[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a billion downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we go deep into the high performance habits of the world’s top performers, look at the only place confidence truly comes from, dig into why we struggle to perform when the pressure is on, examine closely the habits, routines and strategies of the world’s absolute best, and what they use to perform at their peak and much more with our guest, Dr. Michael Gervais, who’s making a comeback appearance on the show. This is his second time around. We love the first interview so much that we’re having him back.
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In our previous episode we discussed the relationship between bad ideas and creative genius; the three biggest lessons from setting the most successful hedge fund on earth; why a complete stranger may often be a better judge of your abilities than you are; the key things that stand in the way of developing more self-awareness and how you can fix them; why it's so important to invest in the ability to make better decisions and much more with our guest, Dr. Adam Grant. If you want to become a better version of yourself, be more creative, have more ideas and be more innovative, be sure to listen to that episode.
Now for the show.
[0:03:05.5] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest coming back to the show, Dr. Michael Gervais. Michael is a high-performance psychologist who has worked with some of the world’s top performers, and including the Seattle Seahawks, Felix Baumgartner, the Red Bull athlete who completed the stratosphere jump, Olympians, musicians and champions. His work is been featured on ESPN, CNN, The New York Times, and much more. Michael, welcome back to the Science of Success.
[0:03:31.6] MG: All right. Thanks for having me back. This was a great conversation the first time around. So, thank you.
[0:03:37.7] MB: We really enjoyed the conversation last time and there's so many more nuggets of insight that we want to dig into. I mean, you obviously have spent a tremendous amount of time working with some of the world’s top performers, athletes, musicians, etc., and really kind of seen what it takes to perform at the highest levels. I'd love to, in this episode, kind of unpack and get into some of the concrete elements of kind of how do you work on those mindset trainings for somebody who's at the top of their game? What does that look like? How do they structure their day and how does that process kind of function?
[0:04:11.8] MG: I love it. So one of the, I think, fundamental — I don't want to call it a mistake, but there's a nuance here that I want to talk about, which is we love to put the great doers of the world on a pedestal, and some of the most extraordinary people are people in sport, in science and people that have done amazing things. It's not that they — What they've done is not amazing, but there's media around it. So we pay attention to it.
There are extraordinary things that take place all the time, but there're no cameras. We don’t know how to value that creativity, that dedicated disciplined mind, because we don't see it. So what I want to pull a thread back on is there are extraordinary people right now listening in your community that do extraordinary things and they know it and they’re nodding their head, like, “Yeah, right on.” They just don’t have a camera pointed at them.
That begs the question is; are the extraordinary doers that have cameras on them, are they born that way? No. We know. What is it about? Okay, yes. They are able to perform when the lights are on, and many of us struggle with that. Okay. So that is one piece of it, is that sometimes the non-conditioned mind finds it very difficult to be fluid and to be eloquent when there's “pressure”, and we have to define pressure for ourselves so we can get into that conversation.
So it's not that these extraordinary doers that have media coverage are fundamentally different than the rest of us, but they have done something that is fundamentally different. They’ve organized their life, fundamentally organized their life to grow, to get better, to be progressive, to push to the boundaries, to have incredible feedback loops that are highly accurate and very sensitive and finely tuned, and those feedback loops are part of the accelerated arc or accelerated growth that they're looking for.
So while it's easy to put extraordinary doers on a pedestal, and I don’t want to take anything away from what they've done, because you see some of the best in the world, the tip of the arrow in any domain and it’s like, “Wow! That is beautiful,” like look how easy they make the complicated seen, and it is beautiful, whether it's words, or whether it’s painting in canvas, or whether it's movement motion. It is beautiful when you see the best in the best. But when we pull back the curtain and really look what’s extraordinary, is the way that they fundamentally organize their life to get better and to help those around them get better.
[0:06:49.8] MB: There're several different things I want to unpack from that. So just to make sure we don't forget these, I definitely want to dig into pressure and how to perform under pressure. I really want to talk about how we can build feedback loops into our lives. But before we do either of those, tell me more about this idea of having their day or their lives sort of fundamentally organized around performance and growth.
[0:07:11.4] MG: Okay. Well, if we take a look first at what is very primary, like the basic, basic, basics of people getting better, there're only three things that we can train as we’ve talked about before. We can train our body, we can train our craft and we can train our mind. For a long time, people have invested incredible resources, good science as well as old school traditions on how to develop a craft, whether that craft be ballet or whether that craft be something about leadership. There’s a good science and some practices. On the leadership stuff, it goes all the way back Sun Tzu, The Art of War. I don’t know how many translations there’s been, but those principles seem to be interesting to lots of leaders and all of modern day research that comes up about leadership.
The same with sport, like the origin of sport are built on ancient traditions of war. So those traditions have been passed down and past passed down and passed down and mutated and adapted for modern sport. So they're great traditions and there's good science. The emerging field of sport science is we’re starting to get our arms around what are the right questions and what is the right — Or what are the right data to be able to have better insights that are actionable for athletes to be even more finely tuned to both their intuition, their sense of how their body is doing based without data as well as how their body is doing with data.
Okay. So then the third pillar though, the mind, and how to condition and train the mind. It’s a big deal, and I haven't met an athlete or a coach yet you on the world stage that doesn't say, “Oh, yeah. The mental part of the game, that’s a game. That is a big deal.” It begs the question; what are the ancient traditions and what is the science teaching us about how to condition our mind?
So when we look at the best in the world and when we look at them across domains, the tip of the arrow across domains are more similar to each other than dissimilar. That being said, there is no just one path and not everybody does it a certain way. There are as many different routes to becoming one's best or the best that you can imagine. So there is a common thread though that people are uncommonly relentlessly dedicated in almost a nauseatingly focused way to build and refine their craft, to build and have the right body for the right carriage, if you will, to be strong and flexible to do things that they need to do. Then, also, saying ability to adapt and be strong from a mental standpoint.
So those are the three lenses, and what they do is they organize their life to be able to provide opportunities to stress the system and recover the system. When I say system, I’m talking about the human mind and body, and it’s not that mechanical. It's not that simple, but every day we need to push on the limits of our craft, push on the limits of our body and push on the limits of our mind, and then appropriately recover. How do we know if we are pushing to the limits? We need those feedback loops, and those feedback loops are both internal and external.
So what an external feedback loop is like information from the environment, which in, let’s say, actions sports or X-Games types of stuff or things that are happening outdoors. Less the stick and ball sports for just a moment, but more of the action-adventure sports.
When people make mistakes there, there are consequences. I don’t want to be dramatic. There can be radical consequences, but they don’t have to be. But those consequences are often physical and they’re real and that sort of toll on the body can be very dangerous. So those feedback loops are wonderful. When you get real-time natural feedbacks, when there are consequences on the line, that feedback is awesome, because you have to be on. You have to have your antenna perked in just the right attunement. If not, those consequences can — They can get you.
Then there's also more man-made or artificial consequences. Those man-made artificial consequences oftentimes show up in business, they show up on tradition stick and ball sport, where it's a little bit of like you look back to other humans to see how you're doing. That can be an accelerant, that could be a good thing and that could can be troublesome if that is — If looking for others for feedback becomes part of a loop that is not — What’s the right word here? Is not primary and pure, meaning that it can get cloudy and noisy when we’re looking to other people to see how you we’re doing. Unless we know those people in our lives, have our best interest at heart.
We asked the last two years, we’ve spent — Coach Carroll is the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He and I built a joint venture together and we took our insights on how to switch on a culture and how to train the minds of people that want to be great. The work, essentially, we’ve been doing it up at the Seattle Seahawks together and we’ve built this business. Over the last 24 months we’ve trained 30,000 people, on average, eight hours a person. That's 240,000 human hours of mindset training across our efforts here, and we’re just getting started, but it’s a really good dent. I shouldn’t say it’s a dent. It’s a really good momentum is more of what it feels like.
The point that I want to share about that is that when we ask folks about who in your life helps you be better and what are those characteristics of those people? It's basically an exercise to help people say, “What are those characteristics, and am I living that way? Am I helping people based on the characteristics [inaudible 0:12:59.3] be better?”
Across the board, it’s like unanimously it’s outrageous. People say, “You know what? The most significant accelerants for me being better, those people in my life, are those that I just know that they have my back, that they have my best interest, not their best interest.”
When we stitch that back to the feedback loop, the feedback loop from humans is really important when we know first and foremost that it is really about them providing us the right information in the right way at the right time to help us grow, to help the person grow. It doesn’t mean that they’re interested in the benefits, the ancillary benefits if you do extraordinarily well, and that’s kind of the coaching role in many ways, is you want to help athletes or executives be great. When I say coaching, I’m not talking about life coaching. I’m talking about performance coaching. When you want to help them be great, that there is a glow that you get and that helps your career as well.
It is sticky in some circumstances because we are relying on each other to do great, but we have to first and foremost have the relationships where it’s pure, and the information I’m going to give you is for you to be your best. Anyways, I could talk more deeply if you’d like about feedback loops, but those are some of the large 60,000-foot frames that I think that are important to get right.
[0:14:27.5] MB: I want drill down into feedback loops, but I don’t want to lose sight on the larger conversation, so I do want to come back to that. But talking specifically about kind of developing feedback loops in our lives, I think when I look at something like sport, or even something like poker, or chess where there's really clear sort of results and measurement and the ability to go back and analyze performance really succinctly, it's obvious kind of how to get feedback. But when I look at something like business or investing or even some creative endeavors, how do you think about developing feedback loops and those more kind of murky, nebulous fields?
[0:15:04.2] MG: Okay. The main levers of feedback are internal, so that's like, “How am I doing?” What does it feel like? Am I aligned with my thoughts, my words and my actions? Is my body executing at the level or in the right way?
When we’re talking about poker and those types of things, it is an alignment that you can sense. Is there clarity in my thought? Does my body have too much tension? Not enough tension? Am I under-aroused, over-aroused? There is an internal feedback loop, and that is a skill to become aware of that.
The second part of that skill is to be able to once you’re aware that maybe — Let's say that you're a bit too much, or you’ve got too much energy in your body, or you're thinking about what happens if you blow it, or what the consequences will be if you’ll lose this hand or lose this round. That once you're aware of maladaptive physical or mental strategies, then the second part, the second skill is to have the tools, the mental skills and tools to be able to adjust. So it's a two-part system of being great as an internal feedback loop. First, awareness, then skill.
Now, external is when you've got people in your life that are helping you get better. That's part of external, and the other part of external is being able to recognize the impact that you're having on the environment and/or that the environment is having on you. At any given point in time that we can have attention focused internally or externally, and if we spend too much time on the internal awareness, we lose the ability to focus on the external, which is really where sport and performance take place. It happens outside. All of the thinking and the regulation that happens inside is to ready us to be able to have output, and that output, what we’re looking for is high performing, eloquently adjusting, real-time, sensitive, extraordinary impact on our environment. That’s what the output is. Whether it's a paintbrush, whether it’s the analysis of a poker table, or whether it's snapping a free-throw, game seven of the finals in the NBA, whatever it might be.
So there is an internal game that happens first, and then there's an external game. What we want to be able to do is have this rapid cycle between internal and external, and that is essentially the feedback loops that we’re talking about.
Now, when we’re in training, those external feedback loops, the human part is the part that gets tricky, because human relationships are tricky. They’re not simple, and that's why we start — When I saw we, I’m talking about Coach Carroll and I, more particularly, maybe at the Seattle Seahawks, there's a deep commitment to want to be a relationship-based culture where we start with the relationships, because it's with the relationships with other people that makes us. Now we have to have a relationship with ourselves first to be a great partner for other people. So it's relationship with self first, then relationship with others, getting those things calibrated properly, getting the mission set up so that we can nod our head and point our noses in the right direction, in the same direction, and then work ridiculously hard running to the edge of our capacity on craft, body and mind every day. When guys are tripping and falling down or not doing exactly right or literally dropping a ball sometimes, it's okay. I got their back, because I know that I’m going to trust that they’re going to have my back as well.
So to do extraordinary things in life, whether that's being an extraordinary lover or being an extraordinary entrepreneur, nobody does it alone. We need other people. So what that means is we’ve got to invests in the true connection to lock our arms, because to do extraordinary things, we need other people. That means we got to stay locked as best as we can when it gets hard, and the greatest way finders — I'm not sure if you're familiar with way finder. The people that travel the world without modern technology and travel the oceans without modern technology. When they set sail — And they might not come back, because the ocean is dangerous. When they set sail, they don't pray for calm waters, they pray for rugged sees, because it's the rugged see, it’s moving through the rugged see that becomes the separator. Most people can’t manage the tension. They can't manage the hostility or ruggedness, because they have not conditioned their mind to find that that is where we get exposed, that is where we get made. That is where we find out our true nature, in those rugged and hostile environments.
For most people, if they haven’t conditioned their mind, their brain wins. So the brain's job is to scan the world and find what’s dangerous. I don’t want to oversimplify this really beautiful piece of electricity, chemistry tissue that we have really no idea what this three pounds of tissue is doing in our skull, and it's beautiful. It’s amazing and it’s underserved, underutilized, under-programed and that hardware, our brain tissue is programmed by our mind. The mind is the software, the hardware if you will, and those that haven’t been training the software, the mind, and brain will win, because its whole job is to keep you alive. The mind’s job is to override to know how to override our DNA when we find ourselves purely responding in survival mode as opposed to optimized mode. Our survival tactics that are natural to our brain will help us stay alive, and they are optimized for survival.
When you're giving a speech in front of — I don’t know. Fill in the blank. Two people to 20,000 people, it’s not survival mode at that time. It’s meant to be a moment to express authentically, and if we don't condition our mind — This is not me on a pedestal. If we don’t condition our mind, our brain will win. I know you felt that, Matt. I know that your community folks feel it, that we have those moments and we’ve studied our ass off, we prepared for it and all of a sudden we tighten up and we've got cortisol running through our system. We’ve got too much adrenaline. We've got that stuff inside of us. We start to sweat in weird places. We start to think differently. We start to have this rapid eye movement. We’re scanning the world and seeing if we’re doing okay. Bullshit on that. That’s where we get into trouble, is when we look into the world and to the eyes of other people to see their body language to see if we’re okay, that's wrong. That's not having an accurate internal filter. That's having an external focus filter to see if you're okay based on what other people think of you.
I know you've heard of YOLO, you only live once. That’s great. You’ve heard of FOMO, fear of missing out. That's cool. But I think there’s a new thing that — I don’t know. I haven’t heard it before. Maybe this is like where it happens, FOPO, fear of other people’s opinion. It’s one of, I think, the most silent traps that robs us, that t keeps us stuff from expressing and exploring our own potential, fear of other people’s opinions.
Especially in our modern times, we’ve got this ancient brain that’s trying to keep us alive. In modern times, we just haven't quite figured out how to say, “I’m okay. I'm likely not be hunted today and there's not a predator that’s 15-feet tall that's trying to — Whatever, and there’s not a warring country that's coming into my tribe today.” This is a speech. This is a bet I’m laying on the poker table. This is a free-throw shot. This is — Well, fill in the blanks.
I got to get off my pedestal for a minute. I got to tell you, Matt. I love these conversations, so when you asked me to come back I was like, “Yeah! I love it.”
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[0:24:00.6] MB: No. That’s great. I mean, there're so many things I want to dig into from what you said. I mean, let's start with when — By the way, I think it's such a really important point that the brain, the hardware of the brain was not designed to exist in modern society. It was designed to exist tens of thousands of years ago. The reactions we have to an email from your boss might be the same reaction we had to a dangerous threat out in the bush, and it's not the appropriate reaction in many cases.
Funnily enough, the very first episode we ever did on the show was called the Biological Limits of the Human Mind, and that's what we talked about. So I love that principal. But I want to ground that back into what should we do when we get caught up in that internal dialogue, in that internal game when we’re too much in our heads. How does that look like to kind of both prepare for that and also in that moment kind of pull out of that?
[0:24:56.7] MG: Okay. It’s just like everything else. It's just like physical training, and it's just like technical training, is that you want to start in a thoughtful progressive way. So early days, you start training your mind in calm environments and then you say, “Well, what does that mean? What are we training?”
You can train confidence. You can train calm. You can train focus. You can train optimism, which is I think at the center of mental toughness. You can train passion, believe it or not, by understanding what gets in the way of passion. You can train passion as well by having a clear mission that really get your heart the thump. You train lots of mental skills, including imagery and resiliency skills. You can train all those in quiet, calm environments, and that sometimes is involved in knowledge acquisition, like what are the mechanics of competence? What is a definition of optimism? Why is it important? What’s the science around it? There’s knowledge acquisition first with just about anything. Then there’s the practicing of it. You practice those in progressively aggressive environments. So you start again with a calm environment, practicing optimism in a calm environment, and then practicing it in a more stressful environment until maybe you’re practicing it in hostile and rugged environments where consequences are real.
I mean, we could get into the weeds of optimism if you want. Many people hear that word and they’re like, “Oh, okay! It just got soft.” “Oh! We’re going to talk about everything’s good and positive.” No, that’s not what it is. It’s not what it is at all. Optimism and pessimism are essentially the way that you think about the future and it's a skill. You’re not born with it. You don't come out of the womb optimistic or pessimistic.
There is some evidence that there is some genetic dispositions where people come out of the womb with a little bit more of an anxious, pessimistic state, and some come out with a bit more optimistic, calm state. That being said, it’s a skill. Okay? It's just like everything. Genetics are involved, environments are involved and so is training.
I don’t know. I just flat out don't know somebody who is world-class, world leading that doesn't believe that what's coming up is going to be extraordinary. That’s a skill. It’s totally a skill. As soon as I talk about optimism and pessimism in small rooms of 200 or 2,000 people, I could feel it. I could just feel that people are like, “Oh, okay. Here we go. I knew it. This is going to turn soft all of a sudden.” It’s like, again, bullshit on that. This is about conditioning your mind to be extraordinary on the razor’s edge, and if you don't believe it's going to get good, it happens, we’d give in to the attention of our brain and we eject out. If we eject out too early or pull out too early or escape, if you will — Remember, our brain is this five functions under stress; fight, flight, frees, submission and flow. If we pull out too early, we don’t get to the good stuff.
If I could pull on this thread just a little bit more. Right now, we live in a culture, Western culture for certain, where productivity, where our identities are increasingly tied to how much we’re doing. We are running and gunning. We’re hustling and where our self-worth driven by all the non-conscious belief. If we do more, that we’ll be more. We’ll be more relevant, be more valuable. We’ll be more needed, maybe more worthy, and it's a function of what and how much we do. That’s wrong. The idea that we need to do more to be more is broken, and it was passed down for good reason from our great-great- grandparents coming through the Industrial Revolution when they saw machines coming in and they said, “Oh! You know what? No machine is taking my job. I’m going to outwork that thing. You can't replace a human.” So they went home and passed on that thinking that we need to work to save our jobs, and that's where like the real hard work value systems were reinforced in modern times, but now it's gone crazy. It’s literally — I bet you feel it. I bet your community feels it, where this idea that I need to do more to be more is so tiring and so exhausting that people find a real deep fatigue worrying about all the things that they need to do to be okay. It's time to flip the model. I think you would feel and I think most people do feel it. It’s time to flip the model, that we need to be more to do more and let our doing flow from our being. When we’re talking about being; being more present being more grounded, being more authentic. It feels like to me it's time to recognize that our value is inherent and not contingent upon what we do.
You can nod your head right now say, “Yeah. Mumbo-jumbo. Yeah, I hear you. Of course, that’s not new.” No, it’s not, but the intellectual idea and concept is not enough. We have to act on it. So the acquisition of knowledge is not enough, and so many of us are smart enough that learning comes easy, that we want to learn, learn, learn, learn, read this book, that book. I get asked all the time, “What are the three books that you enjoy?” Who cares? It's how do you apply. Why do you care what book I’m reading? I don’t get that. It’s a book that I’m interested in. That doesn’t mean you should be interested in it. It’s the application of knowledge that really is, I think, the most important accelerant to our growth. Knowledge is important. It’s a base, but it's how you condition and train and apply it in calm environments, progressively working up to rugged environments that allows you to say something to yourself, which is something along the lines, “I can do difficult things.” When you can say I can do difficult things and you can have a deep trust that you can be authentically yourself and grounded and present in any environment and you don't need the doing to define you, there is incredible freedom right on the side. That's a human that becomes really powerful.
In graduate school, one of my professors was just bang-on right about this and you just hit it home. He says the most powerful people in the world are those that have nothing to lose. Then you just stopped talking. I could tell, he knew exactly what he meant, but he wasn't giving us the answer. Come to find out, it's like those that have too much money, they can just out-money in anything. They are dangerous, because they don't care about it. They have too much. I’m thinking about the billionaires that — Some sort of lawsuit or whatever. That’s a dangerous human.
You know who the other dangerous ones are? Those who have nothing. They have nothing. Maybe they have no home. They become dangerous, because they have nothing. So there's nothing to lose. Then there's a third person, those that have nothing to prove. Because they don’t have to do the thing to prove to you that they are okay.
So we can talk about all the mental skills and tactics and tools, and they’re all great. They’re very important to get you to one, which is I know how to be me and express me in any environment, and I'm not intimidated by what you think. I love you. I love people, and I no longer care what they think of me. If you can get to that place, there is an freedom on the other side to figure it out. I think that is part of all of our journeys, to figure out how to love deeply, to know yourself so well that you can love others. You’re not trying to protect and save your own ass and defend yourself when someone in your home says, “Why did you do that?” Listen, I wish I was free from that. I’m not. I’m not trying to say that I’m this [inaudible 0:32:29.8]. That's wrong. I’m just like everyone else in your community trying to figure it out.
When we don't need to defend and protect ourselves, that we can be ourselves and be eloquent and adjust, there's an incredible freedom on that. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a leader in an organization, a poker player or an aspiring or world-class athlete, to be able to be grounded and be present in stress, what once was a stressful environment — Woo! That’s the good stuff.
[0:33:01.2] MB: Wow! That was amazing. Literally, when you said that those who have nothing to prove are incredibly powerful, I got chills. I mean, a fascinating idea and concept and I think so, so important. I love also the notion that we need to let our doing flow from our being. Both of those ideas are really, really interesting to me.
[0:33:23.7] MG: Yeah, there we go. There we go. It's good stuff. The tools and tricks and tactics — There's no tricks, by the way. There’s no tips. It's like you got to just do the hard yard of training your mind and get to the place that you can be you. What does that mean? Can you be yourself in a highly stressful, rugged, hostile, razor’s edge environments? Because if you can't and you know you can't, or know that most of the time you can’t, you’re just fooling yourself. You’re trying to prove that you're okay. That's a slippery little internal game that our minds can play on us.
I know this from me, trying to work me out better so I can be a better partner to other people, is that it's hard to do the hard things. It's really hard. When it gets hard — There’s a sign in the Seattle Seahawks in one of the doors for one of the team rooms and it says, “Everyone wants to be great, and so they realize what is required of greatness,” and doing the hard things means that you're not great at it. It’s hard. It's sticky. It's like you're not eloquent, but that's where we get, again, exposed for what we’re not good at. Not exposed as a human, but exposed as a doer. Not a beer, but we get exposed what we’re not good at, and that's where the good feedback loops take place. It’s like, “Oh, look. I can't think clearly as soon as —” fill in the blank, or I can't move eloquently as soon as —” fill in the blank. I need to be in those environments more effort.
For your community members that are listening, I think it's really important for them to write that stuff down. Write it down. Just put it on a whiteboard. Put it in your phone, whatever. What are the environments and conditions when you struggle? Them from there you can back in a very clear mental skills training and say, “Okay. Well, I’m going to train confidence. I’m going to train calm. I’m going to train mindfulness,” and that’s where it gets really, I think, bespoked and customized.
[0:35:19.9] MB: There's so many different ways I want to dig into this. I do want to want to talk a little bit about some of those kind of tactics for training calm and confidence. I know in our previous conversation we went really deep into optimism and kindness of the strategies for training that. Tell me a little bit about how you work on training calm and confidence.
[0:35:40.5] MG: Confidence is really mechanical. It’s super simple. It's super simple to understand. It doesn’t mean it’s super simple to do, but confidence only comes from one place. Most people when asked that question — I don’t want to put you on the spot, Matt, but like your community members that are listening, where does confidence come from? If you just take a moment to try to sort that out, where is that coming from? That if it only comes from one place, it's not success. It's not great performance. It's not path to success. It’s not preparation even.
I can't tell you how many best in the world — Like in the UFC, I was fortunate enough to spend some time working with some amazing combative athletes in that domain, and some that didn't understand how to actually, the value of training their mind, but that they were doing some work, because I was obviously working with them. I would see them change from the concrete floor walking into the UFC cage, I’d see them change on the five steps that they walk up to walking through the threshold of the cage door. The cage door closes behind them and they’re looking across to another skilled human, equally as skilled, may be better, maybe a little bit worst, but equally as skilled.
To have 18,000 fans in the environment, millions of people watching to want to see blood, potentially yours, and you're looking across to another man that is equally as skilled as you. All you have is your feet, your elbows, your hands, some knees and your mind. That’s it. Your hands and your feet and your mind in the most ancient tests, and I see people change because the environment dictated their mind, rather than their mind dictate the environment. It begins with conference. It really does. Confidence only comes from one place, which is not past success. It’s not preparation. Those are necessary, but not sufficient. It only comes from what you say to yourself, and I've seen people that are pretty confident on the concrete floor, but then as soon as they walk up the steps, they start to say something to themselves, that inner dialogue, that self-talk that’s like, “Oh, man! I don’t know. Maybe. God! I hope I’m going to be okay. Gees! I wish I would have slept a little bit better. Damn!” fill in the blanks, and that’s where we start to really unravel.
So confidence doesn't come from preparation. You got to have it. It’s a necessary ingredient, but not enough. It only really comes from what you say to yourself. So, write it down. Write down what it sounds like when you’re a shithead to yourself, like when you're screwed up, write those thoughts down and then be done with them. Those thoughts, those self-critical, self-doubt, excessive worry, all of those thoughts don't build space. They build constriction, they build tension, they build tightness. While it might seem right or might seem — I don’t know, candid-flavored if you will. What’s the big deal? If I say to myself, “I suck.” That one statement is not enough to do any real damage, but it's a little paper cut, and over time, a bunch of paper cuts in the same area becomes a real irritant.
Then on the other side, write down the thoughts. Literally, the statements, the way it sounds to be in your head when you're on point. When it's good to be you, what are you saying to yourself? That would be like 101, like the 101 course on confidence is what are the negative thoughts and what are the positive thoughts. Write them down. Get them out of your head. Externalize your hard drive. Get it out and then you could just make a decision about, “You know what? I want to have more of those good thoughts.” “Okay, for me to have those good, I want to practice them and then I want to put myself in environments that test them to see if they hold up, and that’s it.”
Again, it's a mechanical process, but it doesn't mean it is mechanical and you do it. You don’t walk into an environment and say, “Oh, God! What are my good thoughts? What are my epic thoughts? That’s right, I am strong.” No, it's not like that. It’s like you’ve conditioned yourself to know that you are strong and to know that those types of thoughts build you. In the ready room, go back to the UFC. In the ready room when you’re breaking a sweat, that’s where you say to yourself, “I put in the fucking work. Let’s go! My shit is strong and on point. I’m going to snap my jab. I’m going to pivot my hips and I’m going to lock and load. Let’s go!” whatever it is. If you don't appreciate the combative sports, then you would use it something in a more artistic canvas and/or business way. So it’s doing the work ahead of time. Where does confidence come from? Now you know. It comes from what you say to yourself. Who’s responsible for that? You are that will do the work.
[0:40:29.9] MB: So I want to get really specific on this. Once we — Let’s say somebody who’s listening and maybe has a lot of problems with negative thoughts or negative self-talk, write down the negative thoughts, write down kind of positive self-talk and what that looks like. How do we then start to — What are the mechanics of kind of conditioning ourselves to use an experience more positive self-talk?
[0:40:53.9] MG: Again, the first is having — If you’re going to throw darts, know where the bull's-eye is. The bull's-eye in this case are thoughts that works for you, and it's not that if you wrote down five thoughts, those are the only five thoughts to have, but they just capture the spirit of that type of thinking.
Remember, thoughts lead to thought patterns, and thoughts patterns lead to habits of mind. So we want to create habits of mind that you what? Build confidence. So what are the thoughts are just the beginning part of the bull's-eye to have thought patterns. How do you do it? Well, you could go way back to kind of early days in sport psychology and practice those thoughts. I don't think that's not — That’s too silly for me, but at least knowing them, writing them down is good, but it's really about the feeling, those thoughts and thought patterns and habits lead to emotions and feelings. So we want to get to those feelings, but feelings only happen if you reverse engineer them through thinking and thinking patterns.
Then what do we do? We get clear that there is a type of thought structure that promotes us to feel big and strong and flexible and dynamic. So then the next thing that we do is we go challenge ourselves. Every day we’d make a commitment to challenge ourselves to see if we give in to the challenge and start to critique and doubt and worry, or do we stay the course and fight through it and say, basically, the thoughts on the other side. It’s not more complicated than that.
Now if you don't want to do that because you can't quite figure out how to get to the edge of your comfort zone today or tomorrow, and there's lots of ways to do that. You can do that through emotional vulnerability and you can do the old school ways, do it through getting your heart rate up where it feels like it's going to — You’re at your max thresholds. So you can do it through fitness, but it’s limiting, but that's the way that a lot of people do it. Through emotional vulnerability is another way, by being uncomfortable emotionally.
Now, you can also do it — If you don’t want to do it, again, physically, you can do it in imagination. So you can close your eyes and use this amazing imagery making machine that from good science we know does impact our performance, it impacts our neurochemistry, it impacts our neurobiology and it also impacts our psychology when we see ourselves performing and being in certain environments in particular ways. So if we can slow down and actually create a lifelike image of a particular scenario, that we can practice ways of thinking and ways of feeling and ways of moving. If you go back to something like one of the projects, the Red Bull Stratos Project that I was fortunate to be part of with Felix Baumgartner, he only got one shot in real life to jump from a 130,000 feet and he was going to be the first human to travel through the speed — To travel and break the speed of sound without a capsule around him. The brightest minds in aerospace were not sure if when he traveled through the sonic boom and part of his body was subsonic and part of his body was transonic, like there was these different tensions on every part of his body, they weren’t quite sure what was going to happen. Whether his arms and legs are going to rip off when he traveled through the sonic boom, if he could travel at the speed of sound, Mach 1.
If you only get one shot at doing it, and we know that a particular way of thinking and feeling precedes behaviors, so thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions and thoughts together impact performance. Well, let’s get our thoughts and emotions right. So we put ourselves, especially in hostile environments, in the right condition to capture the right way of performing. How many times do you think — I’m not going to give you the number, because that part of the conversation is for him to share. What I just shared is all public. But you can imagine how many times that we used imagery to get the right state of mind and the right state of body prior to the jump so that he could perform and adjust eloquently. It is sloppy just to show up and think that you’re going to be okay. You show up in purposeful ways, in low stress environment all the way to the most rugged environment you can create.
[0:45:06.0] MB: That's really fascinating. I’d love to hear a few more insights from your work with Felix. I mean, I remember watching that live and especially to the point where he kind of passed out for a second or they lost communication or whatever, was really, really tense, but it was an amazing jump.
But before kind of digging into that a little bit more, I think underscoring this whole kind of delve into strategy and self-talk and how to think about your thought is something you said earlier, which is really important, which is that there are no shortcuts, right? There is no kind of tricks or tips, really, the piqued performance and all these things, the strategies are complex or hidden. They’re really simple. It's just about doing the hard work and actually putting the work in.
[0:45:52.1] MG: Yeah, and that's why I think it's really important to just honor those — If you want to be the best version of yourself — Again, for what aim? So that you can be deeply connected to other people, and because it's the connection together that takes us to the extraordinary. Again, that's everywhere from business to love and sometimes those two are co-mingled. But the idea, meaning that we can love deeply what we do and the people that we’re with and do extraordinary things. The idea that there's only three things that we can train; craft, body and mind, training the mind is not extra. It's not something that we live to the end of the day or later. IT’s something that we need to invest in on a regular basis, because if you train your craft to a ridiculous aim and you are a technician, I mean, at the highest proficiency in the gym, so to speak, or in the office cubicle, but you don't train your mind, and then as soon as there is these forms of pressure in the environment, once you leave the workout gym and go into the arena or you leave the cubicle and go on stage, or go into the boardroom and your mind is not strong. Honestly, you're exposed. That's not good. That's optimal. We have to do all three.
Again, I want to come back to — Let me see if I could stitch together confidence and mindfulness. Those two are intimately linked. So mindfulness by definition is a training modality to help increase awareness of thoughts. It is a focused training. It’s not a relaxation training. It’s a focused training to focus on the present moment without judgment of our awareness of our thoughts, our emotions, our body sensations and the unfolding environment around us. That awareness training becomes the beginning grounds of being aware of our thought patterns, being aware of our actual thoughts. If we can become aware of our thoughts and thought patterns and become more sensitive and finely tuned them, we can course correct and choose the thoughts that help build a state, an internal state promotes us to be more optimal as opposed to being unaware of our internal thinking patterns, and if those thinking patterns are not promoting, actually create so much tension and toxicity internally that we shut down or close off or tighten up. That's what the term choking comes from. There’s choking, there’s micro-choking, there's performing, there's performing under pressure and then there's dissolving pressure. But most people don't choke and most people don't dissolve pressure. They place somewhere safer in the middle. Micro-choking is more choking off access. Our mind is choking off access to our craft, and performing and thriving under pressure is cool, but it's not dissolving pressure.
So our work is to become aware of our thoughts that lead the thinking patterns and course correct them as quickly as we possibly can to promote an internal state that allows us to be present, authentic and grounded so that we can adjust eloquently to the external demands, sometimes internal demands, of performance. Again, there’s no shortcut. You just got to do the hard work. At this point, I'm sure much of your community is familiar with mindfulness. If they’re not, it is a definite beginning place to start.
[0:49:20.4] MB: Just in a side really quickly, I know we kind of came up on the hour. Do you have maybe like five more minutes or maybe a few more minutes just to kind of wrap up one or two questions and then get to kind of the end where we’ll ask where listeners can find you and that kind of thing?
[0:49:31.4] MG: Sure. Of course. Yeah, thank you.
[0:49:33.1] MB: Okay. Perfect. Those little housekeeping issue. So tell me more about — I love this distinction between the idea of performing under pressure versus dissolving pressure.
[0:49:43.4] MG: Performing under pressure is that you interpret — If you think there's pressure, you're right, and that also holds true for being able to dissolve pressure. It is possible to change your relationship with yourself and the environment in such a way that pressure is dissolved. How does that happen? Well, there is no — I can't tell you how to do that. You have to figure it out. You have to do the hard work to figure out your unique psychological framework that your parents gave you, that your peers influenced, that pop culture’s influence and that you've learned and patchwork together based on your mentors and deep thinking that you’ve had. Each person has its unique psychological framework. If that psychological framework interprets something to be a pressure that could break or shift that framework, a framework like a building that can't withstand the tornadoes or winds or whatever, the rain even, then you're going to feel pressure.
So you can dissolve it too. You can have such a sturdy framework. Think about the most influential people in the world, those that from thousands and thousands of years have changed the way we understand what's possible. Those tend to be political leaders and spiritual leaders. I mean, if you are a spiritual person, do you think that Buddha had pressure? No, he dissolved it. He did public speaking and his heart then would come up, like he was speaking from a grounded authentic place. How about Jesus? He was passionate and purposeful and he had to train his mind, I think, as the story goes, so did Buddha, so did Confucius, so did Muhammad, they trained their minds. They talk about that, but they dissolved pressure because the purpose was so much larger and their internal framework was so sturdy that they dissolved it often.
You see when great performers in modern times talk about their “best”, they talk about being in flow state, and flow state or the zone, if you will, is essentially dissolving a pressure. It’s using the challenge in the environment to have a deep focus. Also, I guess, stitch back to mindfulness. Mindfulness is a deep focus training. So deep focus promotes is one of the promoters of flow state. So they use their environment to help deep focus. Focus on what? Focus on the most essential task at hand and not have to focus on the chunkiness of worry and doubt and frustration of our mind, because we really worked on having great thoughts. I hope I answered that question for you.
[0:52:12.6] MB: I think that was great, and it’s a really important distinction and something that I think really gives me some good perspective on thinking about and kind of dealing with pressure. I'd love to circle back and kind of tie this in concretely in some way. We started out the conversation sort of talking about the daily architecture of world-class performers and sort of what that looks like. I’d love it, if you're comfortable sharing, maybe an example of what does the day in a life of a world-class performer look like from sort of the way that they structure and organize their day?
[0:52:49.1] MG: I think you’d be surprised by how much we talk about recovery, the science and the art of recovery. A normal structure looks something like wake up in the morning, maybe do some bodywork, because there are some recovery patterns that need to take place, and then there's obviously food throughout the day, is staple for most and high quality food. I’ll just talk about a more optimized program, but it's a pretty early wake-up. I get some food in, get some movement, rehab, tissue work on. There are some meetings take place, and those meetings are either with the entire team or sub-parts of a team and there’s individual meetings. There is anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes, to 60, 70 minutes of physical training in the gym. There's more study time, more meetings. There is at least one, sometimes two, training sessions where you're actually working out your mind, body and craft. So that's what a practice really is designed to do.
There’s some down time, but it’s not as much as you think. There’s maybe 20 minutes here and there for some down time. There’s obviously, like I said, there’s lunch and everything embedded through, and then there's more film. So there's meetings, film. There’s individual meetings. There’s physical movement. There is technical movement, and then they’re either threaded throughout or separate time set up for mental training. The threading throughout is what the highest organizations in the world are doing. They are starting their meetings with X-number minutes of mindfulness training, not waiting for the athlete to do it later. They’re starting their meetings that way. That also happens in business as well. Some businesses are doing that or adopting that practice.
So that's what it looks like, and there's often homework and the days are long and there’s usually at the upper limits about four hours of nauseatingly deep focused physical work, and then there is about four hours of cognitive and/or mental emotional work, and rinse and repeat until you get the chance to compete against other people.
So day in and day out is an internal competition with your teammates as well, not trying to step on their throats and choke them out, but working with them to help sharpen their sword and sharpen your sword and return. Then you get a chance to do it with other teams as well. So that's kind of what it looks like, but we talk about the art and science of recovery far more than you might imagine, and we do not approach recovery as something that comes at the end of the process, but it's an integral part of the process itself. Taking time to do this often — To do this is challenging and it's often neglected. It is an essential component of higher performance.
[0:55:37.2] MB: I know we dug pretty deep into recovery in our first conversation. So we’ll make sure to include that in the show notes for listeners who want to kind of dig in to some of the other topics that have been circling around what we've gotten into today. But for listeners who want to kind of concretely implement a lot of the ideas we've discussed, what would you give to them as kind of one piece of homework or an action item to start implementing some of the ideas we’ve talked about today?
[0:56:04.1] MG: I think that our last conversation, we talked about a philosophy. So if we — Having our own philosophy, and if that hasn't gotten done yet, it’d say go back and do that and get that done. If folks miss that, maybe having a link into our earlier conversation will help. I would start there. If that’s already done or you don’t want to do that for whatever reason, I would start with mindfulness and really paying attention to practicing being aware of the thoughts, of the emotions, of the body sensations and environment, and/or environment. Mindfulness can be substituted with the word meditation. We’ll just start there.
I mean, that's a massive accelerant to maybe even mastering the internal domain. I can’t imagine a process without mindfulness or paying attention to the internal state and master being in the same conversation. So I would start there. I’d also like take a deep hard look at your sleep patterns. If you are under recovery, you’re eventually going to break down and/or just your brain does — Our brains does something pretty phenomenal, is that they adapt to suboptimal, because they say, “Okay. I see the game you're playing. You’re not going to allow me to recover properly. Well, I'm just going to not have as amazing of an output. So suboptimal becomes the new normal, which is a bomber, because it's like cooking a frog. You don’t quite realize that it’s the boiling water — The fog doesn’t ever quite realize that it's not in a god environment.
So I would start with mindfulness, sleep, philosophy, kind of the big stuff. Last thing as we close this out, is that Harvard did an amazing study where they followed for 75 years, they followed people on the path of fulfillment, deep meaning in life stuff. What they found is one of the pillars of people that had fulfillment in life is that they asked and wrestled with the deep questions in life. They didn’t avoid them. They weren’t distracted by them. They actually [inaudible 0:58:03.9] with it. Who am I? What is my purpose? When am I doing with my efforts? What does this mean to be human? The deep questions in life. What is the purpose for spirituality? For mindset training? for doing this amazing amount of work? What am I doing here? [inaudible 0:58:24.6] with those big questions. Philosophy is who I am? To do that deep work is just another important, I guess I would say reminder for all that that that stuff you have to do alone. You can have those inspired conversation with people, but ultimately you have to make up your mind about who you are.
[0:58:42.7] MB: For listeners who want more of you and your work, where can they find you online?
[0:58:47.0] MG: So there’s a couple of places. Thank you for asking. The — What is it? 140 characters? Whatever. Is that what it is? Is Twitter 140 or is it 144?
[0:58:56.2] MB: Didn’t they up it to 280 characters?
[0:58:58.4] MG: We got 280. Okay. Something, 280 characters. You can find me on social media and Twitter, which is @MichaelGervais, and that’s Gervais, and LinkedIn, same thing, Michael Gervais. Instagram is @findingmastery. So we’ve got a podcast we fired up called Finding Mastery, and that websites is pretty clean. It’s fundingmastey.net, and world-class performers, deconstructing and better understanding their path of mastery. Then coach Carroll and I are just about done with writing a book. That would be coming soon. Those are the best places. Then my business with Coach Carroll is called Compete to Create, and that websites is competetocreate.net.
[0:59:45.8] MB: Well, Michael, once again, an incredible conversation. So many great insights and ideas. Always a pleasure to have you on the show to share all of this wisdom. Thank you so much for coming back and returning to the Science of Success.
[0:59:58.8] MG: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank, Matt.
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