The Millennial's Guide to Solving Inner Conflict
"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough." - Randy Pausch
Here's the main reason people have inner conflict - when they are stuck in the dichotomy of what their brain at a conscious level wants them to do versus what their heart is guiding them to do at a subconscious level.
When your brain and your heart are fully synced up and aligned with each other, you'd have solved your inner conflict.
"What a boat load of BS!" - if that's what you're thinking, then let me explain a bit in more details.
But before I give that to you, I wanted to share with you a 30,000 foot view of my life in the US because it has good context with how a person can solve inner conflict.
So I came to the US to start grad school during the fall of 2012 at the University of Cincinnati.
In the middle of the first semester, I knew I was at the right place, at the right time, doing the wrong thing.
So I decided to travel.
Throughout 2013, I walked across 21 US States at a shoestring budget. I met the most wonderful people all over the country. Traveling helped me break many of my old prejudices that I had gotten from growing up in India - the fear of Black Folks (very common among recent immigrants) was one of them which I learned is far far away from the truth. I think they are one of the most friendly and fun-loving people.
But all in all, 2013 shaped me as a person who was now doing 2 things right - traveling and reading non-fiction books like crazy motherfucker, that had nothing to do with my graduate research.
During these travels, I also continued asking myself - What do I want to get out of life?
Then in the summer of 2014, when I was at the height of frustration from my graduate research, I took a break and flew to Puerto Rico. Living and traveling in the US, I was already bitten by the 'Make a Difference' and 'Change the world' bug. I couldn't stop talking about it with my friends.
But on the flight back, my friend Jeanette told me - "Ankur, stop saying that you want to make a difference. Start doing something about it."
That summer of 2014, my university health insurance had bumped up by around $1000 for the year. That was like 3 months of living expenses for my parents back in India.
So instead of complaining about it, I took actions in the form of - A Drive To Inspire campaign. I drove over 11,000 miles across 40 US States doing pushups wherever I went, talking to people, sharing my story of how I lost over 50lbs in college with the power of habits and tried my best to raise awareness about the global obesity epidemic.
Those 24 days on the road changed my life and also helped me find my true purpose. 5 months later, that experience also saved my life. Like literally...
But the interesting story happened right after I came back to Cincinnati from the drive. Only to realize that I was a broke graduate student.
So I jumped on to my first business in the real estate market with a partner. That gig lasted from Oct 2014 - Apr 2015 when my business partner ultimately decided to run away leaving behind $30,000 of debt on my head. He was a psychopath and a conman who was on the run and wanted by the State of Georgia.
But that was still nothing compared to the news that I got from my Mom 3 days after I discovered the above ugly truth.
"Ankur... Dad had a brainstroke and is in the Intensive Care Unit."
Now imagine yourself laying on the floor in an abandoned building, crying over your debt while you hear this news from your Mom.
That was my breakthrough moment.
It killed my ego instantly. See, I was thinking that since I got myself into this trouble, I'll solve my way out without external help. But internally, I was running away from the embarrassment of my friends knowing that my life for the past 8 months was a hoax and ended up being a scam.
I sucked it up and became vulnerable to my close friends who let me stay in their place rent-free for 90-days.
That gave me enough time to turn my life around.
2015 for me then became the year of gratitude and redemption. In October of that year, I finally went back to India after 3 years and reunited with my family.
On my way back, I came with a startup idea that I thought would revolutionize the way people buy handicrafts online. Boy, was I super pumped about the startup?
So as soon as I came back, I started working on the idea while interning at a purpose-drive consulting company in Cincinnati.
March 30th was the last day of my 5-month internship. 3 days later, I was on the flight to Mexico where I spent the next 4 weeks - traveling with a DSLR in my hand, knocking on the doors of artisans with my broken Spanish language, to document their real-life stories.
I love Mexico. Building a wall doesn't sound like a sane idea to me.
Oh crap... sorry my thoughts got distracted here for a while.
So after I came back to the US from Mexico, I aggressively started working on the MVP launch for Storied Crafts - managing a team of 10 freelancers scattered all over the world - Nepal, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Bangladesh, India, Mexico, and USA.
It was the summer of 2016. By this time, I had been procrastinating my graduate school work for 8 semesters.
This is the story that I kept repeating in my head - "I am here to make a difference and change the world. I will grow my startup into a successful company. And since business is what I want to do, why should I bother about finishing my Masters in Chemical Engineering as I don't plan to use the degree anyways?"
That was far away from the truth.
First of all, as an international student on a F-1 Visa, I'd break the law if I dropped out.
Secondly, I realized that there was something happening at a deeper level that was making me run away from my graduate studies.
I found myself in an inner conflict where my brain kept telling me to raise funds for the startup I was building. But my heart kept trying to tell me something that was still not audible to me.
After a 9-month stint with the startup, our US-based team decided to take a break. We were trying to bootstrap while having to worry about how to pay the rent and put food on the table.
Eventually, we shut down Storied Crafts down. Guess what was my next move?
After which, I started my habits coaching business where I decided I would help people to build winning habits of happiness, health, and wealth.
But then, one day I got an email from my professor, asking about the status of my research. At the same time, the university sent me a note that my I-20 would expire soon, which meant - either I had to graduate or go back home.
That was a tight slap of reality on my face. This happened during August 2016.
So I went back to grad school and pleaded my professor to let me stay in school and I also promised him that I was going to wrap up my thesis over the next 2 semesters.
Now that was still far away from the truth as I felt I could never solve my research problem statement. Any time I'd try to sit and work on the problem, I'd get frustrated.
But the beauty was that now I was able to hear what my heart was trying to tell me.
So in my first business (that bombed the hardest financially) - I was driven to make a lot of money in a shot period of time.
In my next venture and startup, Storied Crafts - I was driven to change the world but secretly I also saw that game as the quickest way to make millions. Oh boy, Founder's depression was like a weekly thing for me.
But in my habits coaching business, I was truly driven with the ultimate goal to help people.
Yet, something was still off. What was it?
Big thanks to Tim Ferriss who interviewed Tony Robbins for the 2nd time on his 4-Hour Work Week podcast. In that episode, I discovered what was causing that turmoil inside of me.
What is inner conflict?
Have you ever felt this way when one part of you was telling you to do something while the other side was asking you to do something else that would make your first goal or task ever more distant?
When I diagnosed this for my case, I decided to give a shot at Tony Robbins' technique on How to solve inner conflict.
I did notice that there was a missing component to this exercise which I've included at the end of this essay.
Okay, so it wasn't exactly a 30,000 foot view (may be I can call it a 100,000 foot view?).
But since you're reading this line, do you think my story is a bit different than the normal stories you hear of international students who come to the US to study?
So how did I solve the inner conflict where one side of me wanted to build a massive purpose-driven company while the other side was trying to tell me that I wouldn't be in the US if it weren't for my graduate program and that I had to finish it.
Below is the transcript from the 4-Hour Work Week podcast.
Tony Robbins -
Scientific studies show that - your heart has hormones that affects the way your brain functions. It's not just the other way around.
Often the conflict we have are between our conscious and unconscious mind. Between our mind and our heart.
If I were to put electrodes in your brain and in your heart - the EEG and the EKG, we can see that in a normal state, they are pretty jagged up and down. They don't look anything like each other.
But if all you do, is put your hand in your heart physically, and start breathing and feeling your heart, something interesting happens.
When you feel your heart, you put all your focus in it. When you breathe into your heart and you feel gratitude for 2 minutes; when you think for 3 events in your life you feel grateful for - at the end of that 2 min, you're in a beautiful state because when you look at your EEG and EKG, it's dramatic.
First, they aren't jagged but they're now rounded.
But what's mind boggling is that - they literally sync up. They become identical.
Your mind is great for strategy but it'll never let you enjoy an apple because it'll go - Is it organic, where did it come from?
Versus your heart which can bring the juice of everything back to you.
Versus your heart which can bring the juice of everything back to you.
Now this is the part where Tony guides the listeners through the whole exercise step by step.
If you're struggling with some internal conflict and haven't had much luck trying to solve it - whether it's with work, relationships, finances, I highly recommend you to do this exercise.
And if you're skeptic about this whole thing Tony shared, I challenge you to do it at least once as he suggests in the exercise, before you abandon it as something ridiculous or hokey pokey.
This exercise helped me to solve my inner conflict that had been bothering me for 2 years. I've shared my experience and additions to the exercise below.
→ Step 1
Think of a situation where you're in a place where you have some unfinished business.
It's a place where you should have handled something with a person or a situation. But it stressed you out and then you started focusing on other things because the first situation was just stressful and painful to deal with.
Think of something on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is totally stressed out and 0 is not at all; pick something that's an unfinished business in your personal or work life which is at least a 7, a 8, or a 9.
Do you have one?
Once you select that situation, move to...
→ Step 2
Now put both your hand on your heart and physically breathe deep into your heart.
As you're breathing deep into your heart, feel the strength of your heart; feel the power of your heart. Feel the beauty of your heart.
What are you proud or grateful for - that your heart has guided you to do, or to give , or to feel, or to enjoy?
Feel the strength of the heart. Breathe into it such that you feel the blood flow. Feel the oxygen.
And feel grateful for your heart first.
Think about it - you didn't have to earn this heart. It was given to you. You didn't have to prove your value or your worth. You didn't have to accomplish anything.
Someone loved you enough to give you the gift of life.
As long as this heart is beating, you have that gift and you live.
As long as this heart is beating, you have that gift and you live. Your heart beats 100,000 times a day. It pumps blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels. When you put them end to end it goes twice around the equator, That's what inside each one of us.
And you don't even have to think about it.
As you breathe into your heart, feeling your powerful heart - think of that one moment you could feel so grateful for if you wanted to. A magic moment, a sexy moment, a sacred moment, a beautiful, loving, memorable moment.
Step into that memory for a minute. Step as if you were there in the moment. Or hear what you'd hear when you're there. Breathe the same way as you'd breathe in that moment.
How do you smile when you're so grateful and so thankful?
What's the look in your eyes? How do you breathe?
What's the look in your face when you're feeling really, really grateful?
The reason we use gratitude is because there are 2 emotions that messes us up - Anger and Fear.
And you can't be grateful and angry at the same time. It's the antidote.
Also, you can't be grateful and fearful at the same time.
Now think of the 2nd moment. Feel deep into your heart that moment whether it's from you childhood, adulthood, 2 years ago, 10 y ago.
Feel that moment where you felt was things were magical, magnificent. Thinking about this moment gives you a feeling of tremendous gratitude if you just focused on it for a bit.
Breathe it, feel it, enjoy it.
Now finally, think of a 3rd moment you can feel grateful for.
Step in it. Feel the gratitude. What were you so grateful for? What are you grateful for?
Throw another extra one. Think of a coincidence where you didn't do something but it happened for you.
May be you met the love of your life or found a business opportunity or came up with an insight that was invaluable.
What's that coincidence you can be so grateful for and feel gratitude for it?
Life happened for you. Ask yourself - was it just a coincidence or were you guided?
Now as you breathe in your heart, you've been doing this about fr 2 min. Keep breathing and feeling grateful.
Let's use this state to solve your problem state. So keep breathing your heart. Stay out of your head.
→ Step 3
Think of that unfinished business that has stressed you out in the past.
Keep yourself in this beautiful state and ask yourself this question -
All I need to focus on in that situation is, all I need to remember is what?
Your heart knows.
All I need to do in that situation is what?
All I need to focus on, remember, all I need to do is?
Then your heart will tell you the answer. You will know what to do next.
Did you do the above exercise?
If you did not, then I want to ask you - what is stopping you from giving a shot at a system that a person came up with who has advised everyone from Bill Clinton and Serena Williams to Leonardo DiCaprio and Oprah. Tony Robbins ha consulted or advised international leaders including Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and three U.S. Presidents.
For some reason, I don't know what - but I've found that millennials have some sort of resistance to Tony Robbins' teachings.
If your internal conflict is at a level that your life has become a living chaos, then I challenge you to try the above exercise for 3 times. If you continue to struggle with your inner conflict even after doing it 3 times, I'll do 1,000 pushups in your name.
But if you'reading this and have decided not to do this or any of the exercises I share in my essays, well you get to make your own choices in life. Just makes sure you're not suffering when there are solutions out there.
When I did the above exercise, I realized that my heart was able to give me the answers but that happened on the 3rd attempt and also being self-aware of my core values helped me to hack my system.
Let me explain.
Here's my personal core values hierarchy.
1. Honesty, Authenticity and Genuineness - At the core, integrity is the most important thing for me. If I'm not being honest, I'm not being myself which just makes me miserable.
Back in the summer of 2014, when I was working on 'A Drive To Inspire' campaign, I told my professor - "I know my purpose in life and I'm going to take actions on this obesity campaign and get back to my research later."
This is what Dr. Govind replied back to me with.
After I came back from the campaign, I immediately jumped on to my first real-estate business which bombed hard after 8 months. Dr. Govind had not heard from me all this time.
Until one day I met him and told how I was conned by a psychopath and that I had been in the darkest and most depressive phase of my life for the past half year. And in an instant, he forgave me and our relationship has gotten better and better since then.
Just by stepping forward with my value of integrity, I've had the opportunity to go through amazing places and gain experiences which I would have never imagined to be possible when I first came to the US.
2. Curiosity, Knowledge and Learning - This one combined with honesty makes up my base foundation of the values hierarchy. If I'm not learning, asking questions, reading, coming up and working on my ideas, I go down the rabbit hole of hopelessness and desperation and frustration.
I'm grateful to my curiosity because this value has helped me to learn about topics (behavioral psychology, digital marketing, story-based selling, persuasion, writing, web-design, neuroscience, stock market, nutrition, etc) that I would have otherwise not learned in graduate school getting my Chemical Engineering Master's.
The most important thing I value about learning and curiosity is that this value has helped me to develop a mindset where I believe that life is an experiment.
There are no failures but only results. And as long as we keep tweaking the parameters of the experiment based on our hypothesis and assessing the results from each study, we'll eventually get to our conclusion.
3. Determination and Passion - Once my actions are guided with the base of honesty and curiosity, passion comes and follows me automatically.
People say - "Do what you're passionate about."
This is what I've experienced.
If I'm taking actions based on my first 2 core values, then passion, enthusiasm and excitement follows me wherever I go - no matter what's the project. When I'm guided by honesty and curiosity and learning, passion comes and finds me instead of me having to look for it.
Today I'm passionate about design, writing, public speaking, researching new topics, traveling, art, etc - not because I was already in love with these topics from day 1.
But I ended up being passionate about these topics automatically after I persisted through the learning curve which became easier for me when I tapped on to my base values of curiosity and the desire to understand and get better at things.
Do things consistently and get better at it while having fun along the way. Passion will come find you in no time. This is what I'd teach to my future kids.
4. Hope, Optimism and Vision - Once I'm passionate about something, I am able to hope for a better future without any resistance from my mind or my heart. I am able to gather the courage to believe in my long-term vision and have faith in my actions that it will yield positive results.
Do I believe in the power of positive thinking?
But I was skeptic about the whole act of gratitude journaling when I first heard about it in 2014. But then I was manically depressed and had tried to kill myself once. So there was nothing to lose to give a shot at it.
The habit of being grateful for 3 things in my life every day helped me to come out of the most abysmal place I've ever lived till date.
This is what I learned about the power of having hope and maintaining optimism and believing in your vision.
Hope is a failed strategy when the task requires taking actions or is under our control. But when there are things that you don't have any or much control over - like the weather or the flight's schedule or the actions of other people , the ability to have hope can be a great fuel to help you keep moving forward.
When I was living with the psychopath, I kept hoping that we're going to close on the houses and then part our own ways. That life would be better in a few months. I just had to be patient and keep showing up everyday.
Of course, sometimes being too hopeful can take over one's rationality which happened to me because while my friends could see through the intentions of my business partner, I was totally blinded and kept following his vision that I was going to get rich quick.
The field of neuroplasticity is shining some light on the debatable topic of positive thinking where we are seeing that the human brain can form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience - regardless of how old you are.
This gives me the reasoning to continue being hopeful and let my brain get the benefits of those synapses that occur when I am optimistic and am visualizing my vision for an awesome future.
5. Meaning and Clarity in 'Why' - Simon Sinek got me into starting with Why. If you haven't watched his Ted Talk then you've probably been living in a cave for the past 5 years.
Basically, when I started to question my motives behind why I wanted to do certain things or take actions towards certain ideas, the response from my brain not only guided me forward but it also helped me to create meaning in any work I did.
During my real estate business, while I may have been able to fulfill the above 4 values in one or the other way, my reasoning to get into real estate was to get rich quick.
That was the sole driving factor which backfired real bad.
As it turns out, wealth and security, fame, popularity, and status do not excite me at all. They are distant to who I am at the core. (INTJ type according to Myers Briggs gives me another confirmation point here).
Even when I was building my startup Storied Crafts, I took actions to help the handicraft artisans who had no idea about the world of eCommerce but they all had an inspiring story.
But after 7 months, I realized that one of my goals that I had been putting off was taking care of my parents. The awakening moment was then I realized that I didn't want to help my parents with their retirement because I had to. I wanted to support my parents financially because that is one of my core needs that I must meet.
This was the breakthrough moment, when I realized that I was not being honest with myself. I was going further away from my truth.
This involved me graduating with my Master's degree which I had been procrastinating for 4 years now. I had started the Ph.D. program but after 3 years when I realized that entrepreneurship was what I wanted to pursue and that too not even close to my technical research field, my professor advised me to get a MS degree at least as that would help me with a US advanced degree that does have some clout when you're looking for a job.
I asked my heart -
"What do I do: Grow my start-up or finish my degree, graduate, and get a job."
My heart replied back -
"Many people over estimate what they can do in a year or two and underestimate what they can accomplish in 2 or 3 decades."
I had been telling myself that I am an entrepreneur and as an entrepreneur I need to build, grow, and own my company.
That's a flawed belief system.
Entrepreneurs at the core are problem solvers. So I don't necessarily had to own or grow my startup. I could approach my Masters thesis as an entrepreneur and solve the problem statement.
And BAM! This dawned upon me on Nov 2016, and within the next 4 weeks, I was able to solve my thesis problem statement.
As I write this, I'm now a few months away from finally graduating with my MS in 5 years on April 29, 2017.
Is there an unfinished business in your personal or work life?
This is the flow-chart I would follow if I got stuck in inner conflict again -
1. Become self-aware of your top 5 core values. You can take the core values assessment here →
2. Do the Tony Robbins' - 'How To Overcome Internal Conflict' exercise.
3. Repeat this for at least 3 times which I'm confident will help you create your own breakthrough moment with whatever unfinished business you have.
That's all I've got to say.
Oh hey! Since you read all the way till the end, I think you'll also like the following posts.
BTW I'm always open to new thoughts and ideas. So if you've got something you'd like me to think about or add to this essay, then please share your thoughts below.