When You Stop Learning, Your Brain Starts Dying – Part 3 of an Interview with Tom Bilyeu

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In the final episode with Quest Nutrition co-founder Tom Bilyeu, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen dig into the topic of new learning. Success leaves clues, and therefore your role models and peers can often rub off on you in either a positive or negative way. Learn how to identify which is which, and how basing your self-esteem on the concept of you as a “learner” may help you evoke major positive changes in your life.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we transformed lives for three decades, using brain [inaudible 00:00:24] imagining to better target treatment, and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We're here with Tom Bilyeu. So much fun. Tom is the co-founder of Quest Nutrition. He's also the co-founder and host of Impact Theory, where he's really building a brand new media company. We are so excited to have him and hear his story.

Tana Amen: As I've been listening to you Tom, it's very apparent to me. I've always said this, there are people ... I love to watch people. I love to copy people. I love what Tony Robins always says, "Success leaves clues." You just watch people and what are they doing that makes them so successful? Well it's very clear to me.

You do something different. Your entire energy is very different than just the average person that you see, that's comfortable with where they're at. You're not comfortable with the way things are. It's very clear to me. I love talking to you about killing the ants. Your mindset, you're obsession with being a better person, with constantly improving.

This is gonna be a good one. We're gonna talk about mindset today, and how it affects your business. It seems to me like you've been interested in that topic for a very long time.

Tom: Yeah. I've been full blown into mindset for probably about 20 years now.

Tana Amen: Well it's obviously worked. There's something going on.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Talk to us about the biggest lessons you have learned.

Tom: That's easy. There's one lesson that really rides above everything else, which Carol Dweck summed up in her amazing book. I so wish I had had this book when I was coming up, but the book Mindset. And the whole notion of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. That really is to me, the fundamental lesson everybody has to learn.

A fixed mindset is somebody who believes that their talent and intelligence are fixed. It's what you are born with, it's what it's always gonna be. There's nothing you can do to develop it. So life is really about putting yourself in a situation where you can shine. So there are people that are smarter than you. Then you go down a [inaudible 00:03:11], until you get to the point where you feel good about yourself relative to people that are around you, which causes people's worlds to collapse in on itself. To always becoming smaller, and that's it.

But they need to do something to feel good about themselves. And people with a growth mindset realize that their talents and intelligence are not fixed. That they're malleable. That they can be grown and developed through discipline, practice. That you're gonna have to put in the work. But that you really can change and grow.

People understand that about their bodies. People get if I eat right, if I exercise, if I go to the gym, if I move a lot of weight, that I can literally transform my physique and become capable of something tomorrow that I'm not capable today. People totally buy into that physically. They've seen that transformation so many times. Whether it's somebody losing fat or somebody becoming a bodybuilder, whatever the case may be, they get it.

But when it comes to the mind, because it's invisible, because it's all hidden inside that skull, people don't have that same sense of it's possible. And because they don't have the sense of it's possible, they don't set out on that quest. They don't actually take the first step. We've said in one of our earlier podcasts, that that transformation, it really starts with belief.

Humans lead with belief. Until you have that belief that you can do it, that you can make those changes, you're never gonna go anywhere. The other really big breakthrough for me was understanding that you can choose what you build your self-esteem around.

That was a big breakthrough moment for me. What was happening was I had a fixed mindset. I had a goal that I wanted to become wealthy. It's no longer my goal. I don't really think like that anymore. But at the time, that was my obsession. I wanted to become wealthy. I was working with these two guys, and they were 10 years ahead of me as entrepreneurs. They were much smarter than me, and I'll define intelligence as the ability that process raw data rapidly.

They could just process raw data rapidly, faster than I could. I valued that so much, it made me feel small. I found myself wanting to win arguments with them, because they made me feel stupid. Because I'd build my self-esteem around being smart and being right, being wrong often and not feeling as smart as them, was really detrimental to my self-esteem.

I got into this weird habit of arguing current idea, just because it was mine. There was a time one day, I remember so clearly, where the idea I was arguing for, which was mine, was worse. I knew it was worse. There was a voice in my head that was screaming like, "Stop arguing for this idea. It's counterproductive for the business." I just couldn't help it. I keep pushing. Keep pushing. I actually win the argument.

Then I found myself in this moment of terror where I'm like, "Wait a second, I wanted to win the argument because it feels good to be right, even though I know I'm wrong, them telling me that I'm right feels good." But now I've just moved the business in the wrong direction. So if my goal is to actually become wealthy, what am I doing?

Because I'm moving away from that goal. I'm moving towards just feeling good about myself. If my goal is to feel good about myself, then just own it and go do that. Get out of this situation, because it routinely makes me feel badly about myself. Or admit that you really do want to create wealth, and thusly you need to listen when an idea is better than yours, you need to gravitate towards.

At that moment, I realized I'm never going to be able to be long-term in a situation where I don't feel good about myself. So I need to feel good about myself. But maybe there's another way. That other way would be to build my self-esteem around something that ... And I didn't have this word back then. But I got this word from Nassim Taleb, who wrote a book called Antifragile.

To build my self-esteem around something that's antifragile. Now something that's resilient or tough, is still defined by its breaking point, so that's not antifragile. Antifragile is something that the more you attack it, the stronger it becomes. So what if I could build my self-esteem around something that was truly antifragile? I thought, instead of valuing myself for being smart, which is very fragile, because sometimes you'll be the smartest person in the room, sometimes you'll be the dumbest person in the room.

And instead of valuing myself for being right, because sometimes you're gonna be right, sometimes you're gonna be wrong. I'm gonna instead value myself for being the learner, and for identifying the right answer faster than anyone else. Because that is an antifragile. You can tell me that I'm stupid. You can attack me. Say, "That was so dumb. What a terrible idea." If you're right, then I get to value myself for recognizing, "Oh my gosh. That's actually right. That actually is the better idea. That's gonna move us towards what we want." And now I get to feel proud about that. I get to be happy. I get to feel good about myself, because I've recognized, I'm not gonna let my ego get in the way.

That answer actually is the right answer. We're gonna follow that. We're gonna do that. I'm gonna put a lot of energy and enthusiasm behind that idea. Then I'm gonna be proud of myself for going out and learning more about the topic of knowing that, hey I'm wrong now, but that's just an opportunity to be right tomorrow. And that I can go learn more now that my eyes were opened. That shift changed everything in my life.

Tana Amen: That is so interesting. I love what you said. The antifragile concept. I've never heard that term. But again, the thing that comes to my mind, and I just love it, what you said, because it's so true. People build their ... We talk a lot to our daughter about this idea of building your self-esteem on something. I've never knew that concept, building it on something that is again, doesn't have eternal value.

For me, I don't build it on something that doesn't have eternal value, which for me, I build it on learning and contribution, and what I consider to be eternal value, which is a spiritual belief for me. So those are things no one can take away. Those are things that right, wrong, or indifferent, they're something that are deeply rooted, and it has nothing to do with money or anything else that someone can take from you. That's what we try to help her understand as well. Your worth, your self-worth, your value, is not based on how you perform today.

Dr. Daniel Amen: As I'm listening to it, and thinking about some of the principles of success, is you are partnering with people you perceived as smarter than you, so that's always a good thing. You always want to hang out with people who stretch you-

Tana Amen: I like being the dumbest person in the room.

Dr. Daniel Amen: For example, I play table tennis, at a really high level. But I try to always play with people who are better than me, because that's the only way I'm going to get better. But you also recognize the toxic thought of, "I have to be right, even though knowing you were wrong." Which is death to a relationship, or death to a business. But being able to step back and learn from that, is critical. I can't tell you the number of relationships that just blow apart, because somebody has to be right, rather than really learning what the other people need, or what the business needs. That it's our biggest successes actually are on the stones of our failures.

That we've learned, "Okay, well we're not gonna do that again." [crosstalk 00:10:22]-

Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:10:21]-

Dr. Daniel Amen: -and I love the antifragile.

Tana Amen: I do too. I love that concept.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The term I would use for it is called [inaudible 00:10:29], which is it's almost like you've got something that's not good for you, but actually makes you stronger-

Tana Amen: Stronger. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Tana Amen: I remember arguing one time with my mom when I was really young. My mom wasn't a formally educated person, but she's very wise. She said to me one time when I was really young and it always stuck with me. "You can be right but sometimes you can be dead right." And I was like, "Whoa." It was just a really intense phrase, but I'm like, "What's the point of being right if it kills what's valuable in your life?"

It just always stuck with me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But it's a self-esteem thing. I totally understand it. I'm as good or better than someone else, and then when you step back from it, you realize how toxic that can be to the relationship, to the business, and so on. So helpful. What else comes up in your mind, is you're thinking about the stairsteps to your success?

Tom: Really then taking that notion of being a learner to the next level, and executing against it, and I'll go back to the Matrix again. Watching that movie really made me think through ... So in the movie, basically the guy wakes up in the real world and realizes that what he thought was the real world, is really just a construct. It's the Matrix.

If that metaphor holds true for the brain, and that my brain has essentially made the Matrix for me, maybe with the best of intensions, but not everything is very useful or helpful. But in the Matrix, you can learn anything you want to learn. Once you learn how to harness the power of the brain, were there things that I can go out and really begin to empower myself with? And if they are ... In the movie, he learns kung fu.

I was like, "Okay. What is my kung fu?" And I realized that my kung fu was business. If I was going to learn that, what was my equivalent of jacking into the Matrix? In the movie he plugs into the Matrix, and they essentially upload into his brain, all the knowledge of kung fu. In an instant, he can do it. I realized that for me was reading.

That's when reading really became an obsession of mine, because that was my way of taking all this amazing knowledge that people have been putting out into the world for literally thousands of years. And it's now our opportunity to learn easily, what they have learned with great difficult, which is a quote. I think it's from Socrates. It's like, "Read so you may learn with ease, what others have learned with great difficult."

That always struck me as really, really powerful. So getting out there, reading, really asking yourself how many skills can I acquire, that have utility? And then put that utility to the test in service of something larger than yourself. And once you believe that you can do that, then how you spend your time becomes a spiritual consideration, because it's like, "What skills do I want to get? How do I want to serve the world? What is it that I want to accomplish? What's the impact that I want to have on the world?"

Those all become incredibly important questions because you're no longer paralyzed by, "Well, I was born here. I don't have money", or whatever. It's like you can go anywhere you want, do anything you want to do, you just have to acquire the skills that are going to allow you to get there. So that became just the absolute most foundational question in my life, of what am I trying to accomplish?

Then once you believe in that radical notion that you can do anything you set your mind to, then life takes on a whole new dimension, because you could say that you're gonna cure cancer. You could say that you're going to help people with their brain, that you're gonna do it on a global scale, that you're gonna become a best-selling author. I mean, all the things that you guys have actually done, right?

That's so incredible to think. Like at the end of the day, it's not like you've won some genetic lottery. You just put in the work. You became fascinated by something. You've asked yourself how you can serve other people. And then you put in the work to actually do it. That to me, is a life well lived. That's somebody who's really come alive.

But it all starts with the belief that you can learn. And then going out and putting in that work. That's just been probably the most exciting thing in my life, is flipping my self-esteem over to being a learner, and then executing against that. Actually going out and learning, and discovering, all these amazing people, their writing. And then what's happening now, I mean the fact you guys are doing this podcast ... You can't imagine. If somebody had told me, when I first found your book, that one day I could watch your podcast, and be ... Even if we had never met, to be drawn into your world, to feel connected to your life, to be able to learn from you on a weekly basis, I would have been like, "That's not poss-, like how? How would that ever be true?"

You had done the specials and things on TV, but it was like that always felt once removed. Where there's such an immediacy. I can comment on your video, and you might comment back. It's just like we're living through this extraordinary time where we can really connect with these people who have changed our lives, in a way where they're actively continuing to try and change our lives. It's unbelievable, but you have to plug in, you have to do something about it, you have to engage.

Tana Amen: Love it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And all from, I guess looking back on my life, even Tana's life, maybe yours, from people that weren't terribly special. I mean, I was a short kid. Not very smart. Until I got to college and I figured it out, and all of a sudden that changed.

Tom: You struggled in school-

Tana Amen: I was the special kid.

Tom: The special [crosstalk 00:16:06].

Tana Amen: I was in the back of the room, like one of those kids that couldn't read. It was the pain. I was like, "I can't take the pain of this anymore." I just remember going and checking out the fattest book I could find. I was in third grade. I'm like, "I'm done sitting in the back of the class, and sitting in the special [inaudible 00:16:23] that can't read."

I was not going to move after school. I was gonna sit at home till I made it through that book. It was the pain that propelled me forward at the time. But it was that drive of not wanting to-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well and then someone having a fairly crazy family and cancer, and all of those things, now to being a best-selling author, and leading a community. I mean I'm really proud to be with her. So many people think, "Oh I don't have the advantages-"

Tana Amen: Or they were born ... Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -that they have." And the thing that kills people-

Tana Amen: I was not born with it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -is comparison. If you compare yourself with Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, or Jeff Bezos, or you, people go, "Well how could I ever do that?" And the fact is, all of us started somewhere, but we became passionate, and then we developed the skills. And they're all teachable if you take time to learn. So what are some of your favorite books? What are some of the books that have made the biggest difference in your life? You talked about Making a Good Brain Great, thank you, and Mindset. What about some of the other ones that have made the biggest difference for you?

Tom: Joseph Campbell's book, the Power of Myth, really really had a just transformational effect on me. I will credit that book, with oddly enough, contributing to my marriage in just a wonderfully powerful way. He talked about how if you ever wanted to know what a world looks like we have plenty of mythology, but people don't believe in the mythology anymore, look at the world around you.

He talked about divorce, and he talked about how the potency of the ritual to enter into marriage, is not as potent at is used to be. There's just not the weight of it. I felt, whoa, that's really interesting. This was before I got married, and he had been talking about traditional coming-of-age rituals where people would be ritualistically scarred, or whatever the case. And say what you will, but those people knew from one day to the next, that they were different.

That left a really powerful effect on me. When I got married, I realized I wanted to be a different person the day before I got married and the day after I got married. So as a part of my wedding, not the actual day, but very shortly thereafter, I got ritualistically scarred, as a way to remind myself that I am a different human being. It was a tattoo, but I am not a tattoo fan, so I think of it as being ritualistically scarred.

I created it myself, and it was my basically promise to my wife. It was her name in Greek, and then the four pillars of my belief system I guess, towards her. So it was love, passion, commitment, and respect. Those were the driving forces I wanted to make sure that each and every one of those things were very real, and that this was forever. I'm very proud to say that we've been together for ... My wife will tell you almost 17 years. I'm a little less aggressive in my rounding, so a little over 16 and a half.

About to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, so we've figured something out. And we got together when we were pretty young. I think it's crazy when I realize that and think about it. But that book just really gave me the framework with which to look at the world. And then I would be remiss not to mention Stephen King's book the Gunslinger, which changed my life. That was the book that made me realize that I actually liked reading.

Up to that point, I was convinced that I hated reading. My dad said, "Look. Just one more. Read this book. If you read this book and you don't like it, I'll never ask you to read again." I read it, and to this day, I remember the opening line of the book. It just so captured my imagination, immediately from the word jump.

Once I realized that I loved reading, then that began my transition out of fiction, and into non-fiction, where I've really accumulated a lot of skills. So those two I think, give you a little bit of [inaudible 00:20:37].

Tana Amen: That's awesome. You mentioned one of my favorites, which was Man's Search for Meaning. I have to say, Loving What Is by Byron Katie was really great. There's so many good books. So many good books.

Tom: No question.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hugely important. Well thank you so much for your time. What a joy. We would love to invite you to the clinic. We got to scan Tony Robins this past weekend. That was so much fun.

Tana Amen: He's such a nice guy.

Tom: Very cool dude.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But we think it would be awesome for you to learn more, and anything you could do to help us spread this message, we'd be grateful for as well. We're trying to build a community of brain warriors. People who are armed, prepared, and aware, that they could make a huge difference in their lives and the lives of people they love.

Tom: Very cool. I would love that. It'd be a bit like being invited to a rock star's recording studio for me, so yeah. Count me in. I'd love that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Great. All right.

Tana Amen: So much fun Tom. Thank you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're listening to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Stay with us. Thank you so much.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to amenclinics.com. You can also learn about our new nutraceutical products at brainmdhealth.com. Thanks for listening.