t know anything about that, and the second was the peer group. I didn’t know anything about mastering internal emotions/self/needs. I did know that I needed to get around other people. The people I was hanging around with were not bad people, they had just chosen a different path of life. It's like football and baseball players-hanging out, they can be friends, but have different interests and careers.
I had to get around different peers.
I recommend to people to get to know others who are helping others like, such as Tony Robbins, Les Brown, Joe Dispenza and Sadhguru all these big speakers have written books. You don’t need to pay money for them to coach you. They have all written books and the information is out there. You can get these books for free. All the information is online.
Anyone who is struggling, and thinking how do I get out of this and doesn’t have any money just pick your top role models. Go to YouTube and find someone like Tony Robbins, Jeff Cava (health) Alison Armstrong (relationships) and consume as much content as you can.
Pick 4 people, and consume the content.
I really like the podcast, “Entrepreneur on Fire” and it posts everyday. So, he’s interviewing successful entrepreneurs everyday. So I listened to over 365 interviews, he asks about their mistakes and you’re just absorbing their emotions.
So when you are talking to someone who is where you were at 25 and doesn’t have a wife who can make recommendations and really feels alone where should they start.
There are tons of groups to learn from. Peer group is key, connect through social media, meetups, and if that’s a struggle, education and there are different mediums (books, YouTube, online) so much content, free courses and some people do mentoring for free. This comes in different mediums for you to learn. If you can’t find a peer group, then learn from courses and books.
Why do you think someone who is in the throes of anxiety should believe that better is possible?
I know in the moment it might seem that you can’t see anywhere out of it. If you are thinking like that your top 2 needs, love connection and certainty can seem hopeless and there is not a way out of it, but through contribution and growth and closely linked to faith and religion, you have to believe that there is something better out there and this is coming from the heart.
The more you are in your body and focusing on bad emotions you're experiencing in your head, or focusing on how little you have, you’re really screwed.
It’s coming to your heart. Right, how do I get to my heart? How do I give one area the attention; I know now, but didn’t before and now I know the answer is out there. You have to go on a quest. It starts off hard. Any great story starts out hard and has some hardships; you’ve got to believe. You may not know how, but keep moving forward.
That is the hero’s journey starting and having some elements of faith, that you just go.
Most of us don’t know how-you have a target way out there and just start and other information and interest will start coming. No matter what simple action is taken, it is a beginning. Action is the beginning, but believing, I agree with you is a massive part of initiating the process you have to start with the belief. If you just sit there and say something is better than this it will help light the path.
The final question is: What has anxiety taught you about yourself?
That anxiety is not me. I am not my anxiety. For me, anxiety is focusing on something physical and if you don’t have it you get anxious and about it and having bad emotions/identities. I realized need for certainty which is having physical things even if don’t have them, love connection, emotions and identities. And if they are bad emotions, they make you feel bad- they are not you. Those emotions and physical things are not you.
You are not defined by being a successful business owner or athlete or a great networker in relationships. You are not defined by how much money you have, your fat content percentage or how many friends you have.
The emotions you have, identities and the physical things you have, they are tools for you to succeed. They don’t define you. If you think they define you and your bad emotions and little physical things, then you are screwed. You’re already placing limits on yourself. Just step away from thinking - I am what I have and what I feel. They are helpful like feeling and having physical things that bring pleasure, but they are tools to help you get something. For example, a health goal, you want a great body. Calories and muscles - anything physical that can help you-is a tool to get to your health goal. Emotions are tools, feeling powerful, strong, sexy, vibrant, and energetic; those are good emotions and are tools that will help you succeed. Help you be healthier. Tools help you succeed. If I don’t have those, if you think I don’t have enough muscle, eating way too many calories, I weight too much, all the wrong physical things, then you feel weak, lazy, apathetic, sluggish, your focus is too much on the negative physical things and negative emotions then you will never make any progress.
That’s why I say emotions and physical things are tools to help you.
What has anxiety taught you about yourself?
I love that I’m not my anxiety. I am not my anxiety. So often, people say, my anxiety, well my anxiety, is like an entity walking in them and it truly becomes their identity.
Thank you, Nancy, for having me on. It’s been a good conversation. You asked a lot of questions and I’ve thought about my family and how they helped me during that time and I actually learned a bit too. Thank you.
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