Misogi: Learning to do the impossible

The idea of Misogi is to take on a challenge that radically expands your sense of what is possible.  What began as an ancient Shinto myth-story that included self purification after a champion’s return from the underworld is now practiced by world class athletes and business visionaries to create truly massive change.  Misogi is on the forefront of human performance science. And you want to be practicing it too. In this article, we’ll explore the why and how of Misogi and I will share my path in discovering this ancient practice, how it has transformed my life and what it could mean for you.


Summit plateau Cho Oyu, Tibet. 8201 meters.

Why can Misogi create such epic change

50% or greater chance of failure . That is one of the criteria for a Misogi.  If the outcome isn’t completely in doubt or the odds stacked against you, it’s not a Misogi.  The whole idea is that Misogi redefines for you what is possible. After a successful Misogi, you will be startled to find that your answer – from deep down in your soul – will be that anything is possible.  As unbelievable (or impossible) as that sounds, it is true.

Many of us have been told since we were young that we could do anything. But we don’t really believe it. Some of us have been told that we couldn’t do things. In either case, the human species is evolutionarily hard wired to be risk averse.  Our society reinforces this behavior through negative conditioning when we make mistakes.

Several ground breaking studies have shown that not only are we risk averse but that we are unable to operate logically when risk is involved. Deep down in our still largely hunter gatherer brains, we know that injury of any kind would likely lead to death since we would be unable to effectively hunt anymore. Risk aversion in in our DNA.

The majority of western education impresses upon us that it is bad to make mistakes and be wrong and there are numerous ways this in reinforced either structurally or societally. Nobody wants to be the kid in school that gets laughed at for a wrong answer.

Several brain areas are observed in the expression of risk-averse behavior. The orbitofrontal cortex is amongst these brain areas, supporting the feeling of regret. Regret, an emotion which heavily influences decision making, leads individuals to make decisions which circumvent encountering this emotion in the future.

All of this risk aversion causes us to subconsciously identify what is possible and what is not while overemphasizing what is not and underemphasizing what is. Deep down, we really don’t believe we can do many things which is why we don’t. Misogi breaks through all this by creating an entirely new subconscious belief system for you.

Keys to Creating Your Own Successful Misogi

My own experience with Misogi began in 2008, long before I had heard the word or knew the concept existed.  I was in the process of crafting what would become The 8 Principles to Live Adventurously and embarking on my first impossible task, climbing an 8000 meter peak.  After considering the task for years but never doing anything about it, my breakthrough came when I defined the 1st Principle: Decide to Decide.  Committing to the task without having a roadmap was both scary and amazingly empowering. I realized at that point I had been fooling myself all those years when I talked about climbing an 8000 meter peak without any real intention of doing it.  When you Decide to Decide, you bend your will to the task, give your mind permission to focus on it and align with the Power of Intention and the universe.

The 8 Principles to Live Adventurously is a great guidebook on how to create your own successful Misogi and a chronicle of my climb.

Misogi is focused on process. Distance and time are usually irrelevant as Misogi isn’t a race and while finishing can be important as part of the task itself, it is not the focus.

While standing on the summit of Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest peak at 8201 meters (26,906 feet) was an amazing accomplishment, the Miyogi was the entire process. It was the physical, logistical and financial challenges of climbing an 8000 meter peak. Living on the mountain for over a month, climbing sections of the mountain over 6 times. The boredom of rest days in camp juxtaposed with the fatal dangers of high altitude mountaineering.  I am really happy that I summited but it wasn’t the most important thing.

At some point in your Misogi, you will be so overwhelmed by the physical, mental and/or emotional load that you will have to surrender yourself to the process. When this happens, your world and worldview will shift. You will put one foot in front of the other and keep going past a point you ever thought possible. At that moment, you have achieved the impossible.

As I climbed down off the highest parts of Cho Oyu, I was struck by a profound sense of what I had done and all of a sudden, I knew deep down in my soul that anything was possible for me. My subconscious had been reprogrammed and my brain rewired with that profound sense. My belief system had fundamentally changed.  I didn’t just say it or think it, I knew it in my soul.

My second Misogi was a solo, unsupported 1000 mile bike ride from Missoula, Montana to San Francisco CA. Solo meaning I was all by myself on the road. Unsupported meaning I carried everything with me I needed on my bike including tent, stove, sleeping bag, one set of riding clothes, one set of non riding clothes, freeze dried meals, snacks and water.  It was the cycling equivalent of a solo backpacking trip. I rode through and over the Rocky Mountains, across the deserts of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and then across the rolling hills and wine country of California, ending at the Golden Gate bridge.  I had a last minute opening in my work schedule so I committed to and planned the entire trip less than ten days before the departure day. I had not trained for the ride and it had to be completed in 12 days because of work obligations. 1000 miles was somewhat of an arbitrary number but gave me something quantifiable to shoot for. That was all part of the Misogi.

While the end of ride celebration with friends at Ruth’s Chris was great, it is the hours in the saddle, empty roads, long mountain climbs and quiet nights in my tent out in the middle of the desert eating freeze dried dinners I remember most. The process.


The finish of my 2nd Misogi

Friends, supporters, mentors and partners in crime are key to a successful Misogi. They can help you down the path, answer questions, give mentorship, keep you accountable and be there to share the difficulties you will encounter. Find someone that has successfully done what you want to do and ask them how they did it. Post your Misogi on social media and get accountability partners. Making it public dramatically increases the chances it will happen. Find a partner in crime who wants to do this crazy thing with you. On Cho Oyu, I climbed the mountain with my own two legs but had the support of a great team. Even on my solo ride, I had friends following me digitally and providing backup in case of an emergency.

Misogi: A yearly event

Misogi must be practiced on a continual basis or the effects fade. As the memories fade, our conviction around them does too and our DNA wiring starts to reassert itself. For a minimal effective dose, an annual Misogi seems to be the right time frame. More isn’t needed. Longer than a year and you begin to lose that inner conviction which Misogi creates.

I didn’t participate in a Misogi last year and I knew I needed to ask myself why. Simple answer? I didn’t prioritize it. Moving forward I will.

For this year, I’m switching things up and choosing a non-physical Misogi. I have Decided to Decide to learn conversational Spanish. I’ve put this off for years and only recently realized that the reason is because I don’t think I can do it. Perfect Misogi. Next year, I’m climbing Everest.

I would love to hear about your Misogi(s). Let me know if I can help.  We’re all in this together.

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