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How to have an Unbeatable Mind

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In this article I interview former Navy SEAL and Navy SEAL trainer Mark Divine.

At twenty-six Mark graduated as Honor Man (#1-ranked trainee) of SEAL BUD/S class number 170. Mark served for twenty years as a Navy SEAL (nine years active duty, eleven as reserve, retiring as Commander in 2011). His leadership of teams was so effective the US government tasked him with creating a nationwide mentoring program for SEAL trainees.

In this article we talk:

Let’s begin:

SEAL Training

Michael Frank: For those not familiar with SEAL training and Hell Week, what are some of the most intense things that you had to do as part of the training?

Mark Divine: Well, SEAL stands for Sea, Air, Land, and we were founded in 1962 by John F. Kennedy to be the pointy edge of the spear for the growing threat against communism and whatnot.

The SEAL team leadership wanted to build a program that would train the most physically fit human beings on the planet, but also ones that are super smart. So they need people who can be super fiercely independent, autonomous, solve any problem in the worst environment in the world, swim 6-10 miles to get to shore, but then have the resiliency and mental toughness to walk 20 miles to the target and fight to win, and then run back with a teammate on your shoulder if you got hit.

And so they built the training to emulate combat. And that’s why it’s nine months long. It’s arduous. Basic underwater demolition SEAL training really is just a way to train your mental toughness and physical fitness, and to essentially see if you’re qualified to be on the team. You do learn obviously how to shoot and run and gun and how to dive and parachute jump. But you learn those at a very rudimentary level, you don’t really start to learn all the high speed stuff until you get to the SEAL teams and you go into your platoon. So it takes about five years to train up a Navy SEAL.

The first part of BUD/S or basic underwater demolition SEAL training is some of the hardest training in the world. Every day is like 15-18 hours of just gut wrenching work.

So you could start your day with a five mile timed run, and every week you have to improve your time. Then you might have a class on weapons and you have to learn how to break the weapons down and build them back up blindfolded, and you’ve got to improve your time every time you do it. Then you’ve got classes on dive physics and there’s academics and stuff like that. It’s not super arduous you’ve gotta be smart, and then there’s a really cool obstacle course.

You’ve gotta be functionally fit and be able to have the capacity to scurry down a rope 80 feet off the ground and not slip and break your neck, which happens, right? That kind of stuff. You gotta be able to swim 6 miles in the open ocean and dive for 4-6 hours at a time without surfacing to hit a ship attack, all that kind of stuff. It’s hard work. You’re constantly going, you’re constantly tested and evaluated, and you have to improve every week.

We say train like you fight. The more you bleed in peace, the less you bleed in war.

Hell Week

SEALs are probably best known for Hell Week, which is one week and it happens early in the training about week four. And that’s specifically to test your mental toughness and emotional resiliency and your ability to be a good teammate. It’s around the clock training, no sleep for seven days. It’s pretty grueling.

Statistically speaking, let’s talk numbers, every year a couple of thousand young men and women go to the recruiters offices and say, “I want to be a Navy SEAL”, from there, maybe 900 make it into boot camp, and then from there a good proportion make it to BUD/S, and then we actually graduate about 175 guys a year. Women are allowed to apply, but we haven’t had any women make it through yet. Maybe in a few years they’ll have enough training time to really understand what they’re up against. And you’ll see some women get through SEAL training, I’m sure. But so far it’s all men.

And so a typical class will have anywhere from 175 to 225 people in it. My class had 185 people start. By the time we were done with Hell Week, we were down to 45, and then we graduated with 19 guys. So the attrition rate is pretty brutal and rightfully so, right?

It’s not a career path for everybody. You’ve got to really, really, really, really, really want it, and you’ve got to prepare for it. You can’t just throw up your hand and say, I want to be a Navy SEAL and I can meet the minimum standards. Those guys never make it. The guys who make it are training for 3-4 years or more before they even go. Like I did all my work in athletics and martial arts and I was a black belt in Karate and a triathlete and a competitive swimmer and I trained specifically for the SEAL program mentally and physically and with a process of visualization for over a year before I went in.

What causes the attrition/fail rate?

Michael Frank: Is there one particular thing during Hell Week or otherwise that tends to break people, or that eliminates the highest percentage of potential candidates?

Mark Divine: I would say there’s a few things that really cause the fail rate or the attrition rate. One is just the absolute ruthlessness of the day to day grind. It’s nine months of what I just described, nine months, but no letting up. And some people start off strong and then all of a sudden, it’s one thing to train for a couple hours a day thinking I got this, it’s another thing to train for 15-18 hours a day for 9 months. And a lot of people just don’t have the staying power. And the other part is durability. It’s the ability of your body to just take torture and stay strong and not break anything, not tear anything, not throw anything out.

You just go like a robot because durability can be trained, and so we do a lot of functional fitness and sandbag drills and sprints and just gnarly stuff that a lot of people never do because it kind of sucks.

Probably the number one thing is that people get injured. But that’s really because they’re not prepared physically. The other thing is, like I mentioned earlier, if you’re not in it for the right reasons, you’re just not going to make it and the instructors are going to fare you out.

The instructors are looking for their next batch of teammates and they’re master interviewers. Most of them have combat experience and they’ve done battle field interviews and they really know how to get information out of people. And so eventually they fare out the why behind everyone’s reason for being there. And if your why isn’t lined up with the right why of being in the SEALs, if you’re not aligned with the ethos of the SEALs, if you don’t come at it with humility and the team first and the mission first, then you’re going to get basically run out by the instructors, even if you’re the most physically fit guy in the class. So that’s another reason why people don’t make it because they’re all about themselves. They want to prove themselves. They want to show how tough they are, they want to be a bad ass, and the instructors are like, no, that’s not what this is about. This is about being an elite team and doing some of the most important and dangerous work in the world. Check your ego at the door. If you can’t do that, then you don’t belong here. So that’s the second reason.

The third is hell week itself. There is no single event in Hell Week that I would say is any harder than another event. They’re all hard. But the first 60-75 hours of Hell Week is such a challenge for people that they just meet their dark night of the soul moments and they really have a come to Jesus talk with themselves and they’re like, you know what? This just wasn’t for me. And so people ring the bell to quit. They just can’t deal with the constant cold and misery and sleep deprivation.

Being a SEAL looks really sexy and fun in the movies, but to be honest with you, it’s absolute brutality. And you end up in these brutally cold situations on a beach, or a mountain top for days on end, with little food or water and you’re just fricking miserable. It’s misery. But then when you get done with it, you’re like, “Man, that was the coolest thing ever!” It’s all high fives and crack the beers. And you’re like, man, there’s nobody in the world who has ever done what I just did or can possibly repeat what I just did. And you face death practically every single day. And you become incredibly tight with the team, cause you’re willing to lay your life down for your teammates and for your country. And so it really is a pretty extraordinary experience.

Is MMA good preparation for SEAL training?

Michael Frank: Is MMA training good preparation for SEAL training?

Mark Divine: MMA training is solid, solid work. But even if you do it four or five times a week, you’re going to have those types of workouts with that level of intensity, three or four times a day in SEAL training. I think MMA training is good preparation for hand to hand combat, and a lot of SEALs will train MMA on the side in their off hours, but it’s not the only thing you should know, you should train other techniques or tools.

Michael Frank: Is MMA training part of SEAL training?

Mark Divine: They definitely do MMA work. It’s kind of a hybrid. You’re going to be working with weapons, and people taking your weapons away and learning how to deal with that using the tools that you have. So if someone grabs your weapon, you’re not going to tackle him and do MMA. You’re going to grab your secondary weapon and shoot him in the face, or you’re going to use the butt of that weapon to strike him. You train in different environments, with and without your gear on, whereas in MMA you don’t fight with gear on, and you also train against multiple attackers and all that kind of stuff.

Steroids in the SEALs

Michael Frank: Are steroids and PEDs commonly used in the military to aid in recovery and to help people train harder?

Mark Divine: I would say yes, I didn’t see it, but I was there in the 90s and 2000’s, I retired in 2011, but when you’re going to combat, if it’s legal, and sometimes even if it’s not, if it’s going to increase your chance of survivability and staying in the fight, you’ll do it. I would. It just wasn’t available for us back then. I mean we had just had no way to get, it was pre internet. I know I sound like a dinosaur.

Intense experiences as a SEAL

Michael Frank: What were some of the most intense things that you experienced as a Navy SEAL?

Mark Divine: Some of the hardest and craziest things I did were with the SEAL delivery vehicle team. The underwater unit where we have these mini submersibles and we launch them off the back of nuclear submarines. That is freaking gnarly work. It’s hard, hard work. It’s cold and you’re underwater for 8-10 hours at a time in a wet suit in the most extreme environments underwater. I’ve literally been trapped in an underwater coffin before. I’ve been trapped in a lockout where the escape hatch of the submarine, the door jammed and broke, and we were at a hundred feet and they couldn’t figure out how to open the door so they could lock me back into the submarine, and I was running out of air.

I’ve had parachute accidents, where I had midair collisions and my main shoot just utterly collapsed. So now I’ve got no parachute and I start hurdling towards the ground and I’ve got eight seconds before I hit the ground and die. I deployed my reserve parachute, but that wasn’t catching any air, and then about a second and a half before I hit the ground, my reserve chute caught air and popped enough to literally slow me down enough for a survivable but really, really hard landing but I executed a perfect parachute landing fall and literally got up without a single broken bone and was like, Whoa, Holy Shit.

I’ve been shot at many times, both by my teammates, by accidental discharge, which happens, I’ve never been hit though. I was never wounded or injured in 20 years of being a SEAL. And I feel really lucky.

Obviously every SEAL has been to combat, and it’s weird in that you actually get used to it, cause you just get desensitized to the rounds and mortars coming in and whatnot, and getting into an ambush is a little scary the first time. But the attitude I have is that if you have a bullet marked for you, then there is nothing you can do about it.

When you’re in combat, and things don’t go as planned, that’s when it gets hairy. When you get into an actual fire fight and you’ve got to shoot and maneuver and try to maintain situational awareness and bullets are coming in and you just don’t know if one of those bullets is ear marked for you or not, you can’t hunker down and avoid the fight, that’s the worst thing you do. SEALs run towards the sound of gunfire because that’s where the information lies. You can’t just hunker down. If you hunker down, you’re dead.

Nor do you retreat unless you determine that’s the best course of action. But generally speaking you’re going to flank and maneuver to try to figure out where the center of a locus of control the enemy is so that you can take out their power structure, take out their leader, take out their heavy guns, whatever it is, you got to move. And so your best defense in a fight is an offense. Once you get used to it, it gets a little bit easier, but it’s never any less intense, let’s put it that way.

Life Lessons as a Navy SEAL

Michael Frank: What were some of the key Life Lessons that you learnt as a Navy SEAL?

Mark Divine: Oh man, there’s so many. These aren’t in any particular order but:

Mental toughness can be learned

Mental toughness can be learned. A lot of people think I’m not tough, and that other person’s tough, but overtime through repetition and constant challenge, and a variety of experience and mentors and seeing how it’s done by people who’ve been there and done that, you incrementally and slowly develop this capacity, and you expand your potential for greater and greater output, and you perform at higher and higher levels and you just keep ratcheting it up until all of a sudden one day you’re doing shit that seemed almost impossible to you.

And absolutely it looks superhuman to other people. But I’ve realized from SEAL training that it’s trainable. It’s just a matter of doing things a certain way and just keep on doing them that certain way for a long period of time. So that’s one of the things I try to teach in my unbeatable mind training is that if you want to be superhuman, then start to do baby superhuman things right now, every day.

Everything important is done with a team

Number two is that everything important is done with a team. If you want to get important things done in the world, then you’ve got to basically check your ego at the door and become selfless in service to your team. That can’t be a tactic. It has to be a depth of your character. It has to be who you are. Because trust is everything on a team. And the glue of trust is authenticity. You have to develop the character where you truly love your teammates, truly care about them over your own needs.

It’s the team that gets the mission done. Not any exceptional leader, nor any exceptional individual. That’s why sometimes the first people to quit or get rolled out of training are the All-Star athletes, the quarterback of the football team, the people who are just so talented that everything came easy to them, but in the Navy SEALs, they wash out in the first few weeks because it’s often all about them. Most NFL players would last a couple of weeks. Not all, there’s some great team players, but the ones that have to be the All-Stars, they don’t make it. It’s not about that.

You’ve got to get out of your sense of self and serve others. You’ve got to sacrifice your own needs sometimes for others. You got to learn to ask for help. You’ve got to connect at a heart level with your teammates and demonstrate that you truly care about them. And in the SEALs that’s demonstrated ultimately by your willingness to lay down your life if necessary.

You need to develop your inner world

Number three I think is that the only way to really dominate a battlefield/mission/project/your environment, is to learn that you really can only control your response to the world outside of you.

You need to develop your internal capacity, your self-awareness, your mental and emotional control, your ability to clarify the thinking process and radically reduce the clutter of your mind, the ability to visualize the win and to maintain that vision throughout the operation. And I don’t care if the operation is one day or one year. You need the ability to tap into your intuition and to leverage the power of your gut intelligence, and your heart’s intelligence.

If you want to operate at the elite level these days in what we call a VUCA environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, you have to train the inner domain as much as you train your physical body, or you train the tactical skills of your job.

Vertical vs Horizontal development

I’m very passionate about developing the inner domain and I call it vertical development.

Horizontal development would be the creation of new skills. Here’s a weapon, you’ve never touched it before, pick it up, learn how to shoot it, become familiar with it, learn how to load it and unload it, take it to the range, crawl, walk, run, and eventually you’re an expert with that weapon. That’s a horizontal skill because although you become an expert with that weapon, it really doesn’t make you a better person, right? You could be an asshole when you start and just be an expert with that weapon, and still be an asshole when you’re done. So that’s a horizontal skill.

The skills I try to develop in leaders is what I call vertical skills, and vertical skills are about developing the depth of your character, emotional awareness, emotional control, the ability to tap into your heart’s power, and connect at the heart level of another human being so that there’s trust and respect and self-awareness so that you have the ability to control the internal dialogue, to dominate your situation internally, so that you don’t have a situation where all of a sudden a mental distraction or fear based thinking starts to degrade your performance or distract your focus. All of that stuff I consider to be vertical development, because the more you train it, the more you master those things, it’ll change you as a person.

You could spend 500 hours learning how to shoot or self-defense and it’s not going to change you. You’re just going to be better at shooting or self-defense.

But if you spend 500 hours working on:

  • Breath control
  • Visualization
  • Concentration training
  • Insight meditation
  • Journaling
  • Self-awareness exercises
  • Communication training

You’re going to be a different person. You will be a better person. You’ll be a more effective as a leader. You’ll be more connecting and effective as a teammate. You’ll get more accomplished and you’ll have more respect and more trust as a result of it. And you’ll be authentic. And that is really the holy grail for me. Of course, you’ve got to train both because if you lack the competency in those other things, and then you’re no good to your team and you’ve got to lead from the front and serve from the rear.

Mental Toughness

Michael Frank: Let’s talk mental toughness. How you define mental toughness?

Mark Divine: I would say it’s your ability to maintain your mental focus, your mental clarity, and your resolve in the face of extreme challenge. So it’s really a compendium of skills.

Mental toughness isn’t like just doing barbell curls with your brain. It really is about being able to develop discernment so that you can detect bullshit really quickly and get to the bottom of things. It’s about the ability to develop pattern recognition so that you can take in an enormous amount of information, and then be able to process that quickly and detect outliers or pattern disruptors, things that are not the way they should be, which the ordinary person wouldn’t see.

Resiliency vs Mental Toughness

That’s a skill and resiliency and mental toughness often get confused, I consider them to be separate issues, but because a lot of people confuse resiliency and mental toughness, we’ll include it here.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back really quickly from a setback. So you may get kicked in the nuts, or you may fail a mission, or you may get ambushed or something. The SEALs basically have a mindset where they rigorously analyze what went wrong and what they can learn from it. And then they let it go. They learn the lessons and then they let it go and they think, “Okay, well that was good that that happened, cause now we know how to do better next time”, and never look at anything as a failure. We have a saying, “Failure’s not an option”, and that’s really what we mean, because you’re always going to fail.

My Zen master told me that. I learned that from him. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Fall down 7,000 times, get up 7,001, because you’re always going to fall down. It’s just part of life. You can’t avoid it unless you hide in a cave somewhere. And even then you’ll probably trip and fall on your face.

So being mentally tough includes being able to get back up, dust yourself off, and then press back into the fight stronger than you were before. Not with your tail between your legs.

It also includes emotional awareness. So if you fly off the handle when the stress comes raining down, then you’re going to lose all credibility as a leader. So mental toughness requires that you develop great emotional control. It doesn’t mean that you suppress your emotions, it just means you’re able to control them and channel them effectively.

So for instance let’s look at fear, Navy SEALs feel fear, every human being experiences fear, I don’t care who you are, unless you’re a sociopath. So the difference between the SEAL and the average human, is that the SEAL will look at that fear, they’ll embrace it, and they’ll train to master the skill that brings the onset of the fear.

And then when the fear comes when they actually have to conduct an operation where they have bullets flying at you, they’re able to channel the energy of the fear into something like determination or willpower. So they create a mindset where they’re able to essentially attach new meaning to the felt experience of fear so it doesn’t debilitate them. We call that basic skill arousal control and attention control. So the arousal control happens through breath.

You maintain your breath and your heart rate, which gives you the opportunity to control that fear response so you don’t collapse into fight or flight. It also clears your mind. And then from there you’re able to put your attention on what the source of the anxiety is and reframe it so that you can have a different type of internal dialogue whether it’s to stay in the fight, dominate the mission, be there for your teammates, or get home to see your kids again.

So the fear can become a great ally because it’s a very intense energy and it gives you a lot of adrenaline and things that really focus you in when times get tough, but if you don’t control the arousal response, it’ll debilitate you and shut you down.

The Big 4 of Mental Toughness

Michael Frank: So these are the “Big 4” of Mental Toughness that you’ve just described?

Mark Divine: Yeah, the big four skills which we train relentlessly are:

  1. Breath control, positive internal dialogue, maintaining mental control and internal dialogue
  2. Awareness, visualization and using mental imagery for powerful effect
  3. Setting effective goals/high value goals/knowing your “why”
  4. Micro task orientation and linking one task to another so that you get the job done without distraction, without wavering from one path or another, the most direct route possible without thinking oh my God, this problem is too big. You just chunk it down to its smallest component parts and start knocking them down one after another. But you’ve got to make sure you’re knocking down the right parts, and you’re linking them in the right order

OODA loop

The whole concept of the OODA loop (Observe–Orient–Decide–Act) kind of fits in there, because part of this task orientation is to always be seeking feedback, observing how things are going from your latest action, orienting yourself to the new reality, making a new decision and then acting on it. And then going back to that OODA loop process again and again and again in real time with each little micro task that you take on. It sounds easy, but it’s not. All these skills require relentless practice.

How to build confidence

Michael Frank: How does one build confidence, self-belief, if they don’t have it?

Mark Divine: You know, there’s not many people in this planet who have self-belief in every area. We have such a negative society. And also the mind is geared toward negativity. There’s like twenty two ways that the mind is negative and only like eleven ways that the mind is positive. So you have a negativity bias and negativity leads to self-doubt, it leads to confusion, and it leads to a lack of clarity. And so what we have to do is eliminate the negative loops and patterns that lead to these belief systems and recognize that it’s all a story. It’s just basically a concoction. It’s a artifice of your mind. It’s a structure and you can change it. Just like if you want to rebuild your house, you can, if you want to rebuild your internal house, you can. You just have to decide to do it.

The tools to do that are skills like the big four, like the breath control to begin to get your body-mind system into a pliable, workable state.

And then we teach what we call the witness process, where you develop metacognition around the thinking processes and you’re able to start to see negative programming repeat itself over and over and over. And then we’d go to work on those by investigating them, reflecting on them, and then committing to eradicating them and overriding them with an opposite and more powerful thought system.

We call it feeding the courage wolf. The more you feed the courage wolf, the more you starve the fear wolf until he just curls up and dies. You can eradicate all your negative conditioning. It just takes time and it takes work. And that work is not done in the distraction of everyday life. It’s done in the silence of your inner practice on a meditation bench, with your journal, and doing that deep work.

For me that work is easily two hours a day. For most people that can’t afford that time and so they’re going to be doing it in 20-30 minutes a day.

The fear of failure (and success)

Michael Frank: Is that the same advice you would give to someone to overcome the fear of failure?

Mark Divine: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the fear of failure, is really the fear of the unknown. People have an equal fear of success. I actually see that just as much as the fear of failure. You’re basically saying, I don’t know what’s on the other side of this. What happens to me if I fail? If I succeed? How’s it going to change me? Oh my God, I might lose money. So what? It doesn’t mean you’re a different person or a bad person if you lose money.

Well I might lose respect. No you won’t. The people who are supposed to respect you will respect you. And everyone else can go take a hike as far as you’re concerned.

It’s just a story that you’re telling yourself. So you gotta learn to become the author of your own new story, you’re the prime subject, and you’re also the freaking superhero and the star, and so begin to write a new script for your plausible, then ultimately your probable future.

Why visualization is so important

Now there is shit that will happen to you along the way, right? This is why visualization is so important. And I’m not talking about like sports psychology practiced visualization. That’s useful for sure. We definitely do that. I visualize our shooting, I visualize all the different horizontal skills.

But I’m talking about using visualization to develop vertical capacity, vertical skill, to become a different and better person. So we use visualization in a future context to basically create an imagined future of who we are at our peak with the story of someone who is successful, who can dominate their missions, who is doing the right things for the right reasons, who is serving powerfully in their unique way. And I believe everyone’s got a unique calling and duty in life to serve.

And if you’re sitting on the couch and thinking yeah I missed mine, well then it’s time to go to work to figure it out because you really want to find that kind of fulfillment in life and to find that level of success that really significant level of success. Then you’ve got to align with your calling and your duty. So that type of work, you can start to ascertain that through insight, meditation and visualization. And then you create this image of what that looks like. So my image is 25 years out and it aligns with my mission of my company, and that is to train 100 million integrated leaders who have a world centric care and concern. So I have to visualize myself as the type of individual who’s worthy of fulfilling that mission and that vision and I practice it every day.

I call this a future me visualization. Thought imagery is very powerful. If you have a thought image of a future state or type of idea that’s not just fantasy, it’s actually got a probability of coming true, if you visualize it once, nothing will happen. If you visualize it a hundred times, nothing will happen. But if you visualize it every single freaking day for year in and year out, eventually you become that person. You just keep layering energy upon energy upon energy, until almost this mental image has like a weight of its own that creates this massive gravitational pull toward it.

I know that sounds kind of weird, metaphysical, but that’s my experience. You get gravitationally drawn toward the image that you practice every day. So if you’re mind is geared toward negativity, which we all are, or were, and you have this mental imagery of disaster and you obsess about everything that’s going wrong all that time and all the ways that you’ve been a victim, guess what? You’re going to get more and more of that because you’re basically stoking the fuel of that energy, which is just going to attract more of it. So we want to do the opposite. Then we can also use our imagery to basically create a new memory of our past.

Severing the negative ties to your past

So what we’re doing here, and this is very yoga like, and I’m a Yogi, there really is only the right here now moment. Our concept of the future is a mere abstraction. And our concept of the past, a memory based image, our concept of the past is also an abstraction. It just happened in a previous now moment.

So you can go back and change your relationship to things that happened to you in the past through your imagery, and create a new experience of the memory, of things that happened to you in the past. So past fuck-ups, childhood trauma, I had to do this with my childhood because there was a lot of energy and alcohol and violence, so I had to go back and recreate a new relationship with myself and my mom and dad and family who I love very much, and just not be a victim of any of that shit because whoever is reading this, if you’ve got that in your family, well that’s been going on for generations.

Know your parents did the best job they could and it may have fallen short. Most parents do. I have as a parent, I do the best I can, but I fall short, and as a child, especially as an adult child, give your parents a break, and take responsibility for your own shit and just go back and clean up the energy associated with it. Don’t be a victim. Don’t hold on to regrets. Regrets are like cancer. In fact, they will lead to cancer. Get rid of that shit. Get rid of all of those regrets, all that victim hood, all that crap that makes you think “I’m not worthy”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not strong enough”, “I’m not successful enough”, “I’m not fit enough”, that’s all bullshit.

It’s like you’re strapping these big rubber bands around yourself and every time you move forward, someone’s pulling those rubber bands and dragging you backwards. So if you’ve got a really cool vision of your future, but all this baggage in your past pulling you back, you’re never going to get there. So you’ve got to sever the negative ties to your past so that you can spring forward to that future.

How to stay calm under pressure

Michael Frank: How do you stay calm under pressure? When you’ve got bullets flying at you, or you’re just in some extremely high pressure stressful moment, you’ve done your mental prep work and you’ve bought yourself to the best place you can be beforehand, but what do you do in the heat of the moment to calm yourself down and to perform well under pressure?

Mark Divine: I do my box breathing practice.

Box breathing is an arousal control tool where you:

  • Inhale slowly for 5 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 5 seconds
  • Exhale slowly for 5 seconds
  • Hold your breath again for 5 seconds

It’s in a pattern of a box and you’re breathing through your nostrils.

This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is kind of your rest and digest. It’s going to calm you down. The brain is racing because you’ve got to perform. Well when you start box breathing, the brain begins to calm down. And so that’s going to lead to a reduction in the quantity of thoughts that arise. And so now all of a sudden you start to feel a little calmer. Now in this space that you create, you open up your mind, you’re going to create an image of basically you just crushing this experience, and you’re going to start saying to yourself a mantra.

The mantras that I use is: “I’ve got this” “Easy day”, “Piece of cake”, “Ain’t nothing but a thing”, “We’re going to crush this”, so you basically start talking to yourself and that’s feeding that courage wolf, which is going to override that fear.

How to identify your mission and purpose in life

Michael Frank: What advice would you give to someone to identify their mission and purpose and life?

Mark Divine: Well I have this process, I call it three P’s:

What is your purpose?

What are you passionate about?

What are your principles?

You need to ask these questions about your life.

I think that everyone’s got a unique purpose, but a lot of people confuse that with a job or a career or something like that. And it really isn’t, it’s more of an archetypal energy. When I identified my archetypal type of energy in my twenties and thirties it was to be a warrior and a leader, a warrior-leader. It wasn’t to be a merchant, or a bean counter, that was a different kind of energy, and it just wasn’t me. Even though I came from a business family, we have a private family held business in upstate New York that’s over a hundred years old and I was going to come back and run it someday.

It’s so easy and so common to get funneled into these traditional career paths. And once you’re there, you sometimes get locked in because now you’ve got the promotion, the grant money, and then you buy the house and you’ve got the mortgage and then you get married and you’ve got the kids and all of a sudden you’re like, holy shit, I can’t move, what else am I going to do now?

It’s pretty extraordinary how many people get locked in and stuck, because they never really identify what they’re passionate about and then go after fulfilling it in some way. So when I did this work, I realized that I was passionate about adventure, leadership, warrior-arts, I was actually a risk taker, I was definitely a physical culture guy, I was desperate to get my training in every day.

And then I started to think:

What’s important to me?

What are my principles, my guiding principles, my boundaries in life?

What do I stand for?

A lot of people don’t ask these questions.

So start to really identify what you believe in.

One of my principals was that money was necessary, but it wasn’t a main driving force. I wasn’t in this life to just accumulate wealth. That didn’t inspire me. It wasn’t one of my principles. But leading people, serving others, having very little interest in fame or being a rock star, none of that for some reason, I don’t know if it was beaten out of me, or I was born that way, but I just knew that money and fame and all that were false gods or false idols.

And so that all of that led me to ask:

If this is what I believe in and this is what I’m passionate about, how could this inform my sense of purpose?

I know people who think your purpose in life is to be happy or there is no purpose in life.

I call bullshit on both of those purposes.

Your purpose in life is not to be happy. Your purpose is to serve in your own unique way. A way that is absolutely unique and every one of us has a unique way, and it’s driven by your purpose, passion and principles, and it is formed by your specific character traits and your skill sets and also what the world needs.

So identify what you’re passionate about, what you’re principled about, and contrast those with the way you’re living and you’ll find a gap, and then use the information you’ve gained from those two inquiries to ask, what is your archetypal purpose? Where is the momentum telling you you need to go?

And then you meditate on that. And when I say meditate, I mean you sit in silence with a pen and a piece of paper by your side and you just sit there and you ask a question “Who am I?” or “What am I meant to do in my life?” and you ask for guidance from your version of God and keep a journal next to you and write down any insights that come to mind and you will get an answer eventually. It just takes time. You have to be patient. The silent whisper of your soul will be heard if you still your mind and sit in silence enough.

Keep thinking about it, kept meditating on it, trying to visualize it, and when you lock onto your purpose, your calling, this is when where the universe starts to line up to support you.

Setting and achieving goals

Michael Frank: What advice do you have in regards to setting and achieving goals?

Mark Divine: For me, I think that a lot of people are too mechanical about the way they set goals. They say, well I’ve got to have a financial goal, and a goal for my relationships, and a goal for my career etc. and I think that’s kind of weak.

I prefer to look and say what’s my purpose? Get clear about your purpose and that will be your big trajectory in life. And your mission and your purpose are distinct. Mission is something that I’m specifically doing that lines up with my purpose. That has a start and maybe an end or at least a time period to it.

So you got to clarify that mission and be very, very clear about what the objectives are, what your timeline is, and what you hope to get out of it. And then you take that mission and you chunk it down into the discreet targets that you’ve got to knock down to accomplish the mission. And so you might have five or six significant targets.

The front sight focus planning process

So then you take those targets once you’ve identified them, I have a process I call it the front sight focus planning process. So you put those targets to a simple filter. I call the FITS process:

F – Does it fit you?

I – How important is it?

T – Is the timing right?

S – How simple is it?

Does the goal or target fit you? Does it fit your personality. Is it the right target for you?

How important is it? Because a lot of people will go after the easy goals when they actually need to be going after the harder but more important goals first. And then sometimes the easier goals get accomplished in the process and go away. So make sure that the goal or target that you’re taking on is the most important one you have on the goal list.

Is the timing right? This is critical. You know, oftentimes we tackle things we’re just not ready for, or that we’re too late for. I’ve taken on a lot of things in my life where once I got into it I realized the timing wasn’t right and I had to actually break it down into a whole new mission and another set of sub targets to get the skills to even take on that target.

And then the last part is: How simple is it? Can you simplify it? And if you can’t simplify it, if there’s too many moving parts, too many people involved, too much time, too much money, too much uncertainty and unknowns, then it’s probably not a good goal, right? You need to find a way to simplify it.

So once you get clear that the target fits, then you describe it using the S.M.A.R.T terminology:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Realistic or relevant

T – Time bound

And so you articulate it, and then you use a really simple planning process to define an 80/20 plan, meaning a plan that is good enough to get you moving forward. And then you use that OODA loop process that I described earlier to fail your way to success. That’s my goal setting process.

How to 20X your potential

Michael Frank: You speak about 20X your potential, how does someone do that?

Mark Divine: All performance, everything in the world that we create or do, starts from the field of potential. And what I mean by that, it starts in your heart and mind. So in order to get 20X performance, to accomplish 20X more, to be 20X better, you’ve got to develop that potential in your mind first.

Everything we’ve talked about in this interview really is what we’re talking about in terms of 20X your potential. My whole philosophy is that you’re capable of 20X more than you think you are. The tools of accessing that are the big 4 skills, are aligning with your purpose and getting clear about your passion and principles. They are using the front sight focus planning and rigorous execution, OODA looping, and all of those are going to allow you to accomplish 20X more in service to humanity and with an elite team, and also to develop the character of the world centric warrior leader, someone who is just incredibly accomplished, but is also humble and cares for all of humanity in the environment, and is really doing good work in the world and leading by example in the environment and creating the environment of a more positive and sustainable world.

A mission critical time for humanity

Because these are some closing thoughts here, this is a mission critical time for us as humanity. We literally have to get out of our asses and figure out how to come together and start to see each other from a place of wholeness instead of separation, and a place of healing the environment instead of creating more existential threats with more nuclear weapons and more devastation in the rain forest, and just stuff that is stupid and comes from fear and separate thinking and ego and ethnocentric thinking.

Everyone is the same on the inside. We have the same fears, we have the same heart, mind and desires. And the only thing that’s different really is the color of our skin and where we live and the culture we were brought up in.

So what I’m suggesting is this training, to developing yourself vertically, to growing to become the best person you can possibly be, 20X your performance, which also means 20X your character. The who of who you are. That leads to this much more rarefied experience of life and great humility, great peace of mind. And then you walk in peace like Gandhi would say, be the change you want to see in the world. It really starts with each one of us. But we can have an amazing ripple effect. Imagine 100 million world centric warriors and leaders who are living, acting, thinking, breathing, and leading this way, then we could change the world.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mark Divine

Most people think mental toughness when they imagine a Navy SEAL. What they don’t expect is the thoughtful, yoga-innovating, joking and laughing, professor of leadership named Mark Divine.

At twenty-six he graduated as Honor Man (#1-ranked trainee) of SEAL BUD/S class number 170. Mark served for nine years total on active duty and eleven as a Reserve SEAL, retiring as Commander in 2011. His leadership of teams was so effective the government tasked him with creating a nationwide mentoring program for SEAL trainees. Not only did it increase the quality of SEAL candidates, it reduced BUD/S attrition rate up to five percent.

Mark formed SEALFIT a fitness company to prepare civilians for the physical AND mental/emotional demands of Navy SEAL-like lifestyle, and at the same time SEALFIT was beginning he co-founded Coronado Brewing Company, built www.NavySEALs.com the leading website for SEAL gear and information, and launched US Tactical, a government contracting business.  He also served as adjunct professor of leadership at the University of San Diego before the Navy called him up for duty in the Iraq War.

Mark has written the books Unbeatable Mind followed by The Way of the SEAL and 8 Weeks to SEALFIT and KOKORO Yoga, he also hosts the Unbeatable Mind Podcast and his website is Unbeatable Mind

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