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The 10 Pillars of Mental Performance Mastery



Average vs Elite Mindset

In this article I interview Mental Performance Mastery Coach Brian Cain about:

Let’s begin:

Michael Frank: Give us a quick intro to yourself, your background and the work you do Brian…

Brian Cain: I’m a Mental Performance Mastery Coach, and I work to help athletes, coaches, teams, entrepreneurs etc. really grow an elite mindset, and identify the habits, routines and processes that they need to close the gap from where they are to where they want to be.

I help people to grow what I call the 10 pillars of Mental Performance Mastery:

  1. Elite mindset
  2. Motivation and commitment, so you can break through and get what you want to get
  3. Focus and awareness, you need the awareness to know is what you’re doing helping you to get what you want? Or is it pulling you away from what you want?
  4. Self-control and discipline
  5. Process over outcome
  6. Meditation and mental imagery, so you visualize what you want, but then you stay present and attack what’s in front of you. I talk a lot about having telescope goals about where you want to go in the future, but then you have to reverse engineer that into a microscope goal so that you can attack the day
  7. Routines and habits of excellence, because if you want to achieve anything, it has to be part of what you do on a daily basis
  8. Time management and organisation. I encourage people to schedule every minute of their day. So as soon as you wake up and your feet hit the ground you’re being productive and you’re attacking what you’ve got lined up for the day. You don’t want to operate off of how you feel, but off of focus, and you need a plan to get where you want to go
  9. Leadership, if you’re a head coach, a gym owner, a business owner, it’s about creating leadership within your staff
  10. The right culture, you need the right culture that’s going to help people when they walk in the door to achieve the results that they’re looking for

So that’s what I help to do and I coach coaches to be able to do it themselves.

My ultimate mission in life is to educate, empower, and energize other people to be their best. And when I’m on the front lines working with say a UFC fighter like Georges St-Pierre, I’m working one on one with one athlete, and I’m impacting that one life, but if I take a step back and work with Firas Zahabi, GSP’s MMA coach at the Tri Star Gym in Montreal, then he’s going to touch hundreds of athletes in his life, so by impacting the coach, I’m impacting way more people.

The first questions Brian asks when he starts coaching a new client

Michael Frank: What are the first questions you ask when you meet a new client?

Brian Cain: The first questions I’d ask is:

“Why do you want to work with me?”

“Why are we meeting?”

“What do you want to get done?”

“What are your hang-ups?”

“If you could improve this one thing, what would it be to help you close the gap from where you are to where you want to be?”

Because you ask anyone, and we all have a gap, maybe it’s in your business, or your physical fitness, or in your relationship with your wife, and that gap is simply where you are and the vision of where you want to be.

Then I say:

“Tell me about that gap”

“What are you doing to close the gap?”

And they’ll often say: “Well, I’m working hard…”

But working hard is a given. What are you doing to work smart? What strategies do you have in place to help you to get where you want to go? Because at the elite level, I don’t think that they necessarily need more inspiration, at least not the people I’m working with, they’re already inspired, they’re already working hard. What they need is better process, a better system, a better structure.

Start. Stop. Continue.

At the elite level, they don’t need to learn what to do more of, they probably need to learn what to do less of. So an activity we use for you to close the gap from where you are to where you want to be is called the: Start, Stop, Continue

Start: What do you need to start doing?

Stop: What do you need to stop doing?

Continue: What are you doing well that you want to continue?

A lot of times elite athletes have no problem to go, their problem is woah, to back off.

What do you need to stop doing? Maybe you’ve got to stop staying up until two o’clock in the morning and being on your phone at night because you’re not getting enough recovery. Maybe you’ve got to stop letting the wheels fall off where you go to the beach and party and drink and eat everything in sight for four weeks and then you put on 25 pounds after a fight camp, and then you have to work to lose all that weight back when the next fight camp comes.

Conor McGregor doesn’t do training camps, it’s a lifestyle, not an event. And when you can commit to that lifestyle of excellence and of being great, greatness finds you because you deserve to be great. I think a lot of times people go looking for some magic formula, and the formula is habits and hustle, just do what you gotta do on a daily basis and do it hard, do it well, and surround yourself with the right people that are going to help you to get where you want be.

The beliefs and psychology of a world champion, a winner vs a loser

Michael Frank: What do you think are the beliefs and psychology of a world champion, a world class winner vs the average guy, a loser?

Brian Cain: It’s such a great question because it’s so different, right? I mean you look at GSP, arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time and one of the best athletes of all time. He admits to being afraid ahead of going into the cage. He talks about being fearful, but he uses the fear as fuel, right? And this is the thing I think is that people misconstrue being fearless, which doesn’t exist, with being courageous, and courageous is I feel the fear I’m going anyway, and because I feel this fear I’m going to try to minimize it by acting different than how I feel, by acting big, walking like I’m 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and walking to the cage with a certain routine, a certain swag, a certain body language, a certain focus and self-talk.

I talk a lot about BFS: Body language, Focus and Self-talk, and I think when you’re looking at the difference between winners and losers, winners take responsibility for their performance state, they don’t go off of how they feel, they go off of how they act. Average performers focus on how they feel, and they let their feelings dictate their actions.

Elite performers, elite humans, allow their actions to change their feelings. It doesn’t matter how you feel so long as you’re focused on what you’re doing.

It’s about being the only one

Michael Frank: What about the GOAT’s (Greatest of All Time) like say Michael Jordan or LeBron James, what do you think sets those guys, the very best of the best, apart from the rest? What do you think is different about those guys? What do they believe that the others don’t?

Brian Cain: I think sometimes those guys maybe outliers, however if you look at Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Conor McGregor, Steve Jobs etc. there’s definitely some characteristics and principles that are similar across the board for these elite level performers. They’re often fueled by something bigger than winning. Like Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots wins the Super Bowl again and what’s he saying? “Wow in all actuality that was great, but we’re really six weeks behind the 2019 season…” They just want to compete. They want to win, but who doesn’t?

Everyone wants to win. These guys want to compete. These guys want to pursue greatness. These guys know that the only competition is themselves. It’s like the late great Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, he and the band were getting interviewed on Rolling Stone and the interviewer asked him: “Jerry, what’s it like to be one of the best rock and roll artists and groups of all time?” And Jerry looks at him and he says, “Hey man, that’s not it at all, we don’t want to be one of the best, we want to be the only ones…”. And I think that mentality about being the only one is what often separates the highest level performers from the next tier.

The million dollar question

When I meet elite athletes and coaches like Dwayne Wade, Bill Walton, John Wooden, Phil Jackson, Tony Dungy etc. I ask them what I call the million dollar question:

“What do you know now that you wish you knew then?”

And that’s kinda my go to question, and I recommend your readers ask that question when they come across elite performers, and often their answer is something so simple:

“Control what you can control. The competition is you. No one else. Don’t let anyone define what greatness is for you. You define what greatness is for yourself. If what you did yesterday looks big today, you haven’t done anything yet today. Your greatness is defined moment by moment by moment by moment.”

Control what you can control and let go of the things you can’t

Michael Frank: What’s your answer to the million dollar question? What do you know now that you didn’t know in your first year of coaching? What has surprised you the most? What has been the most counterintuitive thing that you’ve learned that you really didn’t expect?

Brian Cain: I would say two things. Control what you can control and let go of the things that you can’t because it’s a waste of time. And that’s a big reason why I don’t follow anyone on social media, Instagram, Twitter etc. Because I’m not trying to go outside-in, in my life, I’m trying to go inside-out.

So control what you can control, and look inside, not outside for approval, and for strategy and for purpose.

And the biggest thing I think is that we overestimate what we can do in a year, and grossly underestimate what we can do in a day. I’ve written forty-two books, and eight of them I wrote in one day, that’s me writing a book in one day, eight times.

You just prepare, go in with a storyline, and you sit down and pump caffeine as much as you need to get it done, and you just eliminate all the bullshit and you get it done.

The myth of belief

Michael Frank: I want to come back to belief systems for a second. To reach the very top, the 1% of the 1% do you need to be unreasonable? Do you need to be delusional and have the attitude of:

“I’m the fucking man”

“I’m unstoppable”

“I’m invincible”

“I’m the best ever”

Is that useful or is there such a thing as too much confidence?

Brian Cain: Okay, so here’s the thing, I call it the myth of belief. And to me, the myth of belief is that I have to believe I’m a fucking world beater. I have to believe that I’m a champion. I have to believe I’m the best in the world. Bullshit. The only thing you have to do is do the damn work on a daily basis.

I think belief is way overrated. You have to have the belief that if you do the work on a day to day basis and you have the right coaching and the right plan, you will give yourself the best chance for the result. But you have to go grind, you have to go compete, and you’ve got to fucking bring it on a day to day, moment to moment basis.

I see so many people going to these motivational seminars sitting around waving pompoms in the air, jumping and dancing and having fun, but you know what? That fun can’t trump strategy, it can’t trump what you’re doing on a daily basis. And ultimately you have to make getting into the weeds and busting your fucking ass on a daily basis the fun.

When you talk to elite level performers about belief, they often look at you cross eyed and go, I don’t know. I’ve never even thought about that because they’re too busy doing the work.

Do you believe you can make $1 million a year? Don’t know. Never even thought about that. Too busy doing the work.

Do you believe that you can write a bestseller? Never even thought about it. Just wrote the damn book. I’ll let other people decide that.

Do you believe you can be a world champion? Don’t know. I’m going to go find out.

I do believe however, that if I push the rock and do the work on a daily basis, that I will give myself the best chance for the result, but I’m not going to be delusional and think that I can sit on my ass and do nothing and go show up and I’m going to win because I believe that I’m that good. That’s when you get knocked out in the first round like GSP did with Matt Serra at UFC 69. He was an over believer. I’d rather have you be an under believer and stay humble and do the work.

The balance of humble confidence

This is what I call the balance of humble confidence. You have to be humble enough to know that every day you wake up, someone can beat your ass, and someone can take what you want, and someone can take what you have.

At the same time, you have to know that if you do the work on a daily basis, you can go out there and get whatever the hell you want. The only thing stopping you is you and time. And if you become really, really efficient with your time, like schedule every fucking minute of your day time, guess what? The only thing that can stop you is you. So I don’t really talk a ton about belief. I talk about a ton of execution, process, planning, and getting work done on a daily basis, but you’ve gotta have the right plan.

Focusing on your strengths vs the opponents weaknesses

Michael Frank: When you’re working with an athlete or a team, how much do you focus on their strengths vs the opponent’s weaknesses?

Brian Cain: I always triple down on their strengths because the opponent is a non-controllable, and I always come back to what you can control because if you go into a fight and we’re saying, “Okay, this guy’s takedown defense is no good”, well shit, what if for the last four months all he’s been working on is his takedown defense? What if when you go into the fight you can’t take the guy down? What’s your game plan then?

So the way I’ve always looked at it with fighters is like, we’re not training to beat him in one area. We’re training to get better in every area and to be a more complete fighter. So wherever the fight goes, we have the training to be able to execute in that area. Because you never rise to the occasion. You sink to your training and habits.

It’s what a Navy SEAL friend of mine says all the time:

“You don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to your training and habits”

So I think we go after what our strengths are. Now, if your strengths match up with the opponent’s weaknesses, advantage you. If your weaknesses match up with your opponent’s strengths, maybe it’s advantage them. But I think you still have to go out and try to execute what your strengths are.

I think most people get too much into win/lose, but what you have to start thinking about is what’s your best chance for success? Because at the elite levels anyone can win, anyone can lose. What do you do to give yourself the best chance for success?

The law of average

Longtime Louisiana State University Athletic Director, Skip Bertman who won five national championships in the nineties, called it the law of average, he said, only four things can happen when you compete:

  1. You can play well and win
  2. You can play well and lose
  3. You can play lousy and win
  4. You can play lousy and lose

The law of averages says that if you play well, you give yourself the best chance to win. So what do we need to do to play well and focus on playing well in the process? It’s not about the win, because the best team doesn’t win. The best fighter doesn’t win. It’s the guy who fights the best, it’s the team who plays the best, and for you to play your best, you need clarity on what you need to do to play your best and you better prepare to go do it.

What to do if you’re on a losing streak

Michael Frank: What do you do to coach an athlete or a team on a losing streak? How do you go about pulling them out of a downward spiral?

Brian Cain: You know when a team brings you in and they’re not playing well, or they’re in a slump, it’s all about perspective. I think if you’re looking to become a mental performance coach, the number one thing that you can do is perspective building. So just getting them to realize that if you’re in a slump, maybe if you look at it over the course of two years, you’re not in a slump. It’s just a little bit of a dip, right?

So getting them to reframe that. And then also if you look at like a sport like baseball, let’s say got a player that’s in a slump, he’s 0/8 in the outcome, but there’s a thing we call quality at bat. It’s like what did you do? Did you hit the ball hard? You might have hit the ball the hardest you ever have, you might have just hit it right at somebody. So you did your job and you’re out.

Like if you have a golfer who goes and let’s say they normally shoot a 72 they shoot par, but then the the last three times they go play, there’s bad wind, there’s bad rain, there’s different conditions, well shit, an 80 on a day with bad conditions can be better than a par on a day with the perfect conditions. So you have to take the context of the situation.

For a fighter that’s lost three fights in a row, how do you get them to flip the script on that? How do I get them to win the next fight? I don’t. I don’t control that. I get them to focus on what they need to do to be the most prepared they can be for the next fight. Because if they’re the most prepared they can be for the next fight, they give themselves the best chance to win. Knowing we don’t ever control the outcome of a fight. So I get them out of outcome thinking and into process based thinking, and into what do I need to be doing right now to position myself to be at my best.

Locate the black box

But then we also go and do what we call locating the black box. When a plane crashes, they go looking for the black box. The black box gives you the data and the information as to why the plane crashed. It’s recording of the cockpit information and the altitude and the speed and all that stuff that goes into it. So the researchers can go find out, okay, what happened?

A lot of times athletes, when they’re not playing the way they want to play, and they’re not getting the outcome they want, they forget to go look for the black box and their most recent performance and sometimes at black box can be physical, but sometimes it’s not a physical thing, like in the case of GSP when he lost to Matt Serra, it wasn’t a physical thing, he just wasn’t as focused as he needed to be. He didn’t respect the training process leading up to that fight, and everyone around him was telling him, “This guy doesn’t belong in there with you”, any he fucking listened to them. And he says that getting knocked out by Matt Serra was the best thing that ever happened to him for his career, because it made him value the process more than the outcome.

And I think that’s what I try to do with people that are struggling, is get them to look at the process over outcome, and get them to look at why are we not playing well? Okay good, let’s come up with a game plan of what we need to do. There’s so many times they get stuck in:

“We’re not playing well”

“We’re not playing well”

“We’re not playing well”

Well, no shit! What are you doing about it? And they don’t have any answer. They’re just like, “I dunno, we’re just, we’re not playing well!” Well, no shit. What are you doing? What are you doing to turn it around?

Focus determines future

And often having them come up with that game plan is where the most success comes, because then they have a focus and your focus determines your future. So if you’re focused on the past and not playing well and that we’re in a slump, instead of this is what we’re going to do to give herself the best chance for success, that’s two totally different mindsets, and each mindset will generate a different performance the next time you go out.

Mistakes in the mental game

Michael Frank: You’ve touched upon a lot already, but what do you think of some of the biggest mistakes that athletes and coaches make in the mental game?

Brian Cain. I’ll answer that question the same. I think some of the biggest mistakes that athletes and coaches make is they focus too much on the outcome and not enough on the process. And when I say outcome, they’re focused on winning, or the finish of the fight, instead of the whole process of the fight.

Often people who do mental imagery, they want to visualize the big combo knockout or the submission in the cage. I’m like, nah man, let’s visualize landing the plane in Vegas and you walking through the airport and having to sign autographs because you don’t necessarily like doing that. Let’s visualize going through the weight cut and how much it sucks and how much it’s going to hurt and how fatigued you are going to be.

Let’s visualize walking out on the stage for weigh-ins, and the stare down against your opponent and him pushing you in the chest. How are you going to respond to that? Let’s visualize you going out and having a good dinner and getting your weight back and your energy back. Let’s visualize waking up the morning of the fight, and let’s visualize walking through the cage and practicing your routine so that night when you go to the cage to do it for the real, you feel like you’ve done it a hundred times already.

So I think some of the biggest mistakes they make is they don’t value the journey or the process as much as the outcome, because it’s not as sexy. It’s not as fun to talk about like the journey and what we’re doing today in the minute detail as it is to talk about the outcome.

I think the other mistake is focusing too much on what they don’t want, instead of what they do want, or like we talked about earlier, focusing too much on the opponent instead of what they’re going to do. The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said that the longer he coached, and the more mature he got, and the more success he had in his career, the less time he spent focusing on what the opponent was going to do, and more time he spent on what his team needed to do to prepare well. So I’ve kind of adopted some of those beliefs as well.

Signals are contagious

Michael Frank: Conor McGregor says:

“Winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners” – Conor McGregor

That ties into what you’re saying. Any other mistakes that we should be aware of?

Brian Cain: Often it’s sports specific. I think a big mistake that the boxing or MMA coach makes is that they come back in between rounds and they’re all jacked up and they’re yelling at their fighter, “You gotta do this, you gotta do this, you gotta hit the outside, you gotta…” and everyone in the corner wants to be the guy that’s talking to the fighter and everyone’s talking over each other, and the fighter is sitting there like “Holy shit, what’s going on?” And they’re in what I would call the red light.

Green light = I’m in control

Yellow light = I’m losing control

Red light = I’m overwhelmed and out of control

And coaches need to realize that their signal lights are contagious, and if a coach gets out of control, mentally, physically and emotionally his team is going to follow, but if a coach stays calm, stoic, in control, intense without being tense, the team’s going to follow. And I think so many times an athlete or a team will take on the personality of the head coach, and I don’t think that a lot of head coaches have the awareness to realize how contagious their signal lights are in terms of their team.

When you’ve lost your motivation

Michael Frank: When you’re dealing with athletes and teams that have lost their motivation, how do you go about refocusing them, and changing their perspective?

Brian Cain: This ties into the second of the 10 pillars: Motivation and Commitment. And the thing that I often will go to when we’re talking about motivation and commitment is:

“What is your why?”

“Why are you here?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“What do you want?”

You need to get clear on your why and your what, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you want, and you need to be able to communicate and articulate that.

And often when I ask these questions, their why and their what is all this external superficial bullshit. I want the girl, I want the car, I want the money, I want the check, and it’s like let’s look inside. What do you really want right now? I’ll say that five times, no no, what do you really want? Or why do you want that? Why do you want the championship belt? Because of the accolades, or the life you think it’s going to give you? Why is that life important? What are you going to do when you have that life? And you keep asking that question and then what you’re doing every time is it’s like you’re drilling down into their core and into their soul to find out what really motivates them. And they forget. They forget because they live in a world of distraction. And they let everyone else tell them what’s important instead of them making their own decision of what’s important and what they really want.

So I think when motivation and commitment are missing, it’s not that it’s missing, it’s just kind of hiding, right? And we’ve got to go find that shit. We’ve got to pull it back out, and that finding it is the why and the what, and then it’s backing that up with the why and the what of, okay, well now let’s create the game plan of what we’re going to do on a daily basis to make sure you position yourself to go get what you want and you’re living in alignment with your why in the more superficial and external the what and the why are, the more easily that house is going to crumble.

The 10 Pillars of Mental Performance Mastery

Michael Frank: Let’s unpack the 10 pillars of peak performance, take us through them…

Brian Cain: Yeah, for sure. Here they are….

  1. Elite Mindset
  2. Motivation and commitment
  3. Focus and awareness
  4. Self-control and discipline
  5. Process over outcome
  6. Meditation and mental imagery
  7. Routines and habits of excellence
  8. Time management and organization
  9. Leadership
  10. The right culture

The first eight is what I go after with individual athletes, clients and coaches. The last two is when I’m dealing with a head coach in an organization.

When you’re talking to a college baseball player, he doesn’t have a lot of control over the culture of that program. But when you’re talking to a famous MMA fighter like GSP, Michael Bisping or Vitor Belfort, they do have a lot of control over the people that they keep in their entourage and inner circle.

So then that’s where you have to say: What do you want for the culture around that inner circle? Do you want it to be the group of guys that after a fight, goes out into the strip clubs and gets fucking shit-faced and burns through all your money? Or do you want it to be the group of guys that after the fight, goes out and gets dinner, comes back, watches the film, breaks down the fight, and then talks about what you need to do moving forward and what’s the next phase? Or is it combination of both? It’s about trying to find that balance and find the right environment for you.

Let’s unpack the 10 pillars a little more…

Elite Mindset

Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

A fixed mindset is: “What I do is just the way I am, it’s just the way I grew up” Well, okay, well is it serving you? If it’s not, then let’s grow and let’s change. And you don’t have to be sick to get better.

The growth mindset is: “I can become whoever the fuck I want to be by putting in the work and having the plan to get there”.

And if you don’t think you can, you don’t have a growth mindset because you think you’re stuck. You’re the victim instead of being the victor, so let’s attack what’s in front of us and let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. The only easy day was yesterday. Let’s just keep charging forward knowing that this race to excellence has no finish line. It’s never done. And so your purpose must not be an outcome. Your purpose must be an evolution into the person that you want to become. Are you the best version of yourself? Never. But are you getting closer and are you better today than you were yesterday? And can you be better tomorrow than you were today? That’s a growth mindset. That’s what we’re after.

Average vs Elite Mindset

Motivation and commitment

Motivation and commitment is the why and the what. Why do you do what you do?

Focus and awareness

Focus and awareness, is about focusing when you’re living in a world of distraction. Focus determines future. You can build focus through certain exercises like a concentration grid, or with something as simple as five by five box breathing.

Box Breathing instructions:

  1. Inhale for five seconds
  2. Hold for five seconds
  3. Exhale for five seconds
  4. Hold for five seconds

Simply try to do five breaths of five by five box breathing and see what that does for your focus and your presence.

Awareness is about having the awareness of where I’m at, and the gap of where I am and where I want to be.

Self-awareness is when am I mentally, physically and emotionally in control of myself? Green light.

What are the things that trigger me and trip me up and get me to start to lose control? Yellow light.

When have I completely lost control? Red light.

You need to learn to have the awareness of when you’re getting into yellow or red, or if you’re in yellow or red, how do you get yourself back to green? That’s about breaking the slump, interrupting the pattern, breaking the cycle, to get you back to being in green lights and in control of yourself, because you have to be in control of yourself before you can control your performance, and you have such little control of what goes on around you, but total control of how you choose to respond to it.

That’s the power of awareness, and what you’re aware of, you can often influence. What you’re unaware of, will influence you. So you have to be on the attack, you have to be the aggressor, and you have to have a high level or a heightened awareness to know what’s happening inside you, and what’s happening around you, and be able to use that to drive you to focus on the present moment.

Self-control and discipline

You might have a great plan, but do you have the self-control to make the right decision in the moment? Whether it be around nutrition, if you’re a pro athlete and you’re married and on the road all the time, can you make the right decision around women or the other things that are out there? Do you have the self-control to say fucking no? Do you have the self-control to go to bed when you’re supposed to go to bed, and get up when you’re supposed to get up? And then do you have the discipline to be able to execute that consistently over time? Do you have the discipline to do what’s right, and do what your plan says? Or will you do what you feel?

Because if you’re always doing what you feel, you lack discipline. It doesn’t matter how you feel. You know what the hardest part about training for a hundred mile race is? Getting out the door and putting my shoes on. Once you get running, you’re good. You just kind of get started. So discipline helps you to get started and it’s the start that stops most people.

Process over outcome

Process: What can I control?

Outcome: What is it I want?

If you think about a staircase, the staircase is the process, and there’s many steps in the process to get to the top of that staircase, which is the outcome. So a lot of times, one of the things I’ll do, is I’ll take an athlete to a staircase. What’s at the top of the step? UFC title! What’s at the top of the step? First round draft pick! What’s at the top of the step? Multiyear contract! Okay, good. Let’s go all the way to the bottom. And I want you to tell me something within your control that you can do on every one of these steps that will help position you to give you the best chance to get what you want on top. And then I write them all down and then I’ll give them the list and then we’ll break it all down. That’s process over outcome.

Meditation and mental imagery

Meditation is learning to quiet your mind. Mental imagery is a preparation and confidence building technique to see yourself performing the way you want to before you get there. Everything happens twice: first in your mind then in reality. And the first time you do something should never be the first time you do it. The first time you go to MMA training and you’re doing the shark tank drill, where you’re fighting five guys who are each fighting one minute, and you’re having to fight them all five minutes a row and you’re gassed and you get taken down and the guy’s laying on top of you the first time you’re down there in that panic, that shouldn’t be the first time.

You should experience that in your mind beforehand. That’s the power of mental imagery, both from the highly positive and the reality of getting your ass kicked, the challenge that we all face but don’t ever want to talk about.

Routines and habits

You become what you do on a daily basis. So we create what I call an AM and PM routine.

AM routine: The first things you do when you wake up because you have the most control over your time in the morning.

PM routine: You have most control over your time at night.

During the day you’re getting pulled all the time. You know how it is. People can access you, they’re pulling you, but if you’re up early, then you know you have that time. That’s why you see a lot of successful people join what they call the 5:00 AM club and they’re up at 5:00 AM because everyone else is sleeping, and you’re able to get a lot of shit done in that morning when everyone else is sleeping and they can’t pull at you.

That’s why if I don’t work out, if I don’t sweat before screens, if I don’t work out first thing in the morning, my day gets derailed because I want to serve people and I get pulled in a lot of directions, which is awesome and I want that to happen, but I have to take care of me first in the morning as part of that am routine.

And the reason why a PM routine is so critical is that the PM routine actually sets the next morning’s AM routine. So if you miss your PM routine, your AM routine will be off. And if you’re AM routine is off, anticipate your day being a little bit off because you have to book end your day with excellence, with the AM and PM routine, and that’s kind of part of the habit building process.

Time management and organisation

When you look at time management and organization, man, there’s one factor. It’s the same for everybody on the planet, and that’s time, right?

You’ve got 168 hours in a week, 86,400 seconds in a day. Everyone wants to talk about getting 1% better. Bullshit. You don’t get 1% better. You know what you do? You invest 1% of your day. Here’s what 1% of your day is: You’ve got 1,440 minutes. You do the math. It’s 14 minutes and 24 seconds. So what can you do to invest 14 minutes and 24 seconds of your day into closing that gap from where you are to where you want to be so you can get 1% better?

A motivational speaker will say, “Get 1% better today!” Yeah, bullshit. What are you doing with 1% of your day to get better today? That’s the difference between a system and a speaker. If you’re serious about results, stop bringing in speakers and start improving your system and watch how your results change.

Structure a 168 plan

The other thing we do with time management, is we structure a 168 plan. 168 hours in a week, Sunday, you sit down, you map out where all your time is going in those 168 hours:

  • When you’re going to sleep
  • When you’re going to eat
  • When you’re going to read
  • When you’re going to work out
  • When you’re going to check email
  • When you’re going to take your wife to dinner

Everything is detailed in so you have a specific plan to maximize your time, and if you’re not getting the results you want, go back to your plan and evaluate: Are you investing your time where it needs to be invested to give you the best chance to get the result that you want? But if you don’t have a plan that you can come back to, then you can’t locate the black box. You can’t make any adjustments because your whole life is a fucking adjustment.

You know, people say to me, “I can’t keep a 168 cause I feel like I’m too boxed in”. No you’re just not organized and you haven’t stuck with it long enough. That’s the problem. Your whole life is compensate and adjust. You can’t operate out of compensate and adjust all the time. You have to have system and structure and let compensate and adjust override the system and structure when things happen. And life happens every day. So you have to be able to compensate and adjust. But you better have a damn plan going into the day. So you have a high level of focus.


What is leadership?

Leadership comes down to two things:

  1. Build trust
  2. Get results

I say this quote all the time, and I say it because I was this guy, I was a 240 pound high school athletic director and I had a mentor of mine say to me:

“Mr. Cain, leaders aren’t fat. You gotta be able to walk the walk. And right now all you’re doing is talking the talk. And if you go in front of a group of elite athletes or coaches and you go walking in there at a sloppy 240 pounds with your fucking 44 inch waist, where you just pop the button driving to the airport, they’re going to laugh you out of the room. You got to at least walk the walk. You’ve got to look the part.”

That day changed my life. I appreciated him being brutally fucking honest with me. And he put me on a nutrition plan, put me on an exercise plan, and I went from 240 down to 185, and I’ve done 3 Ironman’s, 15 half Ironman’s, and 15 marathons since that day, and I have better energy, better fuel, better focus, and I’m better at serving other people because I was giving everyone my fucking b game.

And then when I finally got my shit together, and I don’t have all my shit together, no one ever does, but when I got most of my shit together, I felt like I was way better at showing up my best so I could serve other people and really make an impact. But you never know until you get yourself into an elite level of fitness and get yourself into the right mindset.

A lot of us go through life fooling ourselves, right? You’ve heard the saying: “You can fool everybody, but the person in the mirror”. Bullshit. The easiest fucking person to fool is the person in the mirror. So you need to have high level accountability partners that are going to tell you the truth, even though it hurts, and if it hurts, it’s probably the truth.

So you have to surround yourself with fucking sharks if you want to be a shark. If you want to be a goldfish, surround yourself with some positive motivational speakers who will tell you that your life’s great, just believe more and do your work and you’ll be fine. But it doesn’t always work that way. You need specific strategy and you need people to call you on your shit.

The right culture

Culture is what I call MVP: Mission, Vision and Principles.

Mission: What do you want on your gravestone? What do you want people saying at your funeral? For me, I want: “Brian Cain was a man dedicated to educating, empowering, and energizing other people to be their best”

Vision: What do you want in your resume? One of the things I want in my resume, Brian Cain, certified 10,000 coaches with his mental performance mastery certification, each touched 1,000 lives that’s impacting 10 million people. That gets me fired up. I want to run a hundred miles this year. I want to take my wife to do marathon on the Great Wall of China. I want to keep my body weight at 190 under 10% body fat. Those are all resume things, so those are all things I can check the box. Did I do it? Yes or no?

That’s a vision. Vision is your resume, it’s a clear yes or no. Mission is longterm, you never know if it’s done. That’s what you want people saying at your funeral.

Principles: Who do you need to become to live this way?

My core principles I would say is the acronym D.E.L.P

D: Discipline

E: Energy and Excellence

L: Love

P: Present, Process, Productive

If you go through your life without an MVP process, and you go through your life without asking yourself this one key question:

How do you define success for yourself?

Because if you don’t know how to define success for yourself, you’re playing on everyone else’s scoreboard and you’re going to lose. And how I define success for me is did I live in alignment with my core principles of D.E.L.P and my mission of educate, empower, and energize other people, did I do that today?

Mind games and mental warfare

Michael Frank: I want to talk mind games and mental warfare, I want to talk trash talk. What do you think of it? I’m personally not a fan, but I look at someone, probably the greatest MMA trash-talker of all-time, it was Chael Sonnen, now it’s definitely Conor McGregor, he talks a lot of shit, I’m not really a fan of it, but it’s undeniable that it works. I look at when he took the title from Jose Aldo few years back and he just mentally destroyed him before the fight, Jose walked into the the octagon a broken man, he just couldn’t wait to lose, I really felt bad for him. Conor really did a number on him. What are your thoughts on mind games, mental warfare and trash talk?

Brian Cain: You know Chael’s a friend of mine, and what’s beautiful about Chael Sonnen is that the Chael you see on camera, is a lot different than the real Chael. The real Chael is a super humble, hardworking, dedicated, disciplined, passionate, very in control guy. And he knows how to sell fights. He’s great for TV, great for podcasts, he’s entertainment to the max, one of the most beautiful humans you’ll ever come across.

I don’t know if the Conor you see in front of the camera, who he really is. I would venture to say, probably not. And I think in MMA and in boxing, you look at the guys that talk a lot of shit, and throw Muhammad Ali in there, well what were these guys doing? They’re trying to make money, right? So Conor McGregor knows, hey, I got a short window in this game called MMA fighting because most guys lifespan, their career span isn’t that long.

What can I do to be able to make myself more money? I mean, that guy has talked himself into hundreds of millions of dollars. Now don’t get me wrong, he backs it up. He’s a very good fighter. But do you think Conor McGregor would’ve got a title shot, and Conor McGregor would’ve gotten paid what he got paid in MMA if he didn’t talk like that? No. But that’s something that’s a trained skill that he has, and you can train it, you can become anybody you want with the right training.

So I think those guys have definitely had some training with that. They’re very good at that. But ultimately I think that shit talking is a waste of time. You look at GSP and he never talked shit about anybody. So I venture more to the side of GSP of just letting your performance do the talking. But at the same token, you know what, those guys have made a lot of money by shit-talking. So do I see the value in it? I can see the value in you trying to create, whether it be a brand, whether it be a persona, whether it be a certain characteristic for yourself. I can see where guys would do that at the highest level of professional sports.

Michael Frank: How would you coach a fighter against someone you knew was going to trash talk, say your fighter was going up against Conor McGregor. You know a lot of shit talking is going to come his way. A lot of public humiliation is going to come in every form, on Twitter, on stage, on TV etc. How would you go about getting your fighter to ignore the bullshit? Because Conor is a master at getting inside of people’s heads and triggering them and pushing their buttons.

Brian Cain: Talking shit isn’t the strategy that I would employ, but it does help to sell fights, there’s no doubt about that.

And I think if I was working with someone who was going to fight Conor McGregor, let’s say Tony Ferguson, what I would suggest to Tony?

Just do you. You know that he’s going to say all this shit and he’s going to dig all this shit up, and you just continue to come back to being you. Or if you’re going to play the game because you’re trying to build the fight and you’re trying to make a lot of money on pay per view dollars, then let’s flesh out what it is you’re going to say so you go in their scripted. I mean press conferences are a fucking act, so let’s go in there knowing how we want to act, and what our script is going to be for this playwright called a press conference, and not let us lose emotional control or if we’re going to lose emotional control and we’re going to throw a water bottle or something like that, let’s be intentional about it, walk off the stage and laugh.

So I guess my message would be if the guy’s gonna talk shit, let’s be intentional about how we’re gonna handle it.

The best advice Brian ever got

Michael Frank: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in sports or in life?

Brian Cain: Control what you can control, be humble or you’re going to get humbled, and be yourself. Don’t try to be anybody else. Cause I think early in my career, and I had this conversation with one of my team members today who’s like at when we’re at these events these guys are saying like they feel like they’re trying to be you.

And I’m like, well early in my career I tried to be Ken Ravizza, and you know, you kind of have to play follow the leader until you have enough experience and content and confidence to be able to go do your own approach.

So I think control what you can control. Be humble or you’re going to get humbled. Do it your way. And I can tell you that the only reason that I have had any success is mental performance is simply because I stand on the shoulders of giants of guys like Ken Ravizza, Harvey Dorfman, Dr. Rob Gilbert, and I’m really, really humbled and honored every single day to get to do this.

Have a good shit day!

Michael Frank: I was reading your blog the other day and I saw a post dedicated to your mentor Ken Ravizza after he’d passed and then when there was an article of 70 lessons that he taught you. One of them was, and let’s finish on this cause it made me smile, was:

“Have a good shit day!”

What does that mean? What does it mean to have a good shit day?

Brian Cain: Well, let’s talk about having a good shitty day. In my office I have a little turd duck, it’s a duck with a turd head on it, and I’ll often give those to client’s or teams of mine when they feel like they’re down and they’re having a bad day, or they’re having a slump or things aren’t going their way. And I’m always like, “Hey man, have a good shitty day!” Every cloud has a silver lining, and I’ll often show them the Jocko Willink good video:

Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL basically says that all these guys would come to him and bitch about situations and he would just look at him and go, “Good!”

He would always reframe it. And that’s why I love ultra endurance, is when you’re out there at mile 45 and you’re getting your shit kicked in, and you’re just sitting there wanting to quit and you feel like you got stress fractures in your feet and shins, every step you just get to say “Good”, every step you get to say, “Good shitty day”.

Same thing. Make it less worse. And I think again, that’s the difference between Joe Motivational Speaker and a Mental Performance Coach, is Joe motivational speakers and they’d go, “hey man, everything’s good, we’re good”, and a mental performance coach who’s got some experience and some scars and has been fired and has failed is going to go, “Motherfucker things aren’t good, but what are we going to do about it?”

Have a good shitty day. It’s just keep charging forward. And not everyday is going to feel good. Some days you’re the hammer. Some days you’re the nail. Just keep fucking building.

Michael Frank: Any final thoughts?

Brian Cain: I feel like it’s a true professional that is able to adapt and adjust the message to the audience. So if people are interested in having me work with their team or have me come in and speak, if they’re interested in Mental Performance Mastery and what they’ve learned today about the 10 pillars:

  1. Elite mindset
  2. Motivation and commitment
  3. Focus and awareness
  4. Self-control and discipline
  5. Process over outcome
  6. Meditation and mental imagery
  7. Routines and habits of excellence
  8. Time management and organisation
  9. Leadership
  10. The right culture

If anything we talked about struck a chord with you, please go to and check out my Mental Performance Mastery Certification it’s for coaches, it’s for trainers, it’s for people that are coaching or educating and impacting other people’s lives. Get in and go through the certification, if it’s not for you, a 100% money back guarantee, I’m doing this cause then we want to touch 10 million lines with the course of my life, not because I want to make $10 million dollars.

So I hope that people will check out the certification, and then if it’s not for them, we’ll refund your money 100% but I guarantee you that if you go there and you get into it, it’s going to be for you and it’s going to be life changing because it’s been life changing for me. I didn’t make up this system, I just collected it from giants like Rob Gilbert, Harvey Dorfman, Ken Ravizza, and Cy Young award winners like Jake Arietta, David Price, UFC champions like Georges Saint-Pierre, Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping, Heisman trophy winners like Kyler Murray, and in my time at different college programs around the country and being able to take what works for them and it will work for you if you work with it, because success leaves clues, and those clues have been uncovered in 10 pillars of Mental Performance Mastery.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Brian Cain

Brian Cain is a #1 International best-selling author, speaker and mental performance mastery (MPM) coach. He is also the creator of The Mental Performance Mastery Coaching Certification Course

He is widely regarded as the foremost authority on mental performance mastery coaching and helping his clients achieve the elite mindset, habits and performance consistency required to succeed at the highest levels of competition.

Having worked with coaches, athletes, and teams at the Olympic level, in the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and in Major League Baseball (MLB) as well as with athletes on the PGA Tour.
His client list includes 5 UFC World Champions, Olympic Medalists, Heisman Trophy Winners and over 100 1st Round selections in professional sports.
Cain has also worked with programs in the most prestigious athletic departments around the country helping teams win multiple NCAA National championships. You can see a list of his championship winning programs by clicking here.

Brian Cain


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