In this episode, I am speaking with JJ Virgin – about the secrets of resilience, how to change your mindset and overcome adversity.
JJ is a triple board-certified nutrition expert in and fitness hall of famer. She’s a prominent TV and media personality, with appearances on PBS, Dr. Oz, Rachel Ray, Access Hollywood, and the Today Show. And she’s the author of four New York Times bestsellers.
In this podcast, JJ will cover:
• How her life was turned upside down when her son almost died in a hit-and-run accident (and the remarkable recovery he made.)
• Do you need a tragic event to develop a resilient mindset?
• How a positive resilient mindset helped her through the traumatic event
• Why mindset is important in creating a successful life and overcoming adversity
• How does mindset tie into health?
• JJ’s top tips on how to change your mindset, today!
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The Secrets Of Resilience, How To Change Your Mindset And Overcome AdversityWith JJ Virgin – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten, and today I have with me JJ Virgin, who… I will read you her official bio here. She’s a triple board-certified nutrition expert in and Fitness Hall of Famer, which I hope to be one day. She helps people over 40 break through food and carb intolerances, so they can finally lose the way to transform their health and their lives.
She’s a prominent TV and media personality, whose previous features include co-host of TLC’s, Freaky Eaters-which was a cool show by the way. Two years as the On-camera nutritionist for weight loss challenges on Dr. Phil and appearances on PBS, Dr. Oz, Rachel Ray, Access Hollywood, and The Today Show. She also speaks regularly and has shared the stage with notables including Seth Godin, Lisa Nichols, Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Hyman, Dan Buettner, and Mary Morrissey. She’s the author of four New York Times bestsellers -I also hope I can say that about myself one day-the Virgin Diet, The Virgin Diet Cookbook, JJ virgin sugar impact diet, and JJ Virgin’s sugar impact diet cookbook.
Her latest book, Warrior Mom, 7 Secrets To Bold, Brave Resilience, shows mothers everywhere, how to be strong positive leaders for their families while exploring the inspirational lessons that JJ has learned as she fought for her own son’s life. And that’s actually going to be something we talk about in this show today. she hosts the popular JJ Virgin lifestyle show podcast, with over 4.5 million downloads and counting.
She also regularly writes for Rodale Wellness, Mind Body Green, and other major blogs and magazines. And her website is JJvirgin.com. So, welcome to the show. JJ, it’s such a pleasure to finally have you.
JJ Virgin: Yeah, my gym buddy.
Ari Whitten: Yes.
JJ Virgin: My no longer gym buddy.
Ari Whitten: I know, you moved away. But…
JJ Virgin: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I used to see JJ at the gym with her husband all the time, which was cool. And I will also say on a personal note, I’ve learned a huge amount from her. She runs a summit for health experts called Mindshare Summit. And, it’s been an honor to learn from her. So, it’s cool to finally have you on the show.
JJ Virgin: Yes. Fun.
How an accident changed JJ’s life
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, I want to talk to you about your latest book, 7 Secrets To Bold, Brave Resilience. You have a crazy, crazy story that no one would ever… I mean, people pray that this never happens to them and it happened to you and this was kind of what inspired this book. I would love if you could talk about your story of what you went through and what inspired you to write this book.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. Never wish for a great story.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
JJ Virgin: And here’s the crazy thing about that, Ari. I’ve always felt that I’m a very powerful manifester, so be careful what you wish for. And remember the day before this all happened, I was at a conference and they’d spent a lot of time at this conference teaching the hero’s journey. And I remember walking out of that conference thinking, and I got no hero’s journey, right? Like I got nothing. I don’t have a good story. Boom. So, don’t, don’t wish for that.
So, before the Virgin Diet was coming out, it was only a couple of weeks before the Virgin Diet was coming out, which is an insane time because, first of all, I invested everything into this book. I’m the sole financial support for my family and it was just, I was going to do whatever I needed to do to get this work out into the world cause I felt like it really could make a big impact.
So that’s the setup. My kids are 15 and 16. I’m a single mom. I support them and my son goes out for a walk at dusk and the next thing I know my ex-husband and my 15-year-old come running in the house and say Grant’s got hit by a car and he was airlifted to the local hospital.
And it’s so crazy when you kind of look back at this, cause I don’t even know who did this next like hour or so.
Cause it was like I was watching a movie. I remember throwing my laptop and all of these things into a tote bag, like, what the heck was I doing? Why do I feel that I need to bring these things?
But I brought all these things with me and we drove, rushed off to the hospital and the doctor ushered us into a room and told us that, basically, we needed to let our son go. That he had been the victim of a hit and run and he had a torn aorta, which kills 90% of people right on the scene and he said, it’s hanging on by an onion skin and if we don’t repair it in the next 24 hours, sometime in the next 24 hours starting now, it’s going to rupture.
He goes, but the type of surgery he needs is very specialized and we can’t do it here because he’s got multiple brain bleeds and you cannot do the surgery that we do here. We use blood thinners. His brain would bleed out. He was in a deep coma. He had something called diffuse axonal injuries. The good news is he still had brain activity, but he was in a deep, deep coma, like the highest-level coma you could be in. And then, and it’s interesting perspectives, everything. When my kids were little, I remember the first time Grant like hit his mouth and a little blood and I’m like, “oh my gosh.” And now here he’d broken both femurs. He had his shinbone sticking through his skin. He was covered in road rash. That’s like minor compared to all the other things.
And literally when we walked in to see him, my ex-husband and my son Bryce and I. Here he is, lying on a stretcher. He looks like the incredible hulk because he’s so swollen. He’s covered in glass and road rash. He’s got, it is just unbelievable. And I looked at it as if I was looking at a movie, because in your mind as a parent, it could not possibly be real. Like, your whole being is going, “Not real. Nope. Not happening here.” You know?
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
JJ Virgin: And, we talked to the doctor, the doctor’s like, he’s never gonna survive an airlift to next hospital. You’re gonna have to let him go. And Bryce is looking at him and the doctor says, “He won’t survive the airlift. Even if he survived the airlift, he’s not going to survive the surgery. Even if he survived the surgery, he’d be so brain-damaged, it wouldn’t be worth it.” And my son looks at him and goes, “Well, maybe like there’s a 0.25% chance he could make it?” And he goes, “That sounds about right, son.” Like as if don’t even bother.
And Bryce looks him. He goes, “well, we’ll take those odds.” You look at it and go, it’s not zero. And I remember I walked outside, I took a little break and, I wanted to check in. I’ve always been super close. It was interesting when I was pregnant with Grant, I literally woke up the morning, the first morning I was pregnant with Grant and told my then-husband, “I go, I’m pregnant. It’s a boy”. He’s like, “You’re crazy”. And I was right. I was like, I just knew it. I’ve, I’ve always had just this feeling with him.
So, I walk outside, and I just stood outside. I got very quiet and present and I said, “Grant, what do you want me to do?” I was like, what does he want? Does he want us to fight for him? What if like we fight for him and he’s a vegetable? Like what do we do? And I stood out there and I just got the big hit, “Just fight for me, Mom.” And I walked back in there. I said, “What are we waiting for?” You know I can get Bossy, “What are we waiting for?” And that was it. We went for it and had him airlifted. There was an amazing hospital at this in LA. Number two, trauma center in the country and one doctor there accepted the case at midnight, assembled five surgical teams, got ahold of a stint that had been part of a study that was no longer even around. Found one had its airlifted in it, got there at 5:30 in the morning. And he told me later, “Yeah, that wasn’t really approved for kids. I figured I’d ask for forgiveness.” This is the guy you want on your team.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
JJ Virgin: We leave and drive there at two in the morning, we’re driving to LA. We have no idea. If he’s gonna make the airlift. We have no idea. We get there and we walk in and here’s this doctor and he said to me, he’s like, “you’re the mom?” Which is pretty obvious. I’m looking completely shell shocked. And he said, “You don’t need to worry, I totally got this. This is what I do all the time.”
Ari Whitten: Wow.
JJ Virgin: “No problem.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
Ari Whitten: That’s awesome.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. And then he goes, let me show you where we’re going to do the surgery. And it was interesting cause there’s my son, there are five surgical teams getting them ready for surgery and he’s like, let me go take you where we’re going to do the surgery. Now, later on. I’m like, that was so smart. He got me the heck out of that room. But he just was, he had such good bedside manner. And he goes, “I’m going to take you to the waiting room.” I’ll be back in a couple hours, tell you everything’s fine. You just hang out. And I’m like, “Alright.” [He] came back a couple hours later. He goes, “[He’s] alright.” Since then he’s great, no problems. He goes, “now I’m just the plumber. I don’t know if he’s going to wake up or not.” That’s not my job.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
JJ Virgin: Well, yes. Highs and lows. Right.
Ari Whitten: Well that sounds like exactly the kind of person that you want in that scenario on your side.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. This, this whole thing was really we decide how we show up and to me this whole story and really life is about how you show up. I mean, Gosh, the one thing we know for sure, Ari, is we’re going to go through some stuff. I mean, you look at the most successful people. The people who I admire the most in life are not the people who had it easy. They’re the people who have gone through things. And I always watch people because you’ll hear people say, “Oh, she was just being a witch because she’s under a lot of stress.” Or “Oh, I had someone like lie about their hours, they are working for me.” And he said, “Oh, but I needed more money because my wife was in the hospital.”
JJ Virgin: I’m like, “You could have asked!” I’ve heard all these things and Wayne Dyer says that when you squeeze the orange, you get orange juice. It’s not… when things are great new show up and you’re super nice, that’s like no big feat. It’s, when things are rough and, and you show up, that’s the differentiator. So, that doctor so inspired me with just how he was under like the most crazy pressure. And, thankfully I think I was able to do a lot of that while Grant was in the hospital too.
Ari Whitten: So, what then happened with your son? So that was the cardiologist…
JJ Virgin: That was the cliffhanger. So, what happened? I just left you with like, he may never wake up. So that was the cardiothoracic surgeon. So, then we go meet with these, neurosurgeons.
JJ Virgin: They were really kind of like Debbie Downer docs. “Oh, we don’t know.” And I just decided, I kind of was listening to them talk and all I heard was wa,wa,wa,wa,wa,wa… I’m just like going, “Yeah, not going to listen to this.” So, I kept thinking, as long as he’s alive, I have so many friends in the medical field, we can figure this out. I just need to make sure he’s alive. And I walked in to the ICU. And the adult ICU at Harbor UCLA is pretty rough. In the first day he was there until he got moved to pediatric ICU. Like, gunshot wounds, people handcuffed to their beds. I mean it was a rough spot. He was in the corner and it was sunny, and he was there and he like had a central line and respirator or ventilator, like all these machines beeping.
And I hold on to two of his fingers cause everything else is literally bandaged or like road rash, And so I’m holding onto these two little fingers and I am doing everything I can to manage me because I know that he feels me and I want to make darn sure that I don’t transmit any fear or anything else. And so, I’m saying, “Grant, everything’s- I’ve got this, I’m gonna get all my friends involved, we’re going to help you. We’re going to get through this. I go, I just need you to fight.” I go, “I love you so much.” And, I’ve got his little fingers and nothing’s happening. And then I said, “Your brother loves you so much.”
And then I feel a little pressure in a little squeeze because he loves his brother. And then I said, “Graham, he loves you so much.” Didn’t feel anything. And then I said, “And your girlfriend, McKinsey wants you, she misses you. She wants you to come back.” And he lifted my hand off the bed. And that’s when I went. “Alright, you know what, he’s with me.” This is Grant is the most stubborn kid I’ve ever met. And I thought if anyone can get through this… His brother said, if anyone can get through this, he can. So, I just said, “You’re going to be 110%, babe. This is going to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Your name means warrior and you got to fight and I’m going to pull in every single resource that we need to get you there. So that’s your job. Let’s go.”
And that was the thing that kind of kept me going through some of the darkest stuff is, my question. I think life really comes down to the questions you ask. It’s like, what is the quality of the questions? My question was all the time, “How do I get you to be 110%?” That was it. There were a lot of times when he didn’t even look like he was going to make it through the night. So, this was quite, quite a big question or I literally didn’t know as he was coming out of a coma, I didn’t know was he going to be blind, paralyzed, Deaf. Like, who knew who was waking up at or if he would ever wake up, you didn’t know. So, it required a lot of mindset management.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I went for a walk the other day with John Assaraf, a mutual friend of ours.
JJ Virgin: Yes.
Ari Whitten: And, I talked to him about something that I’d never really talked about with anyone but was kind of on my mind. It was kind of bothering me. I have a son who’s a little over two and a half years old and for the last couple of years, I keep having these thoughts pop into my head. What if, when the nanny takes him, they get hit by a car… Or what if, he’s at the beach and get swept away by a wave… Or falls off the playground and gets paralyzed or something like that or chokes on food… And all these scenarios of how he could just instantly die and be taken away from me.
And I actually have this like thing in the back of my mind, like, what if these are like prophetic visions that these things are actually going to happen? And so I just told, I just expressed this to him and I’m like, is there a way for me to not have these thoughts because it really unpleasant and he talked to me about how you can potentially have less of these thoughts or how you can reframe it when you start to notice it. But the, probably the biggest thing was he just said, “Yeah, I used to have those thoughts all the time.” And he has two boys who are in their early twenties now. I’m too young men I should say. And it was actually just profoundly normalizing for me just to…
JJ Virgin: I was going to say, you mean like every parent, right?
Ari Whitten: Exactly. And so, then that was my thing is like, is this unique to me and I’m just having these prophetic visions? Or is this your…
JJ Virgin: You’ve just become a parent and you wonder. How the heck… I look at my kids and go, how did they even survive the first two years? You know? Like how… I will tell you though, that once Grant was in the hospital, I didn’t allow any of those negative what if’s because I was so afraid that that would become reality. So, it was like instant replace, instant replace, it’s like we’re not going there at all. But I think, I think it’s pretty typical because as when you have a kid, it’s like a love you never even knew you were capable of having like you just…
I remember watching that movie, the Seventh Sign with Demi Moore and she goes, she says, I will die for you to her unborn child. And I go, I totally like, I never would’ve gotten that til I have a kid. And then you can just know that whatever it takes, with my son sitting there, that’s why he’s lying in bed and I check in to make sure that is this is what you want. And then once I know that it’s like, whatever I have to do, it’s like whatever. And you get it as a parent. That’s why for a parent to hear, Oh, he’d be so brain-damaged, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m like, what? You know?
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
JJ Virgin: Are you a parent? You know?
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, after this… Your son, how old is he now? This was when he was 15. This was eight years ago. Nine years ago?
JJ Virgin: He was 16, he’s just turned 23. I learned that what they show you in the movies is not how it is. So, you know how they have the person in coma in the movies and then the person wakes up and looks at you and says, “I love you.” That is not what happens. And the doctors told me that when he woke up it would be ugly. And so, I thought, “all right, so maybe he wakes up and screams and then we’re okay.” It was years of ugly. I didn’t know.
And every brain injury is different, but brain injuries are a very, I think this is one of the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed things going on right now. It’s something like 5 million people in the US at any one time are struggling with the effects of a brain injury. And a lot of what it does is give you, big mood issues, massive depression, and suicidal tendencies.
So, when Grant first came out of the coma, which again is not wake up and say, I love you, it’s, he opened his eyes, looked away to the side and started moving the only arm, everything was in a cast except for one arm. So, he just moved that back and forth all day, for days. And so, as you can imagine, this required a lot of good positive self-talk is the first time looking at that going, “uhoh,” cause you don’t know. I mean there’s no crystal ball to say, Oh okay, this is just a phase.
Luckily, I had some, some people from Mindshare who are coming in. Dr. Suzanne Bennett, Dr. Hyla Cass, Dr. Prudence Hall, Dr. Daniel Aimen, Dr. Anne Myers. And Dr. Anne Meyers would come on Friday nights and she goes, “This is great. He looks great.” She worked in a brain trauma unit. So, she’d come in and go, “he’s making amazing progress”. And I look, and I go, “he is, wow, okay.” So, she just was so positive telling me it was going to be so great. And he’s doing so well. And I’m like, all right, I’m going with what she’s saying. But it took a lot of, it was very, very challenging because some of the stuff took so much time and you’re like going, “Oh my gosh, is he ever going to get that?” How do you know?
So, I had to just stick with “He is going to be 110%” and I always had the next thing that I was working on with him and I was always looking at “What wins did he have today? What are the little things that he did today?” And it’s very much like coming out of a coma when you’ve had a severe traumatic brain injury. His first six months was sort of like the first two years of a baby’s life, except that your baby now is, 150 pounds, not 10 to 20 pounds. And then all of a sudden, he got stuck in the terrible twos.
Cause one of the things that happens with brain injuries as they learn, lose their internal editor and they start getting, he would get very violent and very scary and very angry. And you never knew when it was going to happen. It was frightening. We had him in the children’s hospital in LA and we had to have them in a zip-up bed with a 24-hour security guard.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
JJ Virgin: Sitting outside. Yeah, absolutely frightening. But we got through that, we got through multiple suicide attempts because as he started to heal, he started to get into those deep depressions and despair that happen with brain injuries.
In fact, I still remember, it’s like sometimes you just have to keep your sense of humor along with your sense of hope. And I remember at one point my ex-husband and I are lying on top of Grant, who’s just swallowed a handful of pills. My other son called the paramedics. We’re on top of him holding them down. The paramedics walk. They’re like, okay. So, cause they got very used to what was going on.
But I will tell you now he’s 23. He is better than he was before the accident. He still has some issues from a brain injury, but there’s also as just as there are issues, there are gifts as well. So again, I think, you get what you focus on. If I look for the good and what happened here like he is so much more self-aware.
He is incredible. Some of the skills he’s developed and he… Remarkably, here’s a kid who was literally run down in the street and left for dead and he has crushed heel, both femurs broken like all these injuries. He can do sports, he can run. The only thing that he had physically was a loss of hearing in one ear and the doctor said he’d never hear in that ear again and he’s gotten some of it back cause he just was like not going to believe that. So, when you look at it, you’re like, I don’t even know how that could possibly have happened. And he’s become a’ voracious reader. He does art. He does gardening. So, he’s like, it’s really quite amazing what he’s done with all of this stuff and it’s, he’s still in the healing process.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah. Amazing. I feel like you have displayed like through this process incredible, and extraordinary in the true sense of that word-level of courage and resilience. I want to almost contrast this with a quick little story from my life as I went through on the first pregnancy with my son Mateo. my wife went for a routine checkup during the pregnancy when she was about six months pregnant. And the nurse who was working on her when they were doing the ultrasound, would say, “oh my gosh, you’re funneling, you’re going into labor right now.” And then they rushed her into the hospital and basically like had her strapped to the bed and were preparing for labor like imminent. And I got a call and my wife’s crying and she’s like, “They told me I’m going into labor right now and I’m only six months pregnant.”
And so, she’s there and she spent a total of about 48 or maybe close to 72 hours in the hospital. It was three nights stay there. And on the second day, the different specialist doctors came in and one of them was a perinatologist, I forget the name of the other one. But I remember having these discussions with the perinatologist basically where he’s breaking down the statistics of, “Hey, when babies are born this early, this prematurely, you have this percentage chance that the baby’s going to die.
You have this percentage chance that if the baby lives though have this problem or that problem or brain damage or all these things. And I was friggin terrified. I mean, I was…like my life is about to change in like a horrible way. There’s this big tragedy about to happen to me and that was like one of the most terrifying experiences of my life and I was in full panic mode and I can only imagine what you went through and the fact that it wasn’t… To wrap my story up. It turned out that it was actually misdiagnosis. So, she was there totally unnecessarily. She wasn’t at all going into labor and they were wrong. So, I think that the guy who was a specialist came in and was like, this is false funneling, not real funneling. You’re not going into labor
JJ Virgin: Well, here’s the thing it’s easy to go into, “Oh my gosh. They messed that up.” And you’re thinking, well, “wouldn’t you rather have them Err on that side than Err on the other side?”
Ari Whitten: Yes, I would. However, I wish that they would have come in had the specialist look at it within…
JJ Virgin: A little sooner.
Ari Whitten: … hours, so that we didn’t have to suffer unnecessarily for two days.
JJ Virgin: Oh my gosh. I know the stress… The stress hormones that go to the baby when that happens, it’s like [inaudible].
The secret to JJ’s resilience
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And we actually did do an intervention too. They’d administer a corticosteroid intravenously as a way to stimulate lung development, rapid lung development in the baby to help increase the odds of survival. So, we actually did an intervention based on this false diagnosis. But anyway, my point was that was unbelievably terrifying, and I feel like what you’re talking about was vastly worse, vastly more terrifying.
And yet, you were so courageous and so resilient and so positive in terms of your mindset through this whole process, how is that possible? Is this just something you were born with or what?
JJ Virgin: I’m an alien. Yeah, I’m an alien. So, it was interesting when I was writing the book because my, publisher and agent, they were like, “Well, you’ve got to, explain how freaked out you were and upset and crying. But that’s not what I did. That’s not how I responded. I actually respond in a crisis very differently because I’ve been trained on how to respond in a crisis. It’s just like when you look at ER docs or paramedics, they’re not going to go running to an accident screen scene and go, “oh my gosh!” Like no, they’ve been trained. So when you look at this, we actually can learn how to show up when things are challenging because when you really look at it like go back into elementary school and junior high and high school, what we really need to learn is how to show up and how to have great relationships and how to be a good friend.
Because these are the things most of us are going to end up being caretakers in our life either for children or for parents, it’s just part of life. I was fortunate in my early thirties like it was actually late twenties, early thirties. I got a mentor and she was going to teach me how to be successful in business so I could make a bigger impact on the world and I go move in with her and I’m so excited. I’m gonna learn how to be successful in business cause I had this, I want to help the world get healthy and she’s going to help me do it. And she didn’t teach me anything related to business for six months. And for six months, all she did was work on mindset training. Turns out she was one of the top mindset trainers anywhere.
But I was so frustrated at first cause I was like, first of all, I was like, how am I going to, how am I going to survive and pay my bills here? I just, I just sold everything and moved in with you. But she kept saying, you’re not ready. And if you look at where people are in life, the most successful people just have gone through the most challenges. It’s just like, baseball if you want to have the most home runs have, the most strikeouts. I mean, it’s just how life works. And so, what she taught me right from there is that there are no limitations. This is one of the first things she taught me is there are no limitations or only the limitations in your mind to which I thought back then, very left brain.
Of course, there are limitations. Then she said, there is no right or wrong. There just is. I’m like, of course, there’s right or wrong. So, she was telling me these things that I was like, made me question everything. But when you think about it, if you were to approach something and here’s the doctor coming in to tell you the percent chance that your son’s going to be brain damaged, or your son’s not going to survive, what about the percent chance that everything’s going to be all right? Like why? When they told me, your son has a 0.25% chance of making it. I’m like, great, that’s all I need. That’s what I’m going to focus on. Enough focusing on the other 99.75% cause it does not matter. That’s all that matters. So that came from that training of, you get what you expect.
There are no victims, only volunteers. And that if you want something to be better than you need to make yourself stronger. Don’t wish it was easier. And so all of that stuff was so entrenched in me that it basically taught me that I could pretty much create or manifest anything that I wanted. And I couldn’t change the circumstance. I couldn’t change whether Grant, gotten hit by the car. And I couldn’t really change the chance whether it was gonna survive or not. But I could change how I showed up. I could change how I chose to help, who I chose to recruit, what I could do. That was all in my control. And so that’s what I did.
And I will tell you, it wasn’t, it wasn’t like I walked into the hospital, they tell me he got hit and I went, “Okay.” No, I mean it, there was, I had to process it. But even then, it was my brain searching for how can I, how can I fix this? What can I do here? What’s, that’s just where my brain went. And I think if you have something like that to hold on to, it keeps you going even when it’s really dark. And some of those times, especially Friday nights in the hospital for some reason we’re so depressing to me because no one was around. It was always just me sitting there with my son with machines beeping, hoping for something. But I would look for signs, I’d look for what I called little miracles, those little wins. Like, he’d squeezed my finger, make eye contact, or I would sneak in all sorts of things. I’d throw little balls into his hands, see if he could catch and squeeze. I look for anything to show me that he was improving and it’s like… It’s like basically, it’s like you get what you expect. I just expected him to make it through there. And I knew that if he didn’t make it, but that I had done everything that I possibly could to help him get there, I could be at peace with it.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, one of the things you said there, and I’m going to maybe not quote you exactly, but basically something to the effect of the most that the people with the strongest mindset that people were the most resilient are the ones who have been through the most stuff. How do we cultivate resilience in the absence of tragedy? In the absence of going through really horrible things. Is it possible or is it something that’s just like any degree of intellectual understanding and sort of practicing the mindset stuff doesn’t actually translate into real toughness when it actually matters?
JJ Virgin: Well, I didn’t have the tragedy before, I had the mindset before the tragedy. The time to get the mindset is not when you’re in the middle of the tragedy, that’s like, drowning in the ocean and you’ve got an unblown up life preserver, you know? I mean, that’s, so you’ve got to develop it first. And literally, what I did way back when it was back the days of the Sony Walkman, you probably don’t even know what this thing is.
Ari Whitten: I do. I’m 35 I’m not quite…
JJ Virgin: I was like, it’s this little thing. They put tapes in it. You can put it in your ears. And I used to get these tapes from the Nightingale-Conant, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Augmandino. I tightly controlled my environment. I stopped listening to the news. I mean, if there wasn’t a better time than now to not listen to the news, I don’t know when there is. Like, oh my gosh. Yeah. So, I did. when you look at what’s going on out there, it’s mainly negative stuff. So, I stopped with all of that. I started managing my environment, what I read, who I spent time with. I spent time with people. I mean, that’s why Mindshare Summit is so cool is this a tightly curated event of people who want to help each other and want to be better themselves and make a bigger difference in the world.
And so, I made sure those were the people I was spending time with. That was the things I was reading and listening to. And that’s started to make the big difference. And then I started just to watch all the things that happen because it doesn’t take a big tragedy to test. You were tested every day. I remember back when I was working one on one with clients, I had one gal who was so stressed out and having so many challenges. Her daughter was getting Bar Mitzvah’d. That was her big stress, her big challenge. Right? So, it doesn’t need to be some massive thing. It could be someone cutting you off at a red light. How do you respond? Now it could be someone like stealing your blog post. How do you respond? I watched people, I’m like, really? That’s like these things. Like every time is an opportunity for you to show up better. Right? There are all sorts of opportunities for it and each time I think what happens is you don’t realize how many things most people would think are little things or big things that you don’t even recognize anymore. It’s that whole don’t sweat the small stuff thing.
How people assess their personal suffering
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I think it’s interesting, but I’ve noticed a psychological tendency, and I don’t know if there’s any actual scientific literature on this or if there’s any scientific terminology around this phenomenon, but I’ve noticed that people seem to all normalized to whatever level of challenge they have in their life and whatever level of challenge, no matter how objectively, easy someone may have it. Almost everybody perceives themselves to be struggling, perceives themselves, to have it hard and perceive themselves to be stressed. And there are some people that I encounter that have really, really easy lives, and perceive themselves to be terribly stressed and have it really hard. And I’m like, you should maybe travel a bit.
JJ Virgin: So great.
Ari Whitten: So, you can see how people actually have it.
JJ Virgin: I know, let’s drop you off in some of these countries. It’s because it’s perception it can be shifted. Right? So that’s what’s so super cool about it is, I think a lot of it’s our languaging. it’s funny, I was talking to my son and he was upset about something and I go, I listened to you whenever you get upset you use this like “I’m stressed out of my mind.” I’m like, maybe we could shift that language. cause I actually believe that we’re never better than when we’re challenged. That when we have something that’s bigger than us that we need to work against or work for or towards like that’s when you really show up. That’s your opportunity to show up as your best self. I think that the challenge we have is that our society almost celebrates people being so stressed out and all and it’s like ridiculous.
JJ Virgin: I mean, I have one friend who I can’t really spend much time with anymore because every time you call her, she’s so slammed and she’s so busy and she’s so stressed. I’m like, “Man, I actually get done 10 times what you get done. And I don’t ever spend one-time bit saying that or complaining about it.”
Ari Whitten: “Yeah.”
JJ Virgin: That’s the other part. It’s like what’s the difference between I get to and I have to, right. I mean, right now I’m unpacking in my new house and some you might go, “oh my gosh, I have to unpack.” And I’m like, I get to unpack in it like new house on the water in Tampa. Oh my gosh, I’m so lucky. Right. So, it’s just, it’s just changing that perspective. And I think that the easiest way to do that is to watch who you hang out with. Because if you’re hanging out with positive people, they will call you on it and go, hey, help you reframe it. Right. I mean, John Assaraf a great example of one. Yeah, I’ve listened to his languaging. He has great languaging around it.
The number one tip on how to overcome adversity
Ari Whitten: He does. Yeah. I remember when I was his personal trainer 10 years ago and I remember one day he had something where his business partner or for this business that they had like had a stroke and there was like the business was like falling apart and he was like somehow he showed up for his training session that morning and he had a big smile on his face and he was happy and he was telling me about the whole thing. He was, I mean normally like his normal level of happiness and I’m like, he told me the whole story of what happened and I’m like, “how are you happy right now?” I don’t even understand what’s happening. Cause like I would be fuming, I would be [inaudible] I would be panicking and somehow, he was happy. He’s like, he said to me, “How would panicking right now help it?”
And so, he’s like. So how, how do we get to that place? Like you are embodying, he’s embodying where you are at the opposite of that pattern that I just talked about. If somebody who objectively doesn’t have it, at heart doesn’t have a lot of struggles but proceeds themselves to be stressed and have a really difficult life. How do we be in the opposite scenario where we may actually have lots of real challenges in our life? But we handled them with ease and with a smile and while remaining happy and in a good place.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. Well, Carol Dweck out of Stanford talks about this growth versus fixed mindset. So, the first part of it is knowing that you actually can shift this. It’s all in your power to do so. And it’s like anything else. It’s like exercise. Mindset’s a muscle. You need to take it to the gym. And the stuff that I learned back in my late twenties early thirties became so much a part of me and it didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time. I’ll share some things she did, but it became so much a part of me that when I wrote this book. When the whole thing happened with Grant, everyone’s like, I don’t understand. How the heck is you doing this? Cause I mean, I launched in New York Times bestselling book next to my son in a coma. I have the pictures of me with my laptop, sitting next to him in a coma talking to him, doing this and like, I don’t even get how you did that.
And I had forgotten that I even had this mentor. I’d forgotten all the training that we’d gone through because I was it. It became me. It was who I was. And I wasn’t that way. When I met her. I had total limiting beliefs, super judgmental. There are right or wrong, of course, it’s like you can’t just create something. And it happened over time. It happened with her first putting rubber bands on my wrist and every time I thought of a critical or limiting belief, a critical thought, limiting belief. I had to stamp my wrist.
And you do that enough, you stop doing it. And then I started to really tightly control the people that I spent time around. I have an amazing group of friends and I’m really careful about who I let into that inner circle. I have a helper mentality.
I always want to kind of like rescue those negative nellies out there, but if they’re not changing, then let them be. And then always surround yourself with like the books that you read. What are the podcasts that you’re listening to? What are you doing? And it’s, Gosh, it’s easier now than ever. Really. It’s harder and it’s easier. It’s harder because there’s all this silly stuff all over the place. I mean, it’s like, all the politics and ridiculousness, but it’s easier because we can decide which podcasts, right? We can decide which blogs we can block things. So, it’s just making that part of your daily practice. Every day, getting up, getting out your journal, writing down three things you appreciate, you’re grateful for it. That’s so easy. It doesn’t cost anything. Ending their day looking at three things that went great today and could be that you like are alive at the end of the day.
That’s a great day. it’s like you’re at the end of the day and you’re in a house with running water and electricity. You’ve got a majority of the people in the world. You’ve got it easier than them. So, it’s like, celebrate that. And I agree with you sometimes when my kids start to talk. And my kids are not, are not spoiled kids by any means, but sometimes I’m like, I think I really need to take you and go drop you off in a third world country. So, you really start to understand what you have here.
How mindset ties into health
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I remember… Real quick on that note, I, I grew up doing a ton of traveling all over the world with my parents since I was really, since I was a baby. Like I was 13 years, month old and Morocco saying my first words and Turkey and all through the Middle East and Asia and Europe and I did a lot of traveling as a kid. And I remember being like maybe six years old or something like that. I have this vivid, vivid memory in my mind still to this day of walking across this bridge in Istanbul, Turkey and seeing this mom, I was walking with my mom and I saw this mom with her son begging- they were homeless-on the bridge. And the son was just about my age and maybe he almost even looked similar to me and I looked at him and he almost looked like he could be my brother. And I remember like feeling like, man, what if I was like, you’re with your mom. I’m with my mom. We’re the same age, what if our places were switched and how different our lives are. And those experiences I think really shaped me in a big way.
JJ Virgin: Cause you know what, they so easily could. Yeah. there are times when I look at, over the last six years, it’s been, when it’s been a struggle with Grant, I was like, ugh. And then it’s like the universe provides, anytime that starts to happen, I’ll be walking by someone in the airport, and there’s a child in a wheelchair who’s clearly quadriplegic or something. And I’m like going, you know what? You are so fortunate. So, we just are so fortunate. We have to remind ourselves that. I think that the important thing here is that we need to… This is of anything that you could do to make the biggest impact on how you’re going to be on the planet. Like in terms of your health, your business, everything else. It all starts with mindset. Every program I ever wrote in health, I always started first with the mindset piece of it. and I went to write this book, the publishers like, well, mindset, but you don’t talk about mindset. I go read my books like every single book. The first part is, why is this important? How are you worth it? Like that all has to always guide everything.
Ari Whitten: Well let’s, let’s dig into that a bit deeper. I wanted to ask you, how does all of this tie into health specifically? So, for, there’s going to be different people who are listening to this. Some people are just interested in health and maybe you want to tie mindset into that, or they want to hear you tie mindset into that. And then other people are fascinated with psychological resilience and how do I go through challenges in my life and instead of being traumatized by them and have my growth stunted, how do I grow and become stronger and more resilient?
JJ Virgin: Yeah, let’s go with that one first and I’ll tell you about the other one. Something interesting that came out of my community. Because, when I was writing the book, I started studying forgiveness and I started saying forgiveness. Cause I went and did 40 years of Zen with Dave. I didn’t know what I was getting into. He just told me I had to do it. And he’s very pushy and bossy. So, I went. I kid. But as what it is you learn how to forgive with electrodes on your head. So basically, if you’re lying, the machine catches you. It’s fantastic because it helps you learn how to do a process that you can do anytime, anywhere. It’s an act of forgiveness process. And what you don’t realize is that if you still have some kind of charge around a person, something that they’ve done, you haven’t fully forgiven them.
It doesn’t mean you’re calling them on the phone going, I forgive you. It’s got nothing to do with that. It’s you going through a process to really understand what went on, how that impacted you, who they are, they’re getting empathy for them. And then really going through the process of fully forgiving them yourself, so that you get set free. And what the research shows is that one of the tops, forgiveness researchers were talking about like situations like Columbine. What they find is the people who have the least psychological impact, they have the best mental health outcomes afterward for the people who forgive the fastest. And what incredible about this researcher is as he was going through and doing all this research and discovering this, his mother was murdered.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
JJ Virgin: And he said 24 hours after his mother was murdered, he was actively forgiving the murderer.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. So, I mean now, wow, that’s like walking your talk. I don’t know that I could do that that quickly, but it is a really important one to remember because these things I think are like, tumors inside of us eating us up. So that’s the first one is forgiveness. On the health side. This was a very interesting thing. We queried our community a couple of years ago and we asked this question and it was just an open-ended question and we said, “if you are not where you want to be with your health, why not?”
Now, think about my community. The answers you would have thought would be like, “oh, I can’t quit my cheese pizza, or I like can’t stop the sugar.” So, I was fully expecting a very different answer than what I got and the answer I got the most, and we got huge like novels written, cause they could write as much as they wanted. And the most common answer was, “Because I don’t feel worthy.”
And so, think about how you treat yourself if you are not enough, right? So, when you really look at like I look at where I am in my career and I always said to myself, I’ll make $10 million when I’m 50 by 50 I’ll make $10 million. Now I look at the money as important for what you can do with the money. And what the money signifies is how many people you can help, right?
That’s what I’m looking at here. So what if I’d said that I was going to do that by 30 because I will tell you that I completely scrambled the last couple of years to make sure that I got to where I wanted to be when I said what I was going to do by 50. And I thought, well, why did I say 50 why didn’t I say 40 what if I said 30 right? All of a sudden what would I have done to make that happen? When Grant got hit and I said, all right, Grant, we’re going to make, we’re going to do whatever we need to do to make you 110%. Well, 110% doesn’t exist. But I thought I don’t mind falling short of 110% I just don’t want to say,” Hey, we’re just going to help you survive” because he could survive and be a vegetable.
So, ask those, ask those right questions there, right? But it has to come from a place of already being enough. And that’s what I find. And to have some deep, deep why and purpose for why you want to do this. not I want to lose 10 pounds for my high school reunion is a far different goal than I really want to be a role model for my son. I want to make sure he leaves, has a healthy life and a quality life. So, I’m going to do that too because I know that if I’m smoking as sitting on the couch, then that just gave him permission to smoke and sit on the couch.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What is the most surprising lesson to come out of all this? The most surprising thing from your book or kind of the most unexpected thing that you’ve learned from this whole process of what you went through?
JJ Virgin: So, one of the things that really surprised me, and you hear this all the time. You hear it all the time in our community, I know I was this way is; I never wanted to ask for help. I love to give help, but I don’t like to ask for help. It’s like, and so I started to really dig into, because the minute this happened, I sent an email out to my entire community. I said, listen, I don’t need your sympathy, but I need your support. Any ideas you have and what started to happen. We had people come to the hospital. I mean, I had friends coming from all over the place, but I also had people who came to the hospital to pray for Grant, who I did not know. And they drove hours to do this. I had one woman who dropped off a basket of healthy food every week.
I mean, just people showed up. And as I was watching this, I thought, I want to be that person. Like I don’t think anyone’s gotten to the end of their life and said, “Boy, I wish I wasn’t so kind and generous.” I’d love to be more, kind, more generous, more empathetic. but I think that asking for help, it’s one of the most courageous things that you can do. And because, and it’s, it makes you vulnerable, but there’s so much strength in it too. And it’s really changed now for how I feel about asking for help because I realized that those people coming to the hospital doing all of those things, they were actually getting something from doing that. And when we went back to the hospital at Christmas time to bring gifts because Grant was feeling depressed and I thought, you know what, I’ll take them there and give them a sense of purpose and haven’t talked to some of the other kids.
So, we brought a bunch of presents and we went to the children’s hospital to bring them gifts. And there was a 16-year-old girl there whose family was in Guam. Her Mom and dad were there. They were living at the Ronald McDonald House. Her sisters though we’re back in Guam, she’d lost her other, her only brother to leukemia. She’s got leukemia and all she wants for Christmas is to see ‘ her sisters. And she is again, they are, there is a basically a charity case with the hospital. And I’m listening to this and Grant’s connecting with her and talking to her and talking to the mom. And I said, I have all these airline miles so I’m going to fly your daughters out as a Christmas present for your daughter. And she goes, “oh my gosh, you can’t do that.”
And I go, yes, I can totally do that. That’ll be awesome. Let’s do this while I go find out that, I hate to admit, I was like, where is Guam? didn’t know where Guam was. Turns out that my airline miles weren’t working for Guam. Like it’s far, far place and American Airlines doesn’t fly there,
Ari Whitten: You’re like Guam. That’s a city in California, right?
JJ Virgin: I was like, Guam, yeah. Where is that new Modesto? So anyway, yeah, it was a $5,000 plane ride for those girls. And it was one of the highlights honestly of my life. So, I just was like, I’m doing this. I already said I was going to do this and whatever I need to do to make this happen, I’m doing, and I get this picture of these girls coming together. And by the way, it was the last time they saw their sister. And it’s like one of the best things that I’ve ever experienced in my life. So, you think about it, you think it’s actually kind of selfish for us not to ask for help because you hear about all the time when you give to someone, you get so much back. Right? And you don’t ever want to think transactionally. But boy that was just such a great thing and a great thing for my kids as well. So that was a big lesson is if you’re like afraid to ask for help, get over it.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, that’s a good lesson for me. Actually. I took that one very personally cause I’m definitely one of those people that has a very hard time asking for help.
JJ Virgin: So, you’d be amazed when you’ve got your 16-year-old son lying between life and death, you’re like, you’re like, all right, you know what I’m going to get, I’m going to get over this one right now real quick. But again, I would ask you, “Do you like helping other people?”
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
JJ Virgin: Well there you go. Well, we can’t all just help people.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, that’s very true.
JJ Virgin: Accept it.
How to change your mindset – Where to start
Ari Whitten: So my final question to you is, where do people start with all this and can you, can you give people like maybe a recap of the top three things, whether you’ve either covered them already in the interview or a couple of ideas that you haven’t covered. The top three things that you want to leave people with and like a practical strategy to start with today of how to change their mindset, how to develop more resilience.
JJ Virgin: This will be fantastic. First of all, look at opportunities differently. One of the things that that mentor had me do early on. First of all, I was not allowed to talk to her until the afternoon. Because she found that most people when they came to her in the morning, whatever it was, that was they needed help with. By the time they got to the afternoon, they’d figured it out themselves. If they still needed help in the afternoon. I could go, but I also could never present anything as a problem. Problems didn’t exist in her life. They were always either challenges or opportunities. That was it. So I think the first thing really is to realize that a lot of these things showing up, I don’t know one person, Ari, who’s, goes through an amazing day, everything is perfect for them and they at the end of the day goes, boy, I became a better person today.
I grew a lot today. Like we grow when we’re challenged. We grow when things are challenging. So, when you’re going through some rough stuff, just remember that you’re going to get through it, and you will become better because of it. We were all sitting around the dinner table and Bryce, my younger son, was like, we are closer, my ex-husband and my new husband are great friends. We all hang out together and, and we are so much closer and much better people because of this. So, you know what the other side, you always end up better. Now, what I was looking for was like some kind of thing that I like. I always like a framework and something that you can take with you so you can start to put this into immediate action. Cause again, if we decide that we have a growth mindset and it’s a muscle, then we need to train it.
So, I’m going to give everyone this as a download as well. I did a video on it, but I’ll walk you through it too. And I’m a big journaler. I think journals are the most underused, most powerful tool that we have and it’s especially important. Put your pen to paper. So, in the morning, this is, I call this my jam gratitude in the morning, write down three things you’re grateful for. Super Simple. Totally simple. And some mornings you may wake up and go out and feeling grateful for anything, but you know the minute you ask that right question, what am I grateful for today? Things start to pop up. And if you have more than three, just keep writing. So that’s the first piece. That’s the first thing you do in the morning. Open that I have my journal, it’s always right next to me in my bed on my nightstand table, pull it out, pen, write it down. Then throughout the day, if you get in a bad mood, someone cuts you off, you start to feel yourself going sideways. The way you can shift that state quickly is; pull out your phone and send a text to someone, preferably someone you haven’t talked to for a while and tell them something that you appreciate about them.
And what’s incredible about that is when you send a text to someone, like I just sent a text two days ago. I was thinking, I keep thinking about Joe Polish, Joe Polish, Joe Polish, and I just go send Joe a little text and tell him how much I appreciate him. And he gives like instant phone call back. Oh my gosh. I mean like they’re just, it’s like you get a little love fest from this. Then, end of the day and this is so important is, and this is kind of what kept me from going down into the dark holes with Grant, was the end of the day. I’d go, right, well we’re the little miracles today. Like you might think of them as the wins. What happened? Sometimes it was like he squeezed my finger, he tracked my eyes, he like smacked his lips, whatever it was.
I was like, what happened today? So, think of three things. Three little miracles, gratitude, appreciation, miracles. That is it. That simple. If you just make a commitment. We do like challenges in my community on these things. Right now, my, on my team, they are doing a gratitude challenge. So, we do these challenges, because again, you want to get used to how you respond. You can train how you respond. By the time I got to that situation with Grant, I’d gone through a lot of different challenges that it trained me to be able to show up in that situation and not freak out. Right. So, it’s possible, I will tell you after what you went through, if you were faced with another situation, you’re not going to go to where you went because you’ve already been through it. Now you’ve learned some things. Right. But you can learn way more by just again, just start with that little thing. It’s so easy.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. Well, JJ, I have to say this is a very atypical interview for my podcast. Yeah. Normally we’re geeking out on biochemistry and all kinds of geeky science stuff and so this is an unusual topic, but I have to say this is actually been one of my absolute favorite interviews on a personal level. I’ve really, really enjoyed this and thank you for coming on the show. I also want to say just on a personal note, I feel, somewhat of a debt of gratitude to you. Like you’ve been very kind to me in ways that when probably most people wouldn’t have, like our original interaction when I was introduced to you through John Assaraf when I was a young kid and in my mid-twenties and just starting to try and transition to building my business online. I was introduced to you and I didn’t really know how to interact with someone like you or what this process should entail.
And I was, I didn’t realize it, but I didn’t really understand the interaction and I was kind of rude about the way I was going about it and kind of was trying like say, Hey, can you help me? But without really reciprocating in any way. And you were very kind to me at that time. You were kind of like; you’ve got some things to learn. But, you actually a little over a year ago, you pulled me aside at a conference we were at and actually like took an hour of your time to help teach me some stuff and you just have gone out of your way to be kind to me. I think in ways that most people wouldn’t. And I want you to know that I really, really appreciate that. And again, really, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show.
I want to recommend to everybody listening, get JJ’s book Warrior Mom. if you find this topic fascinating at all, it’s a phenomenal book. I really highly recommend it. And also, if you are a health professional, sign up for her Mindshare summit. It’s something I’ve gone to for the last, well this be my fourth year coming up in a few weeks here. I don’t know if can you still actually register for that or is it closed already?
JJ Virgin: No, you can still register.
Ari Whitten: Okay. I’m going to try and rush this podcast so that there’s time because I know it’s what, August 14th?
JJ Virgin: August 8th through the 11th. I just want to know what your costume is.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You know what, actually I don’t even know if… I’m hoping that this, that I’ll be able to go, but it’s very possible I won’t because my daughter is due on August 11th, so it’s possible that the baby, I have a feeling that she’s probably going to come about a week early or a few days early.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. you never know, my second one was a week late.
Ari Whitten: …And I missed one of the days of… or something like that. But…
JJ Virgin: Very exciting.
Ari Whitten: But yeah, for everybody listening who’s a health professional, highly recommend you look into the Mindshare Summit. It’s been a huge asset for me, a huge part of my own growth. And JJ, really such a pleasure having you on and I hope to do this again at some point.
JJ Virgin: Thank you. I appreciate you. I always love to have you on mine too.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Thanks so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day.
JJ Virgin: Alright. See you.
The Secrets Of Resilience, How To Change Your Mindset And Overcome AdversityWith JJ Virgin – Show Notes
How an accident changed JJ’s life (02:15)
The secret to JJ’s resilience (24:27)
How people assess their personal suffering (33:09)
The number one tip on how to overcome adversity (35:56)
How mindset ties into health (40:26)
How to change your mindset – Where to start (52:20)
Get JJ Virgin’s book, Warrior Mom here! (Affiliate Amazon link)