Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential. With your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Well, hey everyone, Lisa Tamati here. Fantastic to have you back at Pushing the Limits this week. Now I have a wonderful man who I’ve followed for a number of years. He’s one of my heroes, I was a little bit of a fangirl in this interview I have to admit. But it was pretty crazy. I have Commander Mark Divine on the show. Mark is an ex-Navy SEAL. He was a Commander in the Navy Seal. He was there for 20 years, and he was a fantastic leader. He was deployed in over 45 countries around the world. He also trains, trains a lot of the SEALs who are going into BUD/S training. He was number one on his course when he went through BUD/S, and that’s saying something. That’s nine months of hell on earth, so if you get through that, you’ve got to be pretty cool, and to be number one in the end of the whole 190 that went on, that’s pretty amazing.
He’s the author of a number of books: Staring Down the Wolf, Unbeatable Mind, and SEALFIT, and runs a number of multi-million dollar companies. As a leadership consultant, he trains, not only does he train the military, he helps people prepare for SEAL training. He also now runs through his innovative SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind training systems. Kokoro crucible is one of his programs. He shares the same secrets with entrepreneurs, executives, and teams through his book and through his book, and through his speaking, and through his award-winning podcast. He has his own, and I have the privilege of being on that one shortly. He runs world-renowned leadership and team events. Wonderful man to talk to, someone that I really, really look up to and respect. His discipline that he brings to everything that he does is quite amazing. So I hope you enjoy the show.
Before we go, I just want to remind you to check out our epigenetics program, if you haven’t already. Head over to lisatamati.com and hit the work with us button, and find out about our Peak Epigenetics program. This is all about understanding your genetics, and how to optimise them for your best performance. So everything from food, to exercise, what types of exercise to do, what times of the day you should be training, what times of the day you should be eating, and how often. What type of diet is right for you, right down to the nitty gritty. You know, eat almonds, don't eat cashew nuts, right specific to your genetics, so to speak. It also looks at your whole mood and behavior, what makes you tick, why do you think the way you do, what areas you may have problems with, your predispositions.
That's not to be all deterministic, and negative, that's all to be like this is what you're dealing with, and this is how we can hit things off at the pass. This is a really life-changing program, and we're really proud to bring it to you. We've been doing it for a number of years now. We've taken hundreds of people through this program, and we work with corporate teams. So if you're out there and you have a corporate team that might be interested in doing either this or our boost camp program, which is all about upgrading and learning all about how to manage stress, how to reduce the effects of stress, and be more resilient and bring a higher performance to your game, then please reach out to us. Go over to lisatamati.com. and check out all the programs that we have here.
Just a reminder too, I have a new book out called Relentless: How a Mother and Daughter Defied the Odds. If you've listened to this podcast for a while, you would hear me harp on about my amazing mum and the journey that we've been on back from a massive aneurysm that left her at the age of 74 with hardly any higher function, and a prognosis that said she would never ever do anything again. And they were very, very wrong. So I want to share this book, I want to share the story, because it's a very empowering story. So if you haven't read the book Relentless, I really encourage you to go and do that. I'm really keen to get this out there because this will empower and change lives, and already has, so make sure you read Relentless. Right, over to the show with Commander Mark Divine.
Hi everyone, Lisa Tamati here. I’m super, super excited. I'm jumping out of my skin, I can't sit still. I have one of my great heroes that I've followed for such a long time, so I'm a little bit, being a bit of a fangirl right now. But I'm sure I'll calm down in a minute or two. Commander Mark Divine is with us. He has such a huge history. You are known, really, as the warrior man, Unbeatable Mind, SEALFIT. You've done a heck of a lot in your life. Mark, it's just, I can't wait to share some of your insights, because what you do and what you've done is just absolutely amazing. So, welcome to Pushing the Limits. Can you give us a little bit of background, Mark, on where you come from and what you've done and how you've, just to give us a little bit of, because you, obviously you've been in the SEALs, you're a commander in the SEALs, you're a trained SEAL. So let's start there. Let you come to it.
Mark Divine: Oh, my God, where to start?
Lisa: Maybe childhood.
Mark: I was born at a very young age in a very small town in upstate New York, a province of the United States. I'll try to keep this short because sometimes I have a few run-on sentences. Go like 40 minutes, right? We don't want that to happen. That’s when we have a good time. So yeah, I was a pretty normal kid growing up, running around the woods of upstate New York, crazy family, lots of alcohol and anger. The belt would come out pretty much every other night. My brother and I would literally just provoke my father just to do it, because we stopped taking him seriously after a while. In that regard, I feel pretty fortunate that my young spirit was like, ‘You can't break me’. I realise now that we all choose our parents, let's just say, from a spiritual perspective, I certainly believe that. For certain experiences, and for a while I played the victim, woe is me.
But now I look back and thank God, that really forged my mental toughness and resiliency. I had to unpack some crap from that, obviously, but it made me a Navy SEAL warrior, right? When I went through Navy SEAL training, you could not hurt me, because nothing was compared to my dad. Anyway, so that's a little aside. Upstate New York had a really— it's beautiful. I've been to your country in New Zealand. It's just absolutely gorgeous. I feel the same way about America in certain places, the much bigger. New York is one of those areas that, 6 million acres of unfettered, protected land in northern New York called the Adirondack Mountains, and that was my playground. And our summer home was on the west shore of a lake called Lake Placid where the Olympics were, you're probably familiar with that.
Mark: There was no road access to my house. There was no TV, no internet. Still, there's finally internet after but no TV, and we would have to take a boat to get there. And so I grew up with boats and I grew up hiking in the Adirondacks and a lot of time alone in the wilderness, which is one of the reasons I became kind of an endurance athlete. I know you're an endurance lady. Because I was comfortable, being alone. I was comfortable running the trails in the mountains, and I used to have a friend, we would run up Whiteface Mountain, which is at the base or the foot of Lake Placid. Not a huge mountain, it’s 4,000 feet, but you know it took a couple hours. If you're going to hike up there it takes a few hours. For us to run up there, took us 45 minutes. People used to think we were crazy. When we got to the top we would wrap our ankles and our knees and we would play tag on the way down. The trails are steep and just rocks and ruts and roots. It's amazing we didn't kill ourselves.
So that was my like early childhood upbringing, nature being in the woods and in the water were my solace away from the family dynamics. That led me to be a competitive athlete in high school, 12 varsity letters and then into college, I was recruited for swimming and I became a competitive rower. And then I started triathlon. So, I was an athlete, but the athletics really was my escape and kind of my grounding rod, like it is for so many athletes, right? When I— then I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I didn't really spend a lot of time in my youth thinking about my future, I kind of accepted a lot of the stories for my family that I was going to go back and be part of the family business. That business was really the place that Divines go, you know, we don't go into the military, we don't go into academia, we don't do those things. So anyways, it's as your listeners are hearing this, they're probably like, ‘Yep, check.’
Lisa: They may have done that.
Mark: That's the norm, right? That's not, I wasn't off, but it's certainly not what I teach today, right? Because, right, I think if we're— if we don't follow our passion and find our calling in life, then we're going to have discomfort later on, and discomfort is going to lead to existential crisis. So I was very fortunate, incredibly fortunate that when I left college, I got a job with a big accounting firm, consulting accounting firm called Coopers and Lybrand, which became accountant, became—
Lisa: You were an accountant. I mean, that makes me laugh, really.
Mark: I was an accountant.
Lisa: I was on the way to being an accountant too. So because of what my dad wanted, and I'm about as far from an accountant, as you can get, you know.
Mark: I was too.
Lisa: That’s a good story.
Mark: But I stuck with it long enough to become a certified public accountant, I had to pass the exam.
Lisa: I didn't.
Mark: I got my— I tell you what, I would rather go back to BUD/S Navy SEAL training than try that darn exam again. That told me something right there. But you know, it is a great opportunity. Because here I am, you know, I got a degree from a pretty good university called Colgate. But I didn't really have any skills. And so this job opportunity gave me and sent me to a top business school in the United States called NYU, New York University. So I got my MBA in finance, and I became a certified public accountant for four years. I got to work on a lot of different companies as a consultant and auditor. So I saw a lot. But, so that was kind of formative, in a sense, like, I learned a lot. What was probably more formative, or more substantial for me was, once I got into that suit and tie, and I was working eight hours a day, mind you, they allowed me to work only 8 or 10 hours a day. Most people in those scenarios work 15 to 20. But because they were sponsoring this small group of us to go to business school at night, they had to let us off, and then we would go to school full-time during the summer, and just come in on Fridays.
It was a really cool program. So I was working 8 to 10 hours a day, going to school at night. And it's— I was an athlete, right? And I was like, ‘How am I going to, how am I going to stay as an athlete?’ Right? Most people don't. Because you know, in the corporate world, and I was like, ‘I've got to, I've got to continue my athletic career.’ And so I would get up really early in the morning and go for a six mile run. And then at lunchtime when all my peers would go have a beer or martini and lunch, I would go to the gym and do like this, what I now know is a high intensity functional workout, which back then nobody talked about. Because I had to go fast, and I was wanting to do a lot of different variety, and I had to be in and out of there in 45 minutes. And then after, they let me go at five o'clock in the afternoon, and my first class wasn't till 7:30. So I'm looking at that saying, ‘Look, I got two and a half hours. I could do some training here.’ So one night, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. But one night, I was walking down 23rd Street, I was living on 22nd in Manhattan, and I heard these screams coming out of this building. And I stopped and I looked up and I was standing under the flag of the World Seido Karate Headquarters.
‘Oh, interesting. Maybe it's a martial art.’ And I had been intrigued with the martial arts. But in Upstate New York, that just wasn't much. There's nothing as a matter of fact, in my time, and so I didn't really get a chance to study anything. So I went in there and I was floored. I was stunned by what I saw. It was an incredible art. This was the headquarters of a worldwide art called seido, they had three or 400,000 students. And the Grand Master, the founder was on the center of the floor, this Japanese man, 10th degree black belt, looked like a frickin’ tank. And he was, his name was Nakamura, and he became my mentor, my first real mentor. Yeah. Now what's interesting, he says it wasn't really the karate that changed me. It was the zen training. And he is one of the few masters who kept the old ways of training the mind and the body and the spirit, and understood that they all had to be in balance, and they all were part of the package of developing these corrupted, these trainees.
I loved the zen part, and there was a zen class we had every Thursday night for an hour, we would sit on that little wooden zazen bench. And honestly, this studio is the headquarter, had well over a thousand students. There were ten of us in this class, most of them black belts, and I was a white belt, and I was like, ‘Where is everyone else?’ I didn’t get it. And then there wasn't a lot of understanding or talk about meditation back then. But boy, I did this thing to do meditation. I had all the usual kind of resistance to it, and my monkey mind going all over the place and wondering if it really worked. I trusted Nakamura and the way he acted and presented himself as a character, just who he was, was so different than any other human I've ever seen or experienced. And I was like, ‘There's got to be something to this, right?’ So I stuck with it. And it literally changed almost every aspect of who I was and how I saw the world and what I perceived to be my calling and my purpose in life. And it was sitting on that bench that I realised that I was going down the wrong path with this MBA, CPA, working in the corporate world. Even if I went back to the family business, it just wasn't what I was meant to do. That was the first time in my life that I allowed myself to examine my core story that said, this is who I am, and to recognise it was built on a lie.
Lisa: Yeah. And you weren't following your true path.
Mark: I wasn't following my true path. But my true path wasn't exactly laid out for me, in those meditation sessions. It was more like the archetypal energy in the arc of my life was shown to me and that that art was to be a warrior, and then it would lead somewhere else that wasn't quite clear to me, but the warrior part was very strong. And it didn't— I didn't get messages while I was meditating, saying, ‘You're going to be a Navy SEAL.’ What I got was ‘warrior’ and, ‘You're going down the wrong path with this business stuff.’ It was when I finally started to accept that, that I learned about the Navy SEALs, right. Remember, this is 1987, 88, there was no TV shows and movies, no famous names.
Lisa: They weren't famous back then.
Mark: Nobody knew them. In fact, the few people that did know them were like, crazy guys. So I— one day, I was walking home from work, and I came across a Navy recruiting station. I didn't even know it was that but I saw a poster in the window. I took a double take of this poster. I was like, well, the title of that poster was, ‘Be Someone Special’. And it had Navy SEALs doing really cool shit. Jumping out of airplanes, yeah, blocking out little mini submarines, sneaking through the water. It's just so cool for me. I just sat there kind of transfixed, looking at that, and I didn't say anything about the SEALs. They said, US Navy, and I was, ‘Huh, interesting.’ So I went back and I talked to the recruiters so what, ‘Who are those people in that poster?’ They said, ‘Oh, they're crazy Navy SEALs. You don't want to do that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do. Tell me more.’ So long story short. I started that whole CPA, MBA bullshit, 1985. In November of 1989, I got my black belt, I got my MBA, I got my CPA and I was on a bus. I was on a bus to Officer Candidate School.
Lisa: That was the next mission.
Mark: On to the next mission. I wandered away from, I walked away from probably what would today's dollars be $200,000 salary to get paid $500 a month?
Lisa: Wow. That takes—
Mark: For heading off as a candidate.
Lisa: That takes courage. That alone takes courage.
Mark: But I didn't question that. You know, I knew it. I knew this is the right path. And when I got to SEAL training, what we called BUD/S, basic underwater demolition SEAL training. Man, I felt like I was home, and there was no way that they were going to get me to quit. I mean, other people said this, but I said this very clearly: ‘You have to kill me to get me out of here.’ And I don't think they can legally do that. Although they sure do try.
Lisa: It can get pretty close.
Mark: It can get pretty close, yeah. I sailed through SEAL training. We had 185 in my class, hardcore, awesome guys. And 19 of us graduated. I graduated number one in my class and my entire team, my boat crew that we trained together from day one, graduated with me.
Mark: So there's something about that meditation training, Nakamura and the skills, and the values on team building and taking my eyes off myself and putting them on others, the taming of the ego, it really allowed me to help lead my team to success, right? We made it about the team and not about me, and everyone else was about them. And they— the team's, the instructors are, their job is to select the next crop of teammates that they will go to war with.
Mark: So what they're looking for is not who's the toughest guy, not who's the best athlete—
Lisa: Not the coolest, yeah.
Mark: Yeah, exactly, not the best looking whatever. It's, ‘Are you a great teammate? Are you gonna have my back?’ So that's something that I guess I demonstrated.
Lisa: Wow, that's a brilliant intro into your background. What fascinates me with you too is that you like— you know, because the SEALs are known for being hard asses. I mean, you know they are hard people, they have been through tough stuff, they go through tough stuff every single day that you're out there. But you've got this meditation side, you do a heck of a lot of yoga. You do, you talk about authenticity, and I know you don't like the word vulnerability, but you're quite, you're open about the stuff. That's quite the opposite of most, in the training that you get. I suppose this comes from Nakamura being your master, that he taught you that very early on, they're sort of the both sides of the coin.
I get that question quite a lot, too. When they— when people read what I've done and achieved and so on, they're like, ‘Wow, you must be a super hard ass.’ And then they meet you and realise that you're actually very vulnerable or cry a lot. I'm very full of mistakes and problems and stuff that I'm working on at all times. But the difference is, I think, that you embrace both sides. And that you are always in pursuit of excellence, and you're always improving, and you're always developing. And I found that a really interesting combination in someone who's so physically tough and mentally tough to have had both sides. Was that a hard thing in the beginning with the SEALs?
Mark: I think you're right. I did learn that initially from Nakamura and so every day, you know, I was so committed. Every day I would stretch and I would do my breathing practices and my visualisation while I was going through SEAL training. Every day in the SEALs, I do some version of that. It was you know, it's difficult for a military operator to keep a daily dedicated practice going if you're up 24 hours a day, and you're in combat. Honestly, when I went to Iraq and combat, I meditated and trained yoga every single day. And it had a profound effect on me, right? In the war zone, all my teammates are just getting frayed at the edges, and I felt strong and confident, and I knew I was going to survive, because I did, I had that vision. I was going to be home with my child, you know, my wife and son.
So it came first from Nakamura, and then I started into yoga. It's not my career, it's important people know, I did plus-20 years in the Navy SEAL, but about nine years active duty and 11 years reserve. So as reserve, so nine years after I joined, even while I was on active duty, I started to get into yoga. But when I got off active duty I had more time. I went full on in, and that was because— actually it is a blessing in disguise. I was living in San Diego and there was no seido karate out here. Otherwise I would have gotten back into seido karate. So first I got into something called goju karate, I got a black belt there. It was very similar to seido but it lacked the spirit and like the mental, the meditation, so I didn't really stick with that. And then I got into ninjutsu, thinking ninjutsu might be a little bit more spiritual. I really liked the teacher but he was a horrible business guy, so right on the cusp of getting my black belt, he shut his school down and ran out of money.
And then I found yoga kind of about the same time as ninjitsu. But I didn't really understand it until I read Patanjali’s yoga sutras and also Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography yoga. And those just absolutely shattered my paradigm of what was possible and what yoga was, as the oldest science of mental and personal development. So I fully went into yoga and I ended up getting 700 hours of certifications and started my own yoga program and wrote a book about it eventually, but, and started teaching it to SEALs. And so all this I was still a SEAL officer. Because I didn't retire from the SEALs in 2011, but I was able to do all this and build a business that started to teach Navy SEALs everything I would have been learning. And that's called SEALFIT. That was the business that everything I've been learning and applying in my own life, right? And this was this integrated model of development. It started with Nakamura where it wasn't just about the physical. It was about physical, it was about mental, it was about emotional, it was about intuitional and spiritual aspects of our being. In that, I learned that if you train those together, then you will integrate, you'll become whole again. What that means is you'll become more, you have access to more of yourself. You have to put more potential. You can maintain peak performance, you can serve more profoundly, you can do more, you've got way more energy, way more enthusiasm, way more motivation, way more peace of mind, way more clarity.
It's extraordinary. In a sense, it's like coming back to who we are. That's why I call it integration. In fact, the word ‘yoga’ means union or integration, and so does is zen, believe it or not. Those practices and traditions are really all about becoming whole as a human again, as opposed to fragments and separate, separate from yourself and separated from others. So I stumbled upon this, and created my own path or my own model. And then when I had started to teach it to SEALs and special operators, and other military operators, a ton of people, even from New Zealand, some of your listeners might have been to my training. Then I started to recognise that, ‘Wow, this is necessary in our culture.’ Because most Westerners have no connection to this, this way of living of, taking care of the internal while you are working in the external, the yin and the yang, the balance between being and doing, becoming whole again, so you can do your work from a whole perspective as opposed to a fragmented, separated self. Which leads to suboptimal results, at a minimum, in at least a flat out crisis or destruction at the maximum level. And that's, we're seeing that both in from the investment in violence, military build-up, conflict, as well as environmental degradation is because human beings have not learned to be whole, and they don't recognise that we're all interconnected. And every one of our thoughts, every one of our emotions, every one of our actions has an implication or impact on the whole.
Lisa: Yep. This is really good. Because I think, we live our lives very much in the doing. We're busy all day, we're busy with a billion million things, we're running businesses, we're— we’ve got families and so on. And it's really hard to find that stillness. And I know that even as an athlete who, I think for years, I was just headed through the wall, you know, taking—
Mark: Most people are, that’s how they learn, until they hit the wall, right?
Lisa: Yeah, no, I hit the wall a couple of dozen times before, because I was a bit thick. I didn't wake up, said, ‘Hang on, this stuff isn't working anymore.’ And it works when you're 20. And it works when you're 25. And it works when you're 30. And but when you start hitting your 40s, and you're still smashing the crap out of your body, and you're not really not refilling the tank, and you're not re-examining what the hell are you doing, I think that's when the wheel started, when the wheel started to fall off for me. And I'm like, ‘Hang on a minute, this— why isn't my body doing like, it wasn't what it was supposed to do?’ And when you've grown up, though, with that expectation of, you have to be tough, you have to be hard. And I grew up different to you. But I had a dad who was very, he was an awesome father, but he was a hard ass. And he expected you to be tough and mentally tough, physically tough. He didn't really tolerate a lot of weakness or sickness or anything like that. And he was an amazing dad, but he pushed really hard. And that sort of makes you think, well, you have to be hard all the time. And then when you break down, then it's you being weak. Instead of looking at the whole picture, and quieting the mind and doing these things like meditation was for me. Yeah, I know, I hear it's really important, but I can't sit still. I need it twice as much.
Mark: Yeah, well, there's a reason for that. It'd be fun to talk about. But think about, when I reflect back, and my SEAL training and all these other guys were trying to be hard, and they had the same thinking, because America has a real soft side to it. But there's a lot of freakin’ warriors in America. And we have that same kind of what your dad's talking about. Gotta be hard. Like, there's no room for weakness. It's got to be tough. You think about the metaphor, the guys who quit were just bad asses. Yeah, why did they quit? They quit because they didn't— they lacked the emotional strength to understand what was happening to them in their either most extreme moments of crisis or moments of just doubt, right? And then they're like, so they let uncertainty in, let doubt creep in and corrupt their decision making and then, one mistake leads to an injury we call, quinjury. And you've probably seen this in endurance athletes’ is when all of a sudden the injury kind of crops up and then the person's out. And then really, reality is they created that injury to quit.
Lisa: Yeah, because they wanted a way out.
Mark: Because they wanted a way out. It's very subconscious. It's not prepared. It's not preparing properly. It's not recovering properly. It's not understanding that this is a long game and getting your ego out of the way.
Lisa: It used to prop up for me every— before any big race, that in the week ahead of that race, I would get sick. And I would, I'm sure that that was my subconscious trying to stop me do it.
Mark: Yeah, I've given you an out, right. And so—
Lisa: You’ve got a cold, you've got the flu.
Mark: Think about the metaphor between, if you got a tsunami coming, like, consider tsunami a metaphor for a crisis, or a big challenge, like BUD/S or a 50 mile or 100 mile race or something like that. There's a tsunami coming. Would you rather be a mighty oak facing that tsunami, or would you rather be like a reed?
Lisa: A reed, definitely.
Mark: Yeah, if so, when I went to SEAL training, I tried to be the reed, right? I tried to be really flexible. I didn't let anything bother me. You know, structures would come up and, during Hell Week for us, which week seven back then. But now it's more like week three or four, seven days non-stop training around the clock, no sleep. Everyone's heard about that. Like a day, Thursday, like the day before, we're over it most of it, we’re down to 60, 35, maybe 45 or 50, actually, in our class from 185 already. And instructor evil comes over and he's like, ‘Mark, I don't like you, I'm gonna make you quit.’ And in my mind, I was like, ‘Good luck.’ And I even think I started—
Lisa: That confidence!
Mark: I don't know, it was just my spiritual strength saying, ‘No, you're not going to get me to quit, you can't.’ And so I actually was challenging him in my mind, and it must come through on my face. And he goes, ‘I'm gonna wipe that smirk right out that effing face.’ And he just made me start doing 8-count bodybuilders, which are like a burpee, basically. And I remember in my mind thinking, ‘Okay, all right. Let's do this.’ Right? All I got to do is one 8-count bodybuilder at a time, until he gets tired.
Lisa: Until he gets tired.
Mark: Exactly! So that's what I did. I just did one. I just want, did one 8-count bodybuilder. And then I just did one 8-count bodybuilder. And then I just did one 8-count bodybuilder. And when we got up to like—
Lisa: You broke him.
Lisa: Holy heck.
Mark: Which is nothing, right? I did 24 hours of burpees last, a couple of years ago, as part of our challenge. We did, check this out: we did 22 million burpees as a tribe to raise money for veterans. And part of that was to break a world record where our six-person team, you would love this, three men and three women, we did 36,000 burpees in 24 hours, so I did 7,500 or something like that. So 700 is nothing. Back then I didn't know if it was going to be 700 or 7,000 or 70,000. But he got bored, and he walked away at about 700, and I have to say, that worked. That's a good strategy.
Lisa: What about the burning in the muscles and the exhaustion and the running out of glycogen—
Mark: You can do anything, one at a time.
Mark: It's just like in a race, I'm sure you get to a point where all you have to do all you are saying to yourself is, ‘Just one more step.’
Lisa: One more step. Yep, absolutely.
Mark: Same thing. We call them micro goals. And so we teach— I started teaching these to SEALs, and the best guys already did this. But now we teach it, the SEALs are teaching what I call the Big Four. And they're teaching box breathing for controlling their stress, they're teaching positive internal dialogue, and mantras. And they're teaching visualisation, visualise every event and visualise what the end state looks like for you and then visualise the mission and whatnot. And then micro goals. Like go to BUD/S thinking about eight months of training, you go to BUD/S thinking about, ‘What do I got to do today to win this?’ And then when today gets hard, you just collapse. ‘What do I need to do to win this evolution or event that I'm in?’ And then when that gets harder, you know, it's like, ‘What do I got to do to get to the next five minutes?’ Anytime you quit, or you have the thought, ‘Well, this sucks. I think I want to quit.’ You just say, ‘Well, let me just push through to another— let me just push through another five minutes.’ Or, ‘Let me just get to that berm up there,’ if it's a run, or Log-Pt could go on forever. ‘Let me just finish this evolution, then I'll make a decision.’ And so you just keep kicking the can down the road of the pain and the quit decision and the suffering and eventually the suffering goes away, because that's a temporary state.
Lisa: And this is like that you just dropped so much golden inside of two minutes. Take a couple of those because these are things that I've took me 20 years to learn.
Mark: Play it back in slow motion.
Lisa: You know, like this. That's how that's how I break down. You know, every mess of the like, I remember and my listeners have heard me tell the story. But I ran 2,250 kilometers from New Zealand for charity.
Mark: Wow. Good for you. Holy cow.
Lisa: Yeah, no, it's like, but I've been so busy in the build-up doing— I've been at other races around the world, done Badwater in the States, just come back from that, just launched a book and then I'm standing at the start line. I've been so busy in the thing that I actually hadn't thought about actually running the— because I was just like, ‘Yeah, I got everything, sweet.’ And then I’m starting at the start line and I just had a panic attack, like the first real big panic attack. And I'm not, because you're staring down the barrel of this—
Mark: Like, holy shit, this is too high to climb. What the heck have I done?
Lisa: What the frick was I thinking? And I went home, we had media, we had all my crew and everybody there and I just went away behind the one of the cars and got my mum, my mummy ‘cuz she's my safe place, went to my mummy and I just bawled my eyes out. And said, ‘Mum I can't do this, I don't know what the frick I was thinking. I can't, and there's no way out.’ And mum's just like, ‘Hey,’ as she hugged me, as mums do. And she said, ‘You don't need to do 2,250 today. All I want you to focus on is that little box up there,’ you know, that was a couple of hundred meters up the road. ‘That's what you got to do right now. And then you're going to, you're going to get through to lunchtime, and then you're gonna have lunch. And then we're going to get through to this and that.’
She just broke it down into pieces, and she took all of that load that I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is huge,’ and she broke it into one step at a time, basically. And that was some of the greatest learnings that I've taken away for every event that I've done when— and there have been times when I've broken and I've just crashed on the ground. I don't know how to get up and people have come along and they've got me up and walked me through the next few steps. Or the next— and that has gotten you over that hump, you know? And I just wait, you know, that's so much gold, right there, what you've just said. I think if we can do that in daily life so when we're faced with some big scary thing coming at us, how do I just get through this moment? And we're very— if you can get through these impulses, you know, like there's 30 seconds, through the 30 seconds almost, sometimes you can get to a place where you can cope again. And then you can sort of get back up.
Mark: And this goes back to like the internal dialogue. Most people don't examine their internal dialogue. And this is where meditation is so critical. And you can also consider, like running or swimming or biking, endurance sports generally, are also very good for examining internal dialogue, because you're going to meet resistance. How you talk to yourself has an incredible impact on your energy and your motivation. Literally, we use the terminology ‘feeding the courage wolf’ versus ‘feeding the fear wolf’. Feeding fear is allowing negative dialogue and negative imagery and negative emotions to kind of run the rule the roost of your psychology, and that weakens you. Negative thoughts demonstrably weaken you as a human being.
Lisa: Yeah, because—
Mark: They're gonna not just weaken your motivation but literally musculature-wise you get weaker, and that's been proven through kinesiology. So positive thoughts create a higher vibration, which bring more energy, more access to more creativity and motivation. And so you got to train positive thoughts. That's what I mean by feeding the courage wolf. And the more you feed the courage wolf by training positive mantras and positive thoughts, then the more you starve the fear wolf until he goes away, until he just doesn't have the food anymore. And those patterns dry up and blow away. So I created a bunch of positive mantras that I would say in the SEAL training, and they're still with me today.
As soon as I start a hard workout, they kick back in. ‘Feeling good, I'm looking good, ought to be in Hollywood. Feeling good, I'm looking good, ought to be in Hollywood. I can get out of me in Hollywood. I've got this easy day, piece of cake. Boo yeah, hey, got this. Easy day, piece of cake. Boo yeah, hey.’ And then I'll synchronise that with my breathing. So, hardcore, run three steps and inhale 1, 2, 3, ‘I've got this. Easy day. Piece of cake.’ Exhale 1, 2, 3. Right.
Lisa: And the rhythm is good too, hey.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. So I was synchronising those before, the big four. The first skill I said, box breathing, it's really breath control. Running, anything you're doing, always breathing through your nose as best as possible, and controlling the breathing and creating a nice rhythmic pattern with the breathing. It's going to be different depending upon what you're doing. If you're lifting weights, gonna be one thing, if you're running another, swimming another. Swimming creates its own little breathing patterns, because head in the water versus out of the water. But just starting there, controlling your breathing and adding a positive mantra, or a positive internal statement that's linked to the breath is transformative. Not only does it keep you in the game athletically or whatever, but when you do this during your regular day, day in and day out, you're training your mind to be really positive and to be very concentrated. So you're developing concentration power. So you're turning your mind from like a scattered floodlight, which is flickering on and off, the monkey mind, to a very, very concentrated laser beam that you can point that laser beam on anything, any task, any project, and it deeply improves your productivity, the ability to get things done, you know, significantly.
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Mark: And then the imagery, right, the imagery. Well, let me backup. The other thing that that process of paying attention to the quality of your thoughts and changing them to positive thoughts, and increasing your concentration power, as you start to look at the dialogue too, in your head. What is actually going on? And you recognise that typically what's going on in your head is a series of statements that are also based upon belief systems, but it can be framed as questions. When people say, ‘I don't think I can do this,’ what they're really saying is, ‘Am I worthy? Am I competent?’
We can begin to recognise that our belief systems are based upon questions and statements that may or may not be true. And so you want to take a look at the ones that are questionable, especially if they have a negative quality, and say, ‘Is that true?’ And you realise, ‘It’s not true. I am worthy. I am competent.’ Now, I may not feel that yet. But the more I tell myself that and the more I can see that in myself, and the more that I meditate and actually feel into my worthiness and my confidence, and the more I work to eradicate the emotional side or shadow that may have, be tied to related to that — for me, it was because of the childhood abuse, I kind of felt a little unworthiness and whatnot, even though I was capable as a SEAL, it's still kind of plagued me for a while, until I had to stare down that wolf of fear and be like, ‘Yeah, that's all bullshit. That's just a story that I'm holding on to and I was able to release all that energy and feel that worthiness now.’ Then that leads to a whole nother set of questions, which are extraordinarily empowering, right. So when I— understanding your capability as a human being, the potential that you have, the power that we have, you can then project that into the future and say, ‘What does victory look like for me?’ Right? ‘If I'm going to run this 2,000 meter, or 2,000 kilometer race, and I'm going to raise money for charity, what is that for? What's my ‘why’? And what does victory look like?’
You get a clear sense of what victory looks like. And then you can even do that with the micro parts. So you chunked it down into 100 kilometer segments, let's just say. What does victory look like for that segment for the next five days? What does it look like for today? What does it look like— this is, in a sense, what your mom was doing, but she was doing it from the other way around. What does it look like for the next six hours? What does it look like for the next three hours? You get a clear picture because you're asking the right questions, and you're winning in your mind before you step foot into the battlefield. So asking really powerful questions like, what does victory look like? Who is on my team? Who's got my back? Why am I doing this? How is it related to my purpose in my life? These are the questions that we start asking, because now we've drowned out the negative incessant chatter, which is just holding us back and distracting us. We've created this space, and I use the metaphor still water pond. We've taken our mind and we've created it instead of this choppy, you know, bouncing all over the place, turbulent thought stream, largely negative, we've calmed down. And it's now this still water, and on this still water, you can look at it, you can really see a reflection clearly. So that's kind of a nice thing, you get to see your true self more clearly, but also, what you drop into that water in terms of the thought is going to ripple out and affect everything. So you end up dropping thought seeds that are really powerful, instead of chaotic and negative.
Lisa: Because there's this whole, these automatic negative thoughts and if we think about how we evolved that was there for our survival. Because we needed to be aware of dangers and things in our environment, so we were always looking for the bad thing that was going to come at us. But in our world now, where we just, we have this constant chatter in our head. And it's, you know, I've certainly dealt with this for a long time, and I and I fought against the whole sitting still thing, and focusing inwards. Because it's very unpleasant, when you having— when you want to move, you just want to move. Give me a hard ass workout, any day, over meditation, you know, because it's just like this energy, this agitation, but that's why I need to do it. So that I can break through that piece of the puzzle. And then you can tap into strengths that you didn't know you had, and quietness, and then you start to really reflect and like, for me, it has only really been, even in the last few months where I've been—
My dad passed away, and it was one hell of a battle for his life. And I, yeah, it was a real— I was fighting against the system. And it was a mess of battle. It's all good when you win, but it's also good when you don't win. And so this one, just been— I was a bit of an existential crisis after that, because I'd lost this battle for my dad, who I loved dearly. And it made me go inward. It made me start to really question some of the biggest things because you start realising that life's short, shorter than I think it's gonna be. You want to understand why, and then going inside and doing some deep work and doing some trauma work and doing all that sort of hard stuff has been great. There's always good that comes out of shit. You never ever want to go through things like that, but when you do, you can always turn them into something, a learning curve of some sort. And having that, I was listening to you with Bedros Keulian, who's also is another one that I—
Mark: Yeah, he’s an awesome guy.
Lisa: Yeah, he's just a rock star. in you, when you were talking about how you went through the zen process where you were, for a start, you started meditating, but you're just learning to quiet the mind. And then after a few months, that became then mindfulness. Where you’re starting to observe yourself from outside in splitting the mind or somehow you put this and you're actually observing yourself as this higher self, if you like. Can you explain that a little bit? And how does that—
Mark: Yeah, so glad you brought that up. Because I wanted to talk about that. Because you're right. It's— meditation is hard, especially for active people, which everybody, everybody listening, everybody in the Western world is pretty much hyperactive. Yep, that's what we're taught; it’s reality. Like, ‘Go, go, go. Do, do, do.’ We get over-committed. Now we have, you know, constant distraction with our iPhones and social media, and it's just gonna get worse, worse, worse. Wait until we get plugged in with a neural link, you know, like, wow. So we got to push back against that. The only way to push back against that is to disconnect from all that and to sit still, or stand still, or take a walk. But don't do anything, right. Don't do it for a goal. Don't do it to check it off a box. Don't do it to be the best meditator you know.
Lisa: Tick that box.
Mark: It doesn't work, right?
Lisa: That was what I was going to—
Mark: There's no goals here. Right? It's about becoming still, getting that clarity and this still water mind back, if you ever had it, but we had it when we were kids, of course, but in a different sense. So that you can evolve. You know, let me start there. I think that there's two reasons we're on this planet. One is to evolve to become the best version, highest and best version of yourself in this lifetime. The second is to align with our calling or our purpose. And those two really kind of go hand-in-hand or hand-in-glove. You can’t evolve if you're constantly doing. You actually will stay stuck. You'll keep getting your ass handed to you. You'll keep suffering. You'll keep feeling victimised. And you'll keep looking outward for the solutions. And you'll keep blaming other people, or society, or taxes, or the government, or God.
Lisa: A lot of fingers are turned.
Mark: The answers lie within, right? And so the only way to go inward is to slow down and just be quiet. Right? So it's imperative. Now, why do most people fail? A) Because everything I've just talked about, they haven't been taught this. And B) because they're body mind, their body brain is very, very agitated. It’s amped up because you've been taking all this stress on throughout your life. So what I teach is that the first step in meditation practice isn't mindfulness. It isn't a mantra practice. It's just a box breathe, which is a pattern breathe, five-count in, five-count hold, and five-count out, five-count hold, or four, or three, if you have trouble with that. And just let that nostril breathing in that massaging that the vagus nerve, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. And it's bleeding off stress and bringing your body brain back into my balance.
Mark: When your body brain is back into balance, your brain is going to experience that as a lower frequency rate. Lower frequency means fewer thoughts, right? If you're in gamma, it's like tick-tick, popcorn brain. But if you're in alpha, like listening to beautiful music, classical music, or you're maybe doing some journaling, your mind stops racing. It starts to get into—
Lisa: A lovely alpha state of focus.
Mark: Yeah, and so the box breathing practice trains your mind to get back into alpha, trains your body to de-stress, and you do this. It might take you months, usually about three months. I— my clients have this extraordinary calming that comes over them. And they're already changed. But this is, you know, just the preparatory work, right? This also, for those who are working on their physical structure in their health and their weight, this also has enormous benefits because you begin to feel a lot better. And you begin, you know, you're starting to breathe in that life force again. You're getting more oxygen with every breath, and you're retraining the breathing patterns so this becomes your more natural state. If you, let me just pause here, if you train for 20 minutes a day, have a five-count box breath, that's three breaths per minute, over time, and might take a year or more, you're gonna eventually settle into a natural breath pattern of six breaths per minute, which is now proven to the optimal.
Mark: I've been doing this for years, I never knew that, it just settled out there to where six breaths per minute through the nose was standard for me, or a standard, and that's what will happen to you.
Mark: Yeah. But those are full breaths, full exhales, getting all the toxins out there.
Lisa: Basically the exhale.
Mark: It's enormously beneficial for your body, and everything starts to come back into balance: you start losing weight, you start eating better. Because you want to eat better, you start sleeping better, because you got all that, less cortisol and less stress. Wow, all that is foundational. Now, with all that starting to happen, after three to six months, you can start to sit comfortably, and you're starting to enjoy it, and you're starting to look forward to it. That's when we can start meditating.
Now everything looks like meditation, but you're really sitting in box breathing. But now we turn that box pattern into a concentration practice. That's part two. And so the way I teach that is to visualise the box being drawn with each side being drawn in a different color, lighting. And also adding that mantra, or one of the other, but they both work and they work together. So now you're giving your mind one thing to focus on. This then develops that power to concentrate deeper, but also gives you the ability to notice when you're— when you lost your focus, or you split your focus. You’re wandering. And then you get, develop the ability to bring it back quicker and quicker to the box better, and that's called attention control. So you're training yourself: concentration, the ability to control your attention, and the ability to be less distracted. Wow.
Now that's mind training and that's the part where I say you're training your mind first with the box breathing, then with the second part of concentration and attention control. To be like a tame, beautiful stallion that was a wild stallion. A wild stallion is gorgeous, but it's dangerous. And most people's minds are like that. They're beautiful, but they're dangerous.
Mark: They’re dangerous to themselves and to others. But once you train it by lassoing that mind and stabilising it and calming it down, de-stressing it and then being able to focus it, then it's much happier and it's much calmer, and it's going to serve you, instead of trampling.
Lisa: Achieve more and do more.
Mark: Right. That's step two in the process, and this might be like, again, everyone's gonna be different, but six months to one and a half years. That's step three. Some of this stuff naturally unfolds, but it's really powerful if you recognise and you're deliberate about it. You don't want to rush meditation; this is a lifetime practice. Be comfortable, get it right in the beginning, because it'll serve you for the rest of your life. So many people bounce around with meditation, they draw in it, they're off it, they quit. They're just using an audio app, you know, and they're not really training their brains. It does have some health benefits, but it's not really training their minds.
Furthermore, if you don't end up doing the emotional work, you can really do what they call spiritual bypass or an emotional bypass where you can have some nice experiences. You go for the bliss and the white light and all that. But you're not doing anything to change your character, your underlying structures of beliefs and thoughts and biases, right? I had a meditation teacher who told me, ‘Mark,’ he wasn't talking to me, he was talking about meditation. He said, ‘If you're an asshole, and you start meditating, and you meditate for 20 years, you don't do anything about that, you’re just gonna be a more focused asshole.’
Lisa: There’s just more asshole-ness. Oh no.
Mark: Right? So you want to get this right. Meditation can be transformative at all levels, but you got to do it, right. It's just like learning foot placement and proper alignment and structure to run 2,000 kilometers. If you don't, you break. Same thing with meditation. If you go straight into, like Kundalini Yoga, and you think, ‘Oh, that's it, that's my path.’ And you have a Kundalini awakening, and you haven't done the foundational work to integrate that, or to deal with that in your body, then you could go crazy. And there are people around this world who are absolutely batshit crazy, because they had Kundalini awakenings, and they weren't ready to handle it.
Lisa: Wow. Okay. So you need to do this—
Mark: You need to do this work. This is why the yogis would train for years and years and years, in the asanas, the physical postures, so that when they were ready for that experience of enlightenment, which some some had, and some didn't, and they had that massive, like lightning bolt of electricity just explode up their spine and integrate all their chakras and, and just drawing and all this life force that they were able to handle it.
Mark: It’s an intense experience. Now that's a little bit advanced training, probably, we don't need to go into much more of that here. But my point is that, take your time, don't be so goal-oriented with meditation. It's okay to be goal-oriented with your athleticism and with your business stuff. But when it comes to raising your kids and the meditation, it's better to be patient, and to be present and just allow the process to unfold because it's going to be a little bit different for everybody, depending upon where you are at psychosocially and physically and emotionally.
One thing I do want— so one thing I just want to finish up this part. So you have the first part, which is the de-stressing the routes of control where you're just breathing for that. Then the second part where you're breathing for concentration, power, and attention control. The third part, which you alluded to, that opens up naturally, is you start to take a little bit of the pressure off of the concentration training, and you allow any thoughts streams to arise. Where concentration training, you're trying to like— you're not trying to empty your mind of all thoughts, because you're thinking of one thing, and that is the concentration, you know, the object of concentration. And so you're putting a lot of effort into that, mental effort, which develops mental power. But eventually, you've got enough of that. And so you, you take off the gas a little bit, and you allow less energy to put it— be put into the concentration and allow other things to arise.
This is where you get that metacognitive split, which is interesting. So now it's almost like your brain has been partitioned into two hard drives. And one hard drive is your right brain and right hemisphere, which is fully online and aware now, because of the concentration. It’s not all subconscious, it's aware, say able to see context. And the second partition is the left hemisphere of your brain, which is the content, thinking. And so your box breathing softly, just, mindfully, this being aware, and you're seeing what's coming up. But you're seeing it from a perspective that's separated from the thoughts and emotions. This is a sea change in behavior. It's awakening to this understanding that you are not your thoughts and emotions. And therefore you're not the stories and you can change your stories, you can change your life by inserting new stories.
Lisa: So you're observing yourself from the outside as an extra character that's watching the emotions and the things that you're off and understanding the actual brain that's been partly programmed in childhood and our culture and everything that it's exposed to, which is running this pattern that's been running forever. And you're actually watching and saying, ‘Well, that's interesting.’
Mark: I do that in the observer. Yeah. I call that the witness.
Mark: So then, there's two more things we do in meditation. So once you begin to open up to the witness, the most powerful way to visualise is from the witness perspective, because you're doing it from your higher self, you're visualising your future from that perspective. It's just, a lot of people start training, they start with visualisation, and they're like, I can't get a clear picture of my future. And they're really hooked to their thinking mind and they're thinking about doing in the future. When you can decouple from the thinking mind and look into the future from the perspective of your witness, you're basically seeing what your spirit wants you to see. And so that's going to be much more in alignment, if not in total alignment with what your real purpose is on this planet. And you're not seeing yourself doing, you're seeing yourself as a type of person, like an archetype or calling. Seeing yourself as a healer, as a teacher, as a warrior, as a leader, as a— and then that's gonna have a certain flavor to it, like a healer might be a healer of the earth, or it might be healer of children, or it might be healer of elderly, right, so it's gonna have a flavor to it, that's going to come to you spontaneously.