Community//

James Purpura of Powerful U: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Great leaders understand that success is directly tied to service. I have always believed that getting what I want is always about helping other people get what they want. I find that the people who are struggling the most in this world are asking the wrong question: “What can you do for me?” Start by […]

Great leaders understand that success is directly tied to service. I have always believed that getting what I want is always about helping other people get what they want. I find that the people who are struggling the most in this world are asking the wrong question: “What can you do for me?” Start by asking the right question: “What can I do for you?” When leading by that example, and encouraging others to do the same, it will transform your organization very quickly. When service becomes the backbone of your organization, then it gives your people a purpose.


As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Purpura, co-Founder of Powerful U.

James Purpura, entrepreneur, and philosopher was a homeless drug addict just 17 years ago. After enduring a personal descent into Hell, he was able to overcome limiting beliefs to build and sell one of the largest construction software companies in the world. As a part of their way to give back, he and his wife Steph created Powerful U to share their knowledge with the world and help as many people as possible evolve their lives.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Mystory begins with me being mercilessly bullied by my kindergarten teacher, along with all of the students in my class, at the teacher’s direction, because I had learning disabilities. Every day, when it was time for me to go to special ed, my teacher would make all of my classmates tell me that I was stupid and retarded as I made my way to the door. My dad was out of the picture which left my mom, an undiagnosed manic-depressive with bipolar disorder, who was totally incapable of defending me, as my only source of support. She told me the world was a cruel place, people were mean, and the sooner I learned to live with that fact the better off I’d be. So, this pattern repeated itself every day for my first year of school. The next year, I made my mom call the school and pull me out of special ed because I was not going to allow myself to be treated that way again. The bullying continued for several more years. At its worst, I was sent, unconscious, to the hospital with the right side of my face completely smashed after being pushed off a 10-foot slide onto very hard-packed dirt. That is how my story started. Over a decade later, this very long chapter in my life ended with me on drugs, several arrests, and eventually ending up in solitary confinement for fifteen months. In jail, I knew something needed to change. So, I started working on myself. I began by reading every self-help and the spiritual book I could get my hands on and meditating in my cell. One day, I was looking down a long list I had made of people who I felt had harmed me. The idea was to offer them forgiveness in my meditation. Suddenly, I had an epiphany: The only common denominator between all of these situations is me. What if I somehow created all of this? Before that moment, I had never even considered that I could create my life. I reasoned, if my experiences simply happened to me, then that meant the world really was a cruel place and I probably didn’t want to play the game anymore. But if, in fact, I was the creator of my experiences, and I could figure out how I created them, then I could become something new and different. I could build a life that I loved and was proud of, and that’s what I chose to believe! I effectively took back my power. On that day, I made a promise to myself, if I ever figured out how to truly create my life, I would share that information. Shortly after getting out of jail, I met my beautiful wife, whose early life had been as horrible as mine, and she agreed to take this journey with me. With only a fifth grade education, it took nine years from the time I left that jail cell to make my first million dollars. Then, it was another five years until we sold our global tech company. Subsequently, my wife and I started a company, Powerful U, as our way to give back and hopefully shape a better world for our kids and grandchildren. I believe if you have the means to help others, it’s your responsibility to do so.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Shortly after starting Powerful U, I had the idea that my wife and I should film our stories and share them with others. We played the videos, which later became the content for an award-winning documentary, at a major event in front of thousands of people. My wife was mortified and afraid the audience would reject her once they saw intimate secrets from her background. A background that included childhood sexual abuse and a failed suicide attempt. But, much to our surprise, people waited in line for hours to meet and thank us for telling our stories so candidly! This, in turn, gave them permission to share their own stories. That day, we realized the tremendous impact of the vulnerability. Our stories have power over us as long as we hold them inside.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Great leaders understand that success is directly tied to service. I have always believed that getting what I want is always about helping other people get what they want. I find that the people who are struggling the most in this world are asking the wrong question: “What can you do for me?” Start by asking the right question: “What can I do for you?” When leading by that example, and encouraging others to do the same, it will transform your organization very quickly. When service becomes the backbone of your organization, then it gives your people a purpose.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are actually two books. The first one is Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, because I’d never considered that what is inside of us impacts what is on the outside. The inner world that he described seemed infinite to me, compared to the small and limited outer world. The second book is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book impacted me because it was the first time I’d experienced someone take difficult concepts and break them down in a way that was too simple to ignore, and too clear to misunderstand.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Simply put, the process of taking yourself off autopilot and creating space for new insights and to move into a higher state of awareness.

The state of mindfulness can also be described as taking the time to allow your mind to see your experiences for what they are rather than what your mind thinks they should be, due to automated responses.

I would also describe it as letting go of the expectations about how things or people should be. This allows things to be what they are. We need to learn to move outside of our current expectations.

Ok now we’re going to go deep. If you don’t like the deep dive into the theoretical side of things then you might want to skip to the next question…

I wrote a hierarchy of Emotional-Psychological States explaining the different stages of being, as we respond to the world around us. This is the first time I have shared this in a public forum FYI and I am still working on the name.

Before we discuss the hierarchy, you must first understand the core program or idea that sits behind the human experience:

Humans can only act in accordance with their beliefs based on their current emotional- physiological state.

Purpura’s hierarchy of Emotional-Psychological States:

(Automatic/lower states of being )

Defend — fight, flight or freeze

Protect — preparing for a future threat

Confirm — being vigilant looking for present danger

(Voluntary/Higher states of being)

Creative — a state of free thinking

Intuitive — pattern recognition

It is important to understand that your current physiological and emotional state dictates what part of the hierarchy you are at from moment to moment.

When you are in an automatic state of being your mind processes information in the following way:

Your Perception forms assumptions based on expectations which are created from your beliefs and past experiences. Then your emotions give you feedback to determine which state (as mentioned above) you will respond from.

Here is how it works. When you are in an automatic state of being, your primary concern is safety and security. When things seem to be working out as you expected (Confirm State) then everything seems right in the world and there is very little negative emotion moving through your body. When something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, that causes disruption in your system and results in a negative emotion. Depending on how jarring the disruption is, it determines if you drop into the Protect or Defend state.

You also need to understand that based on the different states of the hierarchy, you have access to different pools of information or beliefs. The beliefs in some pools often contradict the information or beliefs in other pools. This is because each one is dictated by a separate set of priorities. For example, when your system believes what you are doing is a matter of survival, it becomes “no holds barred”. You do whatever it takes to survive.

Why does it work this way? The short answer is because this entire system is outdated and needs to be upgraded or evolved. So how do we evolve the system? Well, that brings us back to Mindfulness.

Here is the bottom line: This system evolved when our species was fighting for survival. Survival was based on our ability to process information quickly and make the split-second decisions necessary to escape becoming prey to a stronger predator. We developed the automatic states of being to minimize thinking, so we could react instantly to the threat.

At the highest level of the “automatic states of being” scale, we have ‘Confirm’ (being vigilant) because our survival was based on our ability to accurately predict what was going to happen next. In other words, if you had to question whether or not there was a predator in the bushes, you were already dead. So survival was all about being right, and in this automated system being right equaled staying alive… being wrong equaled death. This is why we hate being wrong. It’s also why we experience negative emotions when something does not go as we expect, because in this system it means our life is in danger.

Here is the challenge we face. Since we are no longer fighting for our survival, we are stuck using this outdated system, and most of us don’t even know it is what drives us.

And there’s another challenge. Our emotions still move us up and down this scale, even though our lives are very rarely at risk. Why? Because this system still works on the premise that being wrong equals death. It also can not tell the difference between a physical attack and a perceived emotional attack. It just senses an attack and springs into action.

Emotions are the feedback mechanism for the whole system, and that’s where things get twisted in a knot. Your emotions used to mean there was something wrong on the outside. But now, for almost all of your experiences, your emotions mean there is something wrong on the inside, and here’s why. When you’re wrong about something it triggers negative emotions, but because being wrong no longer equals death, the emotions are not an indication that you are being threatened. Rather, they are just an indication that you currently believe something that might not be true. This is giving you the opportunity to upgrade a false piece of information that you believe. It is also why we have confirmation bias. Because the survival instinct is so strong inside of us, it causes us to deny information that does not fit into our current framework or reference of the world. So, fear is the false assumption that the experience of wrong leading to death.

Now that we understand that this system exists, and how we can be trapped in automatic states of being, the question is, “How do we circumvent the system and move out of the Automatic states?”

First, we must regain access to the more rational parts of our brain by moving into the Voluntary/Higher states. How do we do that? We can’t rationalize our way out of this because our minds are no longer in control, our bodies are.

It’s the body that sends a signal to the brain that a particular danger has passed. Once this signal is sent it is time to move out of fear and up into a higher state of awareness. How does it send that signal? Deep heart-based breathing, and here’s why. Back in the days when our ancestors were fighting for survival, when they finished running to escape, or were done fighting, the first thing they did was catch their breath. This would be impossible to do until they were safe. So deep breathing is the signal. In today’s world, that is why meditation can be so effective at improving most aspects of a person’s life. Through the deep breathing associated with most meditation practices, individuals take control of their physiology. Most people don’t meditate because they find it hard to clear their minds, but actually most of the benefits of meditation come from the breathwork.

Here are some steps to take when you feel overwhelmed by the emotions of fear. First, recognize the shift in physiology that starts moving you to the lower states of being… because the fear moves into your body most often through the chest, midsection, or stomach, but can show up anywhere. If you catch it early enough, you can breathe until the anxiety associated with the fear dissipates. Then you can rationally process the fear.

The next tool is ‘Mindfulness’, because if done right it creates an interruption in the system allowing you the opportunity to move out of the automatic system and into the voluntary/higher side of the system. The key to mindfulness is to understand that without interruption, your system will jump to a conclusion based on the false premise that your life is in danger (without your conscious awareness). This often leads you into actions and behaviors that more than likely move you away from your goals and desires.

To master mindfulness, you must be able to move yourself into the observer role and be in a position to eliminate the contradictions between that which you are experiencing on the outside, and your feelings on the inside. Now, you can consciously keep your emotional reactions from moving you down into more fear and the lower states of being.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Think about the Emotional-Psychological States scale mentioned above. When you are in a lower state of being, feeling the most fear possible, you are in massive resistance. If you were at the top of the scale, you would be in absolute flow. Anytime you are moving down the scale you are heading into more resistance. Moving up the scale indicates that you are functioning more in flow. Resistance has quite a negative impact on your physical, mental and emotional states because you are in the physiology of fear. It impacts all of your bodily functions by shifting you into the nervous system associated with the fight and flight response. As a result, your normal bodily functions are interrupted as you prepare to fight or run. This state is like the overdrive system in your car, and is intended to be used only in short bursts or for a limited period of time. Essentially, you are diverting necessary resources away from your vital organs to use them in the fight. Staying in this system too long causes massive problems for the functioning of your body. Eventually, this leads to physical and emotional problems which create disease and, over time, will lead to death.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Before you start this process, you must be very clear about what you want in order to track your progress. Here is the process of Personal Evolution:

Be open to questioning everything:

  • Being wrong does not equal death. You must create a habit of questioning everything, in order to follow the thread of these feelings and responses associated with being wrong. Think about this: If you are right all of the time, your life is the best it’s ever going to get right now. Growth is all about changing and evolving your old thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. It is impossible for your mind to challenge a belief unless you first consider that you might be wrong. I tell people, “The first thing you have to ask is, ‘what am I wrong about?’ and realize that the answer is ‘just about everything’…and that should be really exciting news!

Become mindful of your negative emotions:

  • You need to be very aware of your emotions, and how they may be moving you in a direction you don’t want to go. For example, nobody wants to lash out at the people they love. But we all do it, from time to time, because our emotions move us into automatic defense mechanisms.

Seek clarity on Perception

  • Because our perception is based on assumptions tied to our current emotional and physiological state, it’s important that we seek clarity on all of the assumptions that are causing us emotional distress. Think about how many times you leave a conversation or interaction feeling terrible, only to find out later it was all a misunderstanding. That’s why we must seek clarity.

Take ownership of the pain and learn to self-soothe

  • When you project your pain and problems onto others, you give away your power to change. Nobody can make you feel something unless that feeling already exists somewhere inside of you. They are just reflecting your feelings back to you which is why it creates pain. This is really a gift because they make you aware of a belief that is probably buried deep in your subconscious, and giving you the opportunity to change it. First, you must own it and then you must feel it. Once you are feeling it, you have to learn whatever lesson is associated with that belief. Then you can self-soothe to make yourself feel better. The best and easiest way to do that is through deep breathing. As we discussed earlier, deep breathing is a fast and efficient tool to move out of any anxiety you might feel.

Become aware of new insights

  • Whenever you do this 5-step process, you will come to a new understanding of yourself and the world around you. It is important to take the time to integrate this new information into your mind by contemplating what it really means, and how it applies to you and your world.

If you do it right, you Evolve into a higher state of being. Then, wash, rinse, repeat, and, in no time, you will transform your life more than you can possibly imagine.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Well, I actually have seven. It’s important to understand that this takes practice, and you will likely fail a few times before you get it right. This is because you are in an automatic fear state where your mind’s main objective is to avoid pain or death. Your mind will resist this process until it realizes that there is less pain associated with doing the process than defaulting to the pattern you instinctively run to escape the feeling of fear inside of you.

When we experience a level of fear that overwhelms our system, we adopt actions and behaviors to escape the pain. These become patterns that run automatically when that fear is triggered. These patterns can be almost anything, such as: addiction, expressing anger, beating yourself up, or even buying more toilet paper than you need. That is why awareness is the key. When you are aware of what is going on inside of you, given the right information, your system will always move towards balance.

When fear sets in, your mind starts to race and you begin to feel pain and discomfort move throughout your body. As this feeling intensifies, you will start moving towards the behavior pattern you have put in place to escape this fear. But, just before you engage in that pattern, there will always be a pause. This pause is your opportunity to shift out of the fear state before you engage the pattern. Once that pattern is activated, it is very difficult to interrupt because you are now on autopilot.

The space that occurs just after the fear arises is created by the fact you are moving into a pattern or behavior that contradicts what your conscious mind actually wants. This contradiction creates an interruption or pause that gives you a small window to shift out of the physiology of fear before moving into the pattern. As you start to recognize this playing out in the pause, you will have an amazing opportunity to go through the process outlined below.

It is important to understand when our loved ones, friends, colleagues, or anyone we engage with, are experiencing anxiety in order to support them. Their physiology is in a state of fear (a.k.a. fight, flight or freeze). The first step in helping anyone in this situation is to realize whatever they are going through is not about you. They are just running a fear pattern, and they may try to project or blame their fear on you. Do not engage by taking it personally. Stay present and remember to breathe if you start to feel anxious. Then, encourage them to breathe. If there is resistance, try reminding them of their strength or encourage them to move into gratitude. Once they are in a more relaxed state, you can begin to have a constructive conversation and tackle whatever is triggering the fear and anxiety inside them.

7 Steps to Overcoming Fear & Anxiety:

  1. Become aware when fear gets triggered in your mind and its emotional responses in the body (Anxiety).
  2. Recognize the pause and be willing to act. In the pause you must foster a willingness to continue. If you’re not willing to move forward it’s totally fine, but be sure to track the pattern that plays out, and how much pain is associated with running that pattern. This is important because your system will always move you towards the solution that has the least amount of pain. Recognizing that the pattern creates more pain than the process, creates the willingness to act whenever this fear arises.
  3. Breathe. Take deep, connected, continuous breaths. Inhale from your abdomen and up into your chest. Immediately relax and allow your exhale to occur fully. Open-mouth breathing is effective for moving a lot of emotion quickly. Keep breathing until you start to feel your body relax. You will start to shift from a tense, fear state into a relaxed, balanced state.
  4. Allow emotions. Continue to breathe deeply as you feel and embrace the emotions and pain that are associated with this fear. Know that you can handle whatever emotions surface. Remember to keep breathing.
  5. Release the expectation. Elon Musk proposed the following equation on happiness. “Reality — Expectations = Happiness”. Identify and release the unmet expectations that created the fear.
  6. Learn. Ask yourself this question, “Does this fear still serve me?” We create these fear responses for a reason. While they are there to protect us, it is often based on false or inaccurate information
  7. Integrate and release the fear by breathing deeply as you allow the fear to surface in you. Be grateful for that fear and the protection it offered you in the past. Then say… “I release this fear” Continue breathing until the energy/pain dissipates.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

There is an amazing technology that I use called, The Listening Program. It’s a personalized protocol of music listening therapy that you listen to online from your computer, tablet, or smartphone through headphones for 15 to 30 minutes every day. It reduces stress, supports the immune system, improves resilience, enhances brain function, and resets the fight/flight fear response.

Here is a link to their website: https://tlp.advancedbrain.com/signup/pricing.jsp

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“If your life is not what you wanted it to be it’s not because you have done anything wrong it’s because you made the best decision you could with the information you have available. Evolve your Perception and Transform your Life.” — From our book: Perception: Seeing is Not Believing.

This became particularly evident in my life when I adopted the belief that I really could create my life, that I wasn’t a victim of experiences that happened to me, that I did want to live, transform and evolve. As I began my journey, I finally stopped beating myself up for all the poor and destructive decisions I had made.This idea gave me hope and the ability to let myself off of the hook because I realized that I had made the only possible decisions with the information I had.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We already have and it’s called Powerful U. We are seekers who find the state of humanity inadequate. We believe the unrealized potential of the individual is both the source and solution to this problem. Our goal is to inspire fellow seekers to tap into their unlimited potential, through a personalized combination of philosophy, science, technology, and community. We have all the resources someone needs to move their lives forward. At a price anyone can afford. Starting at free.

  • Movie — Perception Seeing is Not Believing
  • Book — Perception Seeing is Not Believing
  • Assessment — PerceptionSketch
  • Online and app-based content hub — Powerful Universe
  • Coaching — Optimal Being and Free coaching on facebook live
  • Music technology — The Listening Program
  • Live events — Powerful U Experience, Powerful Nights and Powerful Women
  • Free online events — Powerful U Live

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Powerful U Website: https://powerful-u.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThePowerfulU/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd7RrGKNU3CeqahtLRm8aMg/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/powerful.u/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Kathryn Ely: “Here Is How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

by Beau Henderson
Community//

Laura Walton: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

by Beau Henderson
Community//

Joanna Chodorowska: How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times

by Beau Henderson

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.