Monday, November 9, 2015

Parenting Pointers: The Positive Side of Suffering

War Veteran and Self Help Guru Akshay Nanavati knows more than most about going from nothing to something. The founder of self-help coaching program, Existing2Living, has traded a lifetime of hardship, including drug and alcohol addiction and PTSD, for a career helping others to overcome their demons in order to achieve success. According to Nanavati, the key to moving past obstacles that stand in your way is embracing your fears and suffering, rather than letting adversity weigh you down. If you want to have a gainful career you must take the difficult path and face each obstacle head on, this is what will put you on track to achieving your financial goals, just as Nanavati has done.

I had a chance to interview Akshay to learn more.

Why are fear and suffering a necessary part of life?
Fear is the brain's natural response to risk and the unknown. Any time something new occurs, our brain asks the question is this going to kill me or not? Inevitably, it then activates the "fear center" of the brain - the amygdala. We have simply been led to believe that this is a bad thing, but it is not. The fear response also increases joy, focus and our ability to respond to any situation. Without risk, there can be no growth in life. If we want to be someone we have never been before or have something we have never had before, we are going to have to do something we have never done before and that means taking a risk. With risk comes fear, so fear is necessary as long as you want to grow in any area of your life. The more you embrace it, you will soon start to realize that fear also leads to our greatest moments in life. Like fear, suffering is also necessary because the body, mind and spirit cannot and does not grow in comfort. Each grows when pushed to the limits and beyond. Our body only gets stronger if we put it through stress and suffering, which is why we work out. Similarly, the mind and spirit must also suffer to reap the rewards that lie on the other side of that suffering. Whether it is running for a countless number of miles to train for a marathon, sitting in front of a computer for hours at a stretch to write a book or getting rejected thousands of times to start a business, any worthy endeavor requires the element of suffering. The reality is even those who chose not to push their limits in the pursuit of something worthwhile go through the existential suffering that comes with living a mundane life. One way or another we all suffer, we just have to decide whether we want to choose our suffering or let it choose us.

How can struggle affect our finances?
Struggle can lead to financial freedom as long as we choose the struggle and not let it choose us. The only reason I am able to work while watching the sunset on a beach in St. Lucia is because of the hours, days and months I suffered to build my business up to the point to where it is today. Like anything in life, we only get the results we want when we put in the work. The same is true for building a business. Struggle then is great for finances, it's simply a matter of choosing it repeatedly and accepting it as an inevitability in the journey to financial freedom. 

What are some positive aspects of suffering?
Neurologically, struggle creates stronger neural circuits in the brain. This means that suffering helps us learn and remember each lesson which leads to enhanced skills. The more we push our abilities and reach beyond our comfort zone in any activity, the better we become at that activity. Runners cannot get faster unless they practice running faster. Body builders don't get stronger unless they lift heavier. In any activity, it takes hours, days, months and years of struggle to become a master at it. One positive aspect of suffering is improved skill and the ability to develop mastery. Another is the existential and spiritual growth that comes with suffering. The greatest moments in my life, the ones that led to the most growth are the ones where I truly suffered - from serving 7 months in a war zone to dragging a 190 pound sled 350 miles across the second largest icecap in the world to climbing over 20,000 feet in the Himalayas to overcoming an alcohol addiction that brought me to the verge of suicide, each of these experiences tested me physically, mentally and spiritually. As a result, each of them made me better and stronger in their own way. The suffering I went through also built in me an unshakeable confidence in myself. It has been said that confidence is the result of having successfully survived a risk. When you take risks, you will suffer because life beyond our comfort zone is far from comfortable. As we learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable, we become more resilient and able to handle anything life throws at us. Suffering builds confidence, skill, and awareness on what it means to be human. It is the greatest gift we can ever receive.

How can we shift our mindset to use fear and suffering to improve our situations?
Ask anyone about a time in their life that led to considerable personal growth and more than likely they will bring up a time that involved some sort of struggle, yet so many of us resist adversity. The first step to shifting our mindset is to let go of the status quo that has us believe fear and suffering are negative forces in our lives. Even if you don't believe that entirely yet, just be open to the possibility that they are in fact gifts that lead to our growth. Then look back at your own life and write down a list of experiences where something positive occurred as a result of fear or suffering - this could be things like getting stronger after working out hard, building a business after being terrified to quit your job and doing so anyway or having your first child after spending hours in labour. Once you write down this list, you will then start to accept this new perspective on fear and suffering. Finally, do something to share this perspective with someone else. That final step will help seal this new belief into your subconscious. These three steps will change your mindset about the nature of fear and suffering. That is the most important element. Then all you have to do is find ways to practice them by doing things outside your comfort zone. There is no limit to what that could mean. It could be jumping out of a plane, running your first marathon, or walking up to a stranger at a party. There is no right or wrong about the activity. As long as it pushes you beyond your comfort zone and makes you feel uncomfortable, it will help you grow. As you keep practicing it, your comfort zone will expand and you will find yourself taking on even bigger challenges, leading to even greater growth. When I was young, I used to be terrified of ferris wheels. Today I have been ice diving, cave diving, skydiving and mountaineering all over the world. I didn't get here overnight, it took a series of small steps beyond my perceived limits. All you have to do today is take one step, just one.

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