[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.0] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we explore what it takes to succeed at the highest possible level. We get science and data from years in the trenches with top performers to uncover the strategies that really work for achieving results. We dig deep into the lifelong quest of discovering your own personal philosophy and much more, with Dr. Michael Gervais.
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In our previous episode we discussed the proven strategies for building effective relationships. Why it's vital to understand the results you get in the world come from working with other people. How you can see the world from other people's perspectives, tactics for building your credibility, how to get better feedback and much more with our previous guest, Todd Davis. If you want uncover the number one strategy for achieving results and getting what you want in life, listen to that episode.
Now for the interview.
[0:02:22.3] MB: Today we have another awesome guest on the show, Dr. Michael Gervais. Michael is a high-performance psychologist who trains mindset skills and practices that are essential to revealing one’s potential. He’s worked with some of the world’s top performers, including sports teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, Felix Baumgartner, the Red Bull sponsored athlete who completed the stratosphere job, Olympians, musicians and much more. His work has been featured on ESPN, CNN, The New York Times and many other sites.
Michael, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:02:51.7] MG: Thanks for having me on.
[0:02:53.0] MB: We’re super excited to have you on here today. I’d love to start out, tell me a little bit about what is your mission? What is kind of the driving purpose behind what you do?
[0:03:04.0] MG: Well, it’s changed, and I can work in reverse order, so I think it's probably a bit easier, but the beginnings is — Or where I am now, the mission now, is to see if we can make an impact in one in seven people across the globe. That sounds daunting and ridiculous, but we make it where it’s bite-size or snackable if you will and we’re trying to make a difference, one of five people in any organization that we work with.
The reason one in five, the image in place is to help people be more clear about how they can train their mind to be more present. So that's the mission. If we can increase the frequency of people becoming their authentic self and by meeting the present moment when it happens and having command of their mind to do so in rugged and hostile environments, then the idea is that we’ll create a rising tide where that swell floats all boats.
[0:03:56.6] MB: You touched on the idea of rugged and hostile environments. How does that play into the cultivation of presence? Another topic I know you’ve worked a lot on is mastery.
[0:04:07.5] MG: Well, by trade and training, my skillset is high-performance psychology, or performance psychology. I think that it’s important to give some context to where I’m coming from, so it’s grounded in good science. Then I’ve spend years in the field and in the trenches with some of the top performance in the world learning how they, and we together, customize a mindset training or psychological skills training programs.
The rugged and hostile environments is relative and in many of the environments I work in, they’re physically rugged and hostile. For the rest of folks, like it doesn’t have to be physically dangerous to be rugged. It can be emotionally dangerous and risky. What that means is any time that your heart starts to thump because of the interpretation that something is on the line, then by definition that becomes relatively hostile. It feels as though — No. A better way of saying that, it is the exact same feeling as if somebody were chasing you down with a knife in a dark alley when you’re required to walk across the dancehall in 7th grade and experience that vulnerability being the first person to dance or to walk across and ask somebody to dance.
All of the same ancient brain stuff from our ancestors that were passed on to us about fight, flight, freeze, mission or flow state, all of those are at play. In modern times, so many of us, we understand the value of working hard and getting right on the edge of capacity or getting right on the edge of this instability to grow and to become larger in our ability to manage moments. The truth is that our ancient brain is that thing that gets us stuck and keeps us safe and small in many regards.
So that’s a long way of saying that the hostile and rugged environments is where we learn about who we really are. The way that we learn about who we are is only we really know our experience in those moments. Do we shut it down? Do we avoid them? Do we — Are so self-critical that it’s hard to be fluid in our craft, whether that’d be words or whether that’d be something more physical, like sport?
It’s the dangerous and hostile environments that teach us how well we prepared to be still in the present moment. Why is the stillness important, is because that’s where life happens. That’s where all things high-performance, that’s where all things that look like or feel like mastery take place. It’s where we’re connected to ourselves. It’s where we’re connected to nature. It’s where we’re connected to our craft. It’s where we’re connected to others.
The essence is the whole inner engineering game is to figure out ways to become more present and to have that presence be aligned with your personal philosophy about who it is that you want to become and who it is that you’re working on being, and it’s the confluence of those variables that be more specific. Those variables are hostile or rugged environments. The personal philosophy about who it is that you’re working on becoming and the mental skills to have command of your inner experience so that you can do one thing, which is express your authentic self, and when you can do that in harmony with other people, really good stuff takes place. That’s the essence of how I spend most of my time conceptually. Thinking about those elements and how to leverage them and manipulate them in all the right ways and then to train our minds to be more calm and more confident, more resilient, more mentally tough, more nimble if you will to adjust to the unfolding and unpredictable unknown that only comes within the uncertainty of hostile and rugged environments.
[0:08:06.3] MB: There’s a tremendous amount of stuff that I want to dig into just from that answer. I’d love to start out with the idea of really getting clear about who you are and how important it is to know who you are and how that intersects with performance.
[0:08:22.3] MG: Yeah. I think it seems like a simple question, but it’s a really big question. Let’s start with one concept above that, which is there’s only three things that as humans, there’s only three things that we can train. We can train our body, and science is pretty good there. We’ve got a pretty good handle on how to do that. You can train our craft, and our crafts vary across people. Some people, their craft is writing, and some people, their craft is motocross. There’re all different types of crafts people have. Parenting is a craft. You can train your body. You can train your craft and you can train your mind.
Everything else in life falls in one of those three buckets when we’re talking about development of the human experience, and there’s an asterisk, and that asterisk is your spirit. There is some thought that I — I’m a scientist at heart and there’s no science that I can point to that says you can train spirit, but not put an asterisk next to it, because I think it’s possible.
Okay. There’s only those three things that you can train. Now, I spend most of my time on how to train the mind. When we talk about training the mind, it becomes almost fruitless to have mental skills, but there’s nothing to calibrate who you are and who you’re becoming, which is a personal philosophy. A personal philosophy becomes — Seriously, like one of the most significant anchors that we can ground ourselves with, and if you think about some of the most significant people in the world that have shaped the culture and the rhythm of the world, we’re very clear about their philosophy.
Martin Luther King Jr., we know exactly what he stood for, because he talked about it, he thought about it, and his actions lined up, and that’s the essence of why a personal philosophy is really important, is to line up your thoughts, your words and your actions across any environment. When you can line up your thoughts, words and actions, there is a sense of power that comes from that. Now, I don’t mean power in a cheesy way, but there’s an inner-knowing and an inner-being that is so rock solid that you can — No. Not align. That you can move eloquently in any environment when you have that alignment. That’s Martin Luther King Jr. We knew that he stood for equality.
Malcom X on the other side also stood for equality and they had very different tones to how they went about achieving that aim of equality. Malcolm X was widely known for by any means necessary, and Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. King, was very clear about having a non-violent approach.
There’s dials that get embedded in one’s philosophy, but the philosophy itself becomes the compass for how to line up your thoughts, your words and your actions.
[0:11:14.8] MB: That’s so powerful, and I think it’s critically important point. I’m curious, for somebody who’s listening that kind of wants to ground that experience, how would you recommend starting out to uncover or discover what your own personal philosophy is or starting to get to the core of that?
[0:11:34.2] MG: It’s a lifelong quest, and it’s starts by getting clear, and there’s three methodologies to get clear that both science and ancient wisdoms would teach us. It starts with a basic principle, and the basic principle is that everything you need is already inside you. It’s not about going and asking other people for their philosophy, but it is helpful to have your eyes open to be curious about what other people’s philosophies are so that you can be more connected to what it is that they’re searching for and how they’ve organized their life. I’m talking about people of wisdom and passion and people that had great influence that you think is remarkable. Okay. That’s the first part.
The second part is if everything you know — Everything you need to know is already inside you, how do you reveal that? There’s three methodologies, and the first is mindfulness. So that is the practice of being present with your inner experience. We can down as much of that conversation as you’d like. The second form is being around wise people, being around people that are switched on and having those conversations about deep stuff, about their philosophy, about how they have cultivated their philosophy, about how their philosophy has changed overtime and being able to bounce deeper type conversations across the people that have wisdom. If you’re not fortunate enough to know somebody that’s wise, that’s okay. There’re certainly people in your community that like are on the ball. Maybe they don’t have wisdom and they haven’t revealed it yet, but they’re certainly on the ball and they’re switched on. That’s the second; those types of conversations and building that community.
Then the third is writing. The art of writing, of being able to take an esoteric thought and all the words in your native tongue to be able to lockdown as a forcing function to say, “This is the word or sentence or phrase that best describes this feeling or thought or concept that I’m trying to articulate.” It’s something incredibly powerful about that forcing function to take all the possible words that swirl on our head and pick one or two or a phrase of words to articulate ourselves. Those are the three ways, but it starts with a premise that everything you need is already inside you. Your work is to reveal that, and that happens by being, by listening, by having conversations and by writing.
[0:13:58.2] MB: What has your own journey been like to uncover your personal philosophy?
[0:14:04.8] MG: I’ve had wonderful experiences with this and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some mentors. I needed mentors when I was younger I should say, and so I was fortunate enough to have some really amazing people that helped guide me. One of those folks challenged me and said, “What is your philosophy?” and I had no idea what it was and I just couldn’t articulate it, and I tried. Just like most people that say, “Well, the things that are most important to me are —” But that’s not what it is. It’s like there’s something much deeper, and that deeper calling is to say, “I know it’s this.” The way to get to that clarity are the three approaches I just talked about, but also having somebody say, “Hey, listen. I really would love to know your philosophy.” There’s something really important about at the accountability that that person cares, they’re interested and I’m going to do this with them, or they’re calling me out on the carpet. That’s what happened to me. Somebody called me out and said, “I thought you had done this — You said that you’ve done this work and I thought you did, but it’s clear you haven’t.” I said, “Okay.”
What ends up happening for me is I went based on that kind of — I wouldn’t say it was embarrassment, but I let myself down. I let my mentor down. I just went on a quest to really try to figure it out, but it took me two years and it was two years of searching and I was reading and I was talking and I was writing and I was listening. I was doing all the things that I shared with you earlier.
Then one day I was reading a chapter in a book and it just spilled out of me, and so I don’t think that what I’m describing is the absolute, most efficient way to do it, but that’s how it happened for me. Then when I realized, like this is me looking back with hindsight, that there’s some particular phases that we go through, there’s the searching phase of trying to understand it, and then there’s the phase of like shaping it, paring it and saying, “These are the words.”
What I’d suggest to people is that you want to be able to so crisp with your philosophy is that you could get it out at knife point in a dark alley. That means that it’s got to be just a handful of words, or certainly less than 15, that maybe you start with a whole page and then you pare it down to half a page and then you pare it down to 25 words or less and then maybe you could get it done to just a handful of words that really get to the center of your compass in your life.
Okay. Then the next is taking that work and putting it to memory. Little extra here is that when it happened for me, is that when it just spilled out of me, it was so right and so true, because I’ve been thinking and searching and really wrestling with it sometimes in the background, but sometimes in the foreground of my daily rhythms, that I only needed to edit two words in my statement. That leads me to this next phase, which is putting it to memory. For me, it was so crisp that I didn’t need to put it to memory. It was just there for me.
Most people need to say, “Okay,” and they need to practice it, like, “Okay. What are those words? That’s right. Okay. It was these words. All right.” There’s just a memorization process.
Then the fourth phase is to put it into practice, and so we’ve got to wake up in the morning in some kind of way and practice it. If you want to be good at it, especially in rugged and hostile environments to have that alignment, that true north that only a philosophy can offer us, is that we have to wake up and practice it.
Then we want to practice mental skills to support us to be about it in hostile and rugged environments. That’s it. It’s not complicated. I think that there’s something very important about simplicity and it feels like I know I’m on to something when it’s really simple, but it’s hard to do and it just seems like that’s what I’ve learned from both being in the trenches with world’s best and variety of domains, that it’s not complicated to know how to shoot a basketball or do whatever the skill is in whatever sport we’re talking about when nobody is looking, but it’s extremely hard to do it when there are more people looking and there’s pressure involved. It’s even more difficult to do that in repeated fashion. That’s how I think about it.
[0:18:18.4] MB: Yeah, I feel like many of the most important things in life are simple but not easy.
[0:18:24.2] MG: Yeah. A thousand percent. There’s something nauseating about the self-help world. It’s like, “Jesus! There’s nothing new.” It’s a fantastic field waiting for people to help them become their very best. The science is phenomenal saying, “Listen. This is what we know to be true. You just have to freaking do it. You got to put in the lonely work and roll up your sleeves, be really clear about your philosophy. Train your mind to know how to be confident in any environment.” That’s mechanical. That’s so mechanical, but the practice in the doing of it, it’s just not easy. How to become in any environment, completely possible to do, but we have to practice. How do we practice? If you want, we can go through those mechanics, but I’m sure that most of your listeners already know the answers on how to do that.
[0:19:16.2] MB: Let’s briefly touch on that. Tell me kind of just in an overview sense what are those core mechanics and mental skills that are necessary to command your inner experience?
[0:19:27.0] MG: Yeah. Okay. Once we’ve locked in and we’ve got our compass for our philosophy and we’ve got a sense of, “Okay. I’m going to do the hard work,” and you make that commitment. It’s hard work to do. Then you can move into training the mental skills, which are the not complicated. It’s generating a sense of confidence, calm, the ability to lock in and focus in the present moment. The ability to trust yourself in difficult, rugged environments. Those are four, right? Calm, confidence, focus and trust.
Then there’s some psychological framework stuff to work on as well, which is a fancy phrase for how you think about your future. Is it optimistic or pessimistic? We want to double down on optimism, because for us what we’ve learned, and science supports this as well, is that it’s part of a foundation, if not the center pillar for mental toughness. To create a life of high performance, let alone mastery or peace and meaning, we need — We require to be mentally tough. If the center of mental toughness is the belief that the future is going to work out and I have the capacity to figure it out, that’s a fancy phrase for self-efficacy. Then optimism is really important for us. That’s trainable. Optimism, pessimism are learned behaviors and if we want to be more mentally tough, we need to train optimism.
Then the last two are being able to focus on what’s in our control, be very clear about that. Then the last is developing a sense of grit. Grit is a simple term, but it really means living with passion and a sense of resiliency to persevere for the long-term haul, for the long trek if you will towards your potential.
If I make it more clear, it’s calm, confidence, focus and trust, optimism, control and grit. Those are the key mental skills that I spent a lot of time thinking about how to cultivate. If you’re going to do all of that, working to line up your thoughts, words and actions on a regular basis in safe environments all the way up to hostile events, and that’s what kind of natural training progression looks like. We start in a quiet, safe environment and then progressively get louder with more risk until it becomes more hostile. Then at some point, there’s the possibility to dissolve that hostility and dissolve that pressure if you will. That’s much more nuanced, but that’s left for people that are truly at the tip of the arrow to figure that out.
If we’re going to do all of that work, then the last pillar, if you will, for a programmatic approach to progressive improvement would be getting your recovery program locked down. On the world stage, we do not talk about working hard. Everybody works hard. Everybody is freaking hard worker on the world stage and they’ve got this incredible talent to go with it. It’s exciting and it’s fun to work hard.
We talk more about science and the art of recovery so that we can work hard on a regular basis and we down burn ourselves out in ways emotionally, physically or sometimes spiritually so to speak that we can’t go the distance. We got to push up against the edge, and if you’re going to push up against the edge of instability and doubt and physical limitations, then we’ve got to figure out the right way to recover our mind and our body.
[0:22:46.1] MB: I want to dig in recovery, but before we do, one of the things that I’ve thought about a lot is how do we balance optimism with the kind of acceptance of negative emotions and experiences? That’s something I think personally I’ve struggled with is, is kind of how do you balance spending time accepting and dealing with and thinking about past trauma or current negative emotional experiences with what you just talked about in terms of how powerful optimism is as a psychological framework and a key component of mental toughness and performance.
[0:23:20.9] MG: Okay. Yeah, it’s good. Everything that I just talked about, the wick that runs through it is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a particular well-being in the present moment without judgment. It’s a definition that was coined by Jo Kabat-Zinn.
To answer your question, optimism is about how you think about your future. Now, if you’ve been burned, and I don’t mean physically burned, but that could be the case too. If you’ve been emotionally burned or let down or you’ve been through some really tough stuff you’ve seen or smelled or heard things that are traumatic or difficult for you to deal with, that that can and will likely impact a sense of optimism. Okay?
If you’re been through some really tough stuff, it makes sense to have mechanisms to protect yourself from experiencing those difficult emotions. Again, so how do we train optimism? The first thing we need to do is recognize that going through difficult things doesn’t mean that we’re going come out the other side of it traumatized. There’s a lesser known research about — What I’m talking about is post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. Being traumatized is kind of a feature of that obviously. That there’s less research or less widely known research around post-traumatic growth, so that means it is possible to go through really heavy situations and come up the other side stronger, to come out the other side with the sense of growth. How? It’s really important. How?
It’s not as simple as I’m about to describe. I don’t want to pretend that this is not nuanced. It’s very nuanced when we’re dealing with emotional stuff that’s heavy, and I mean, shit a Ph.D., which is about 14 years of study doesn’t prepare us even enough to deal with what I’m about to say. It requires many more years in the field on top of that to deal with people that have been through traumatic experiences, but there’s trauma with a big T and there’s trauma with a small T.
Let’s just say we’re dealing with trauma with a small T. It means maybe you’re publicly embarrassed. It doesn’t mean that you saw body parts or you almost died yourself. Trauma with a small T is more common.
That means you maybe are publicly embarrassed or you let down some other people or there’s some sort of embarrassment or smaller traumatic experience that took place. If that was the case and that experience was fused with emotion and that fusion of emotion and physical experience becomes capsulated in such a way that we don’t want to experience it again because it was so hard, everything that you do looking forward would be to naturally protect yourself from that.
We have to undo. We have to rewire that experience. How do we do that? That’s the complicated part. That’s where you want to get in touch with somebody that really has a deep understanding of how the mind works, a psychologist or a properly trained clinician, to understand how to unpack that, at the same time create the sense that resiliency is at the center of growth.
We don’t become these amazing human beings without being resilient, and the only way to become resilient is to go through difficult shit. At some point, we have to have this meta-analysis, this observation that the difficult things that I go through are either going to keep me stuck or push me right to the edge of growth. That becomes very important.
Now, from that point, the idea of optimism is a purposeful decision to think about what could be amazing in the future. We have to spend time to train that, because if our ancient brain and our traumatized brain with a small T, but big T for trauma, is working to protect us. It literally feels like we have to override our DNA, and this is why psychology is so freaking powerful and wonderful and complicated, because our software, our mind is driving our brain, our hardware.
If the software is not strong enough, the hardware wins, the brain wins. The brain is designed for survival. So if we want to go back to any of our — Let’s say, glitchy experiences in us becoming our best version of ourselves, it’s either because our software has been traumatized or it’s glitchy or the hardware is doing its job, and it’s doing its job to protect you from all the things that could potentially be dangerous. In a modern life, the things that are most dangerous are what people think of us.
Certainly, that there are physically dangerous elements that take place. There are dangerous and bad people that lurk in dark places. That is true. For most of us, the worst thing that we experience is what other people might be thinking about us. We have to face down our glitchy software to upgrade it or know that our hardware is working to keep us safe and small and stuck and just okay, and we have to override that hardware by purposely training our mind to find what could be good as supposed to what our brain wants us to do is scan the world and find what could go wrong. It’s the combination of the balance of those two, because it’s ridiculous to think that nothing could go wrong. We do need to entertain those thoughts, but it’s that purposeful balance and double down or tripling down on what could be amazing and saying, “Okay. If that’s an outcome that could be amazing, what do I have to do to position myself right now in this moment or over the next week or month or years to see if that thing is actually possible.” That’s where all of the mental and physical and technical craft-base work goes into play.
[0:29:08.5] MB: If optimism is a learned skill, how can we cultivate and train it?
[0:29:14.9] MG: Okay. It starts with a decision, like I’m going to focus my mind on what could be good and what could be amazing. It’s a relentless belief that that’s possible. Then once that’s in place, then we back into how to train it, and there’re two functions of it. The first function is, without awareness of our inner dialogue, we’re literally dead in the water.
It begins with an awareness of your inner experience. How do you train awareness? Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to train your inner experience to become more aware of your thoughts, your emotions, your body sensations and the stuff outside, the external environment.
It starts with awareness. If you don’t know your thoughts, you can’t change them. The second is there’s some really great research out of UPenn that Martin Seligman designed, and that study reflects — They put people through — I can’t remember. Thousands of people. I think it was 4,000 people that put them through a study. I could be mixing up my research right now. He put thousands of people through a study and they asked them for seven days to just focus on three good things and at the end of the day just write those three good things down.
What they’ve found is people came into that study that were depressed. It stabilized their depression. What they’ve found is people that were not depressed, overall life satisfaction and wellness increased after just 7 days. That’s on a bunch of research around optimism training and gratitude training. That would be the most mechanical, the easiest way, evidence-based practice to start is wake up in the morning, become a researcher of good. Just do that. Become a researcher of amazing and a researcher or good. Then at the end of the day, write those things down. At the end of the day you’d have a sentence and a parenthesis right next to the end of the sentence.
Literally, I’ve got so many athletes and folks out and artists and folks I work with that they’ll send me a text as an accountability measure at the end of the day and it will say something like, “A woman held the door open for me.” Period. Then a parenthesis, it would say connection. Like they felt connected. The parenthesis is the emotion or the piece that made it special, and then the sentence is the thing that actually took place. It’s got to be real. It’s got to be something that happened and it’s, by the definition, has to be good or amazing if we’re so bold to be able to make that list.
It forces our brain to scan the world and find what’s good as supposed to all the things that could go wrong. It’s simple. It’s mechanical and it’s evidence-based.
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[0:32:58.1] MB: Let’s transition back to talking about recovery. You mentioned how important recovery is and talked about a little bit of the art and science of that. Tell me more.
[0:33:07.3] MG: Okay. If you’re going to get on the edge, if you nudge your head and say, “Yes. I understand that getting uncomfortable, I’ve heard it over and over again, that getting uncomfortable is a requirement for me to be my best.”
Then what that means is that you’re physically taxing your body on a regular basis. If we’re doing that, then we’ve got to put in the right recovery mechanisms so that we can replenish. There’re four pillars of recovery. The first is sleeping well. The science around that is pretty clear. We all know it. We all know that most human beings, 68% of human beings need to between 7 and 8 hours of sleep pm a regular basis. That’s not new. Grandma told us that.
However, making the commitment to do that does require an incredible discipline and it requires organizing our lives in such a way that we value recovery, because we’re working at our capacity on a regular basis.
Knowledge is not going to carry us through. It’s not more information, and it sounds counterintuitive for me to say this, but the idea of listening to — And I have a podcast and I love it and I’m clip just like you to learn. At some point, the learning has to turn into application and then that application has to turn into insight. Then we have that insight, we can reveal our potential easier.
It moves from not knowing and hearing again that, “Oh, I should be getting 8 hours of sleep.” It’s having a fundamental pivot and orientation in your life to say that, “I’m freaking getting after it, and because of that I need to be disciplined and organize myself to ensure that I have at least 8 hours in bed on a regular basis.” That’s one. Sleep is the first pillar.
Eating and hydration is the second pillar, and that’s mechanical as well. I’m not going to tell you more information that is going to be helpful other than you know that having colorful foods on your plate and having clean protein is essential. Colorful foods, I don’t mean like Skittles. I mean like all the different colors that mother nature offers us, and having handfuls of clean protein on a regular basis are really important. We can dig down in the weeds and to go deeper in that, but that’s a basic frame. If you’re not doing that on a regular basis and eating on a regular basis every three to four hours, then you’re kind of blowing it. The hydration piece is essential as well. When we are dehydrated, one of the first things that happens is we dehydrate our brain. I actually say the first thing, but we know that dehydrated people also had a shrinkage in volume in their brain, because so much of our cellular structure happens up in that three pounds of tissue in our skull. Eating right and hydration, that’s the second pillar.
Then the third pillar is moving well, and that’s just a function of getting your body switched on and oxygenating your system. Basic guidelines are like 6 to 7 hours of movement, moderate to intense movement a week. It’s probably not quite enough if you’re really trying to get on the edge.
The reason we want to get our bodies moving in that way is because it oxygenates our system, it gets our blood flowing, it gets all of the joints and the muscular and the skeletal tissue, all of that stuff is working and it helps enhance our brain for lots of different reasons. Also, it’s one of the ways that helps promote before lifting heavy things, and I say this with an asterisk, if you’re going to lift heavy thing, make sure that you’re skilled and qualified to do that with a coach, a sports performance coach or your local exercise guru, whoever that might be, and lift heavy stuff. It helps promote growth hormone. It helps promote the testosterone, and both men and women need those especially as we get into our 20s and 30s and 40s. We need to make sure that we’re taking care of those two hormones. That is all part of it.
Then the fourth pillar is the think well. If you did all those three pillars, if you kicked ass all day, got right up into the edge of your capacity by doing difficult things, whether it’s emotional or physical and you’re in the amphitheater so to speak on a regular basis and you recover for the first three pillars, but you wake up in the morning and you pull your sheets off and the first thing it happens is that you drop into a state of anxiousness or worry or frustration that somebody drank the last — I don’t know. Say, milk or orange juice or whatever. The image in my mind is that you to the refrigerator and somebody drank all of the juices that you wanted. I’m not a fan of juices, that’s why I’m kind of stammering in this part of it. That if you wake up with a mind that’s anxious or frustrated, you just undo all of the recovery that you put in place.
Our mind is an incredible tool. It’s also a weapon that can be used against us if we don’t put the right harnesses on it, and those harnesses begin with great awareness. Again, awareness can be cultivated, it can be trained, and mindfulness is one of the center pillars for increasing that awareness.
[0:38:09.8] MB: You actually kind of tossed out a phrase that I think is a phenomenal insight, which is the idea that getting uncomfortable is a requirement to be your best. I think so many people get trapped in their comfort zone and it ends up really kind of stifling much of their growth potential.
[0:38:25.4] MG: Yeah, for sure. I mean that’s one of the things that we can easily learn from world-class in anything, whether it’s music. The amount of artist, world-class artists — I’m spending some time right now with an artist who — I don’t want to say who it is for confidentiality, but has over 200 hits, and I mean hits. He’s a writer/producer and artist himself. When he goes on stage, he sells out in 15 minutes. He books at about $1.8 a night and works about 50 nights a year. I mean mega influencer of the world.
The amount of vulnerability, the intensity of vulnerability to get to the truth, I don’t think most people can even fathom what it takes to get to the truth. That level of radical vulnerability to allow the inner stuff to be revealed is incredible and it’s so hard to do. That what most of us do is we retreat to our normal patterns. We drive almost the same way every day to work. We eat from the same restaurants. We think the same patterns. We talk about the same silly shit with our friends on a regular basis, really getting on the edge, whether that’s physical.
Great athletes have taught us this for years and coaches, world-class coaches have this insight; practice has got to be real. It’s got to be on. We’ve got to get switched on and get the most out of ourselves so that we can learn, so that we can figure out and push our capacity. I’m holding my hands, like I’ve got my hands around a balloon. If I breathe air into the balloon, which is doing difficult things, the balloon stretches and there’s a new capacity. There’s more room to play when the capacity gets bigger, when the balloon gets bigger and there’s ways to do it emotionally and there’s ways to do it physically. There’s no such thing as mental uncomfortableness. Thoughts are thoughts.
Thoughts become challenging as soon as we have an emotional experience to them. There’s emotional uncomfortableness, which is really vulnerability. Then the physical stuff is much more mechanical and much easier to do. It’s about getting your heart rate up and your lactic acid and the [inaudible 0:40:53.3], or the chemicals in our body that are difficult to deal with. It’s about getting our wind up and breathing heavy, because we’re out of capacity from an oxygen standpoint, and from my lactic acid [inaudible 0:41:06.1] standpoint, when our muscles feel like they’re shutting down. You can do that by long distance stuff or intense burst of stuff. That’s how you do it physically. The whole purpose of that is to be able to have better command of your mind in those difficult situations and command of your craft, whatever that craft is, physical or mental.
[0:41:26.4] MB: I want to come back and dig into craft as well, but there’s another topic that I’m curious to hear your insights on. One of the other psychological frameworks you talked about was focusing on what’s within your control, and kind of the corollary to that is something that I think that I think a lot about is striking the balance between pushing and really trying to achieve a lot and also kind of the concept of non-attachment, non-attachment to the outcomes. How do these high-performance you work with and how do you think about sort of striking that balance between not being attached to outcomes and at the same time still striving to achieve great things?
[0:42:01.8] MG: Yeah. The concept of non-attachment is very much — The origins of that are very much in a Buddhist practice. I think that it’s hard. What you just described sounds wonderful and is really, really difficult to do. However — Before I get to the however, almost everyone I know wants to win. They know, they understand the invisible handshake that winning is really fun. If you don’t win enough, you don’t get to keep going. That visible handshake is for me or for an athlete or a coach in world-class organizations is that if we don’t win in the first — Let’s say in the NFL. If coaches don’t win the first four games, the owners can just fire you. That’s kind of the tolerance.
Imagine if you’ve got four weeks to get it right and it doesn’t work right. You’re gone. You have to win. It’s a requirement. Winning pays bills. Winning is certainly fun, but it’s far deeper than that. The far deeper part of it is that the process of becoming, the process of knowing that you have what it takes. The process of being creative to solve problems and make decisions on the fly is much more fun. It’s just like when we match up against our competitors and we get to see how well we prepared, that’s the real reward. The winning part of it is a requirement to keep going to get another shot at it.
Okay. How do you get into the non-attachment piece? By thrusting yourself completely into the present experience. Our minds are wired in such a way that we cannot process two new things at the same thing. It’s called serial processing, and that’s how we think at least we’re wired.
If you can’t process two new things at the same time and you make a conscious decision and you have the ability — Anytime you have an ability, that means you can get better at it. You make a decision and develop the ability to put your mind in the present moment to focus on the most relevant task-at-hand, then that’s where we experience non-attachment. Non-attachment is a byproduct of full absorption in the present moment.
[0:44:27.2] MB: That’s a great insight, and I think that makes a ton of sense. That balance is something that I spend a lot of time kind of thinking about how do you strike a balance between those two things. Thank you for sharing that insight.
[0:44:38.4] MG: Yeah, good. I’d say it’s not going to probably do you much good thinking about it. The next phase is if once you have some clarity around it, is practicing it. How do you practice being fully connected to the present moment just this next thing is you might actually be practicing it on a regular basis through these conversations and in your podcast is by listening deeply.
If you’re just listening deeply to this conversation right now, you’re practicing single pointed presence, like just this word, just this word again and you’re here now again in the present moment and again in the present moment and doing that for 15 seconds, 20 seconds and locking in for another 30 seconds once your mind wanders, maybe even doing it for one second at a time. That’s how it works. I’d say practicing it is far more important than thinking about just the conceptualize piece of it.
[0:45:31.7] MB: Another really good insight and very true — I’m a very cerebral person, so I naturally gravitate towards the ideas, but I think the practice is integral and critical.
[0:45:42.4] MG: Yeah. These are all abilities. That means wherever we are with them, we can get better. What I love about the space of psychology and the space of mindset conditioning and training is that it’s wide open right now and our potential as humans is untapped and we’re moving into a digital world where our ancient brains are not primed properly for it. So we have to train our minds to pursue our potential. We have to train our minds to override our DNA and that DNA function is to survive. If we can train our minds and we’ve got a clear purpose of our philosophy and connection to our philosophy, the world becomes so much more playful and wonderful. It doesn’t mean it’s not easy. It’s like hard, and there is real danger in the world. It’s a fantastic time right now for the science of psychology and the application of it. It’s phenomenal.
[0:46:36.2] MB: I want to circle back to craft, which we talked a little bit about earlier. Tell me — When you say craft, kind of what does that mean and how does thinking about that factor into the work you do with top performers?
[0:46:49.5] MG: Craft is — It’s so easy to look at an athlete and say, “Oh, I understand their craft. Their craft is dribbling a basketball or throwing a football or throwing a javelin or whatever. That’s super simple.” You look at an artist, you’re like, “Oh, okay. His craft or her craft is playing the guitar or singing.”
For most people that are not on the world stage or are not professional at what they do, it begs the question what is my craft, and it’s not as complicated as it sounds. The way to think about your craft is what are you most passionate about? What is the thing that you care so much about that you love doing it? You put work into it? It could be a hobby, but that can be your craft.
I’d also suggest that it’s really important for us to get back to seeing what we do from 9 to 5 or whatever that rhythm is for work for people to seeing that as a primary craft even if it doesn’t have the same type of passion around what it feels like to spin some pottery or to play music on a guitar as a hobby, but to see what we do and how we spend most of our time as a workforce, as that being our primary craft, that’s a really important distinction between being a laborer and being a craftsman. Even if it’s a factory worker, even if whatever — It does not matter. What we’ve found form research is that people that have a deep connection to purpose and meaning in life, they see that the simple bolt that they’re attaching on the factory line to the nut that is eventually one day going to turn into an automobile where people can have some freedom to move around or it’s going to turn into whatever piece of technology that provides creativity for people, that connecting to the deeper part of what they’re doing is significantly important to overall well-being, to happiness, to joy and to purpose in life.
That science has been around a long time, but what’s happening right now is that the modern pace of instant access and the need for comparing our Instagram highlight reel to other people’s Instagram highlight reel is that we’ve lost our way and we’ve lost our way about what is our true north, what is the craft that we’re working on refining and why are we here. What is the purpose for us to be here, and it’s a difficult conversation that only you can answer for yourself. I would encourage us to take a good look at how we spend our time and to think about the things that we do through the lens of being craftsman.
[0:49:38.4] MB: The idea of seeing your job as a craft makes me think of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and especially the notion of quality from that book.
[0:49:46.2] MG: Yeah. It’s a classic book. It’s really good. Yeah, certainly, he has pulled on that thread quite a bit. If you haven’t read that book, I highly encourage to take a look at it for sure.
[0:49:58.2] MB: What is one piece of homework that you would give somebody listening to this episode so that they could concretely implement some of the ideas we’ve talked about today?
[0:50:06.6] MG: Okay. Certainly, taking time to think about and articulate your philosophy, your personal philosophy. How do you do that? Just start writing and just start feeling the words that start thumping when you say, “My personal philosophy is,” and just kind of sense and feel your way through that. That would be a phenomenal and significant investment in yourself to see if you can articulate in 25 words or less what you stand for, what you’re all about, what it is that is your true north, your compass for what you’re doing here in life. That would be a phenomenal thing to do. Maybe even go research other people’s philosophies just to get your juices rolling.
Then let me add one more thing, and I want to give your listeners two things. That would be one, and if I could add to that, it would be you could even write down the people that have inspired you in life, whether you know them or not, write down their names. Then write next to the names, write down the characteristics that they embody, that they exemplify. Those characteristics will also be part maybe of the words that you choose for your philosophy. That’s a significant contribution to your overall inner engineering, right? We do get to engineer our inner experience.
The second would be an investment in mindfulness. Mindfulness has been around for 2,600 years. I feel like we’ve moved past the conversation with folks about what it is and why it’s important. I feel like that pop culture has done a great job there. Mindfulness, the actual practice of mindfulness is so powerful and so wonderful to increase our awareness of our inner experience, our thoughts, our emotions, our body sensations as well the awareness of the unfolding world around us so that we can pivot and adjust, that investing in a mindfulness practice will be a second very significant investment in one’s potency in life or efficacy in life.
How do you it? Mechanically, there’re thousands of mindfulness practices, there are thousands of ways to meditate. Mechanically, if we start it off with some training wheels, it would be as simple as mastering your inhale. Breath in and take a nice deep breath in and maybe that breath lasts for about four to five seconds, somewhere in that range, and master it. How do you master the inhale, is when your mind wanders away from it? Just bring it back. Bring it back to the inhale, and when your mind wanders away again, bring it back. If you ask yourself, “Am I doing it right?” That’s the wandering mind. Just bring it back.
Then notice the tension at the top of the inhale and master that tension, that pause at the top. It’s not radical, but it’s just enough to say that I’ve got a full breath. Then master the exhale. If the exhale is longer than the inhale, overtime, you’re going to get the benefit of a bit of relaxation. But mindfulness is not a relaxation training. Mindfulness is a focus training.
As soon as your mind defocuses, moves away from the present moment, which in this case is the breath, your breath, that the moment that you’re aware that you’re away from the most important task at hand that you set up for yourself, the breathing, that moment of awareness is the moment of the work taking place, and so you gently bring it back. It’s like that, “Yes! I’ve realized I’m away. Okay. Come back.” That’s the mechanical part of refocusing back to the present moment.
If you set a timer and if you follow good science, somewhere between six and eight minutes is a minimal effective dose, and my teacher from, I guess it’s about 20 years ago, is rolling his eyes right now if he’s listening saying, “Mike, are you still thinking about timing yourself? That’s not what it’s about.”
An optimal dose according to science is somewhere around 20 minutes. It’s not like it’s completely hard science. We’re still trying to figure it out and there are some great researchers that are doing that right now, but somewhere between six and eight minutes is a minimal effective dose and the upper limits are somewhere around 20 minutes. That is what a mental mindfulness practice would look like.
[0:54:19.0] MB: Where can listeners find you and your work online?
[0:54:22.6] MG: Brilliant. The head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Coach Pete Carroll, who I think is going to go down as one of the great coaches of our era is — That’s an NFL team for people that are not familiar with the National Football League, that he and I about four years ago we created a joint venture where we’ve taken his insights and best practices on how to switch on a culture and my insights and practices on how to train the minds of people that want to become their very best. It’s essentially what we’ve been doing together up at Seattle Seahawks, how to cultivate culture and how to train the minds of people inside of it, and we’ve created a business out of it.
So you can go to competetocreate.net and those two words are the center of our personal philosophy. His personal philosophy is always compete, to become the best version of yourself, the best dad, the best wife, the best coach, the best friend. Then mine is philosophy is the word create is important, which is every day is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece.
We took our two set of philosophies and spun it into a business, and that’s competetocreate.net. You can also find me at findingmastery.net, which is a podcast we spun up to have conversations about mastery and with world’s best and a variety of different domains. Them more mechanically on social media to @michaelgervais, it’s G-E-R-V-A-I-S, and on Instagram is @findingmastery.
[0:55:52.7] MB: Michael, this has been a tremendously insightful conversation. There are so much that we got into and so many fascinating insights. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all of these knowledge and all these practical insights with the listeners.
[0:56:05.5] MG: Matt, thanks for having me on. Like what you’re doing is a fantastic expression of people being able to share what they’ve spent their life figuring out and I felt honored to be in the conversation with you and I hope that some folks have found this fast conversation to have maybe one little gem in there that they can practice and apply, and so thank you for the opportunity.
[0:56:27.7] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you, our listeners, master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story or just say high, shoot me an email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener email.
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