“To me, mindfulness is this ability to realize that your internal dialogue or thoughts, if you will, or feelings–that they have value, but not all their value is created equal.”- Doctor Andrew Huberman
Neurohacker Collective and Unbeatable Mind have partnered to provide you with 15% off your first purchase of Qualia Mind if you follow this link and use coupon code UNBEATABLE at checkout. The code also works for their less expensive product Qualia Focus which blends greater affordability with nearly as many benefits. You save more if you get the cancel-anytime subscription of either, and there’s a 100% no hassle money back guarantee.
This week, the podcast has one of the most accomplished neuroscientists in the world on the program, Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford’s Huberman Labs. He joins Mark to discuss not only Qualia Mind but the entire field of nootropics in general.
Get your Qualia Mind experience started now with coupon code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 15% off to experience firsthand the power of Qualia Mind or Qualia Focus.
Value brain nutrition, and the profound effects it can have on your life’s experience.
In Part one of this fascinating interview, Dr. Andrew Huberman, a respected neuroscientist at Stanford University discusses the practical application of neuroscience, and the science behind breathing, visualization and other mental work that Mark has employed within Unbeatable Mind, the SEALs, and others.
Commander Divine and Dr. Huberman get in to how Eastern approaches often provide the practices themselves, while Western science is in the process of providing the evidence for mental practices. Insights into how your brain works and why these recommendations work, and how Dr. Huberman would like to see the language around neuroscience simplified so that the science can be used for guidance by more of the general public
Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on www.docparsley.com to get 10% off.
Love the Unbeatable Mind Podcast? Click here to subscribe on iTunes.We’d love your feedback, please leave a rating and review.
Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for joining me today. Welcome back. I appreciate that you’re taking your time to listen to this podcast and to share these interesting things that we’re exploring here, because I know your time is valuable and you got a million things vying for your attention. So super appreciate it, and I’m humbled for your attention.
Today I’ve got Dr. Andrew Huberman—we’ll just call him Andrew—who is a neuroscientist—is that right Andrew? Neuroscientist?
ok, not a brain surgeon, but a neuroscientist from Stanford and I’m gonna give a more formal introduction in a moment, but before I do let me remind you—and I’m gonna say this a few more times on this podcast.
But we’ve got our summit coming up, we’ve got about 20 slots left. This is an extraordinary event and it’s the last year we’re gonna run it in the same format that we’ve run. We’ll be changing it up next year so if you’ve heard about it and you’re on the fence then this is your opportunity to come. Maybe your last opportunity to come.
It’s November 29th to December 2nd in Carlsbad. Three days of really awesome Unbeatable Mind training. Some terrific speakers. Connection with your tribe—your boat crew. Accountability and we’ll be building our five mountain integrated training plan for 2019.
And if you’d like to come are you thinking about it go check it out at summit.unbeatablemind.com. And if you decide to pull the trigger I’ll give you $300 off and use the code POD 300.
Also a quick update on our Burpees for Vets. I don’t know, Andrew, if you’ve heard this but we’re doing 22 million burpees this year. We’ve got a small tribe of a couple hundred people who jumped on the bandwagon with me.
Andrew Huberman: Impressive.
Mark: Yeah, 22 million. And the goal is to raise money and awareness for vets who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. You know how big a problem that is. A lot of is associated with brain health. And meaning. And tribe, and traction… stuff like that. Just not really having a sense purpose after these guys get on the military.
So we’re suffering for them. So each of us have selected a number mine is 100,000, which means I’m doing 300 a day. Even on my broken foot right?
Mark: It’s no big deal. So we’re gonna raise $250,000 and it’s through the Courage Foundation. If you want to learn more go to bupeesforvets.com. If you want to check out the Courage Foundation go to feedcourage.org. Thanks for your support.
All right so here’s the formal intro. Andrew Huberman. American neuroscientist. Why did we have to say American…? Okay, neuroscientist. I’m just reading this… American neuroscientist.
He’s a professor up at Stanford University. He’s got his lab up there. He’s making super interesting contributions to the fields of brain development, plasticity, neural regeneration and repair. I’m gonna talk to him about a lot of things—breathing, neuroplasticity, how the eyes and the brain receive information and also affect your environment.
Courage and fear. So really interesting stuff.
Dr. Huberman got his PhD from UC Davis and did all his postdoc work up at Stanford. For a while he was down here in San Diego with the Salk Institute which is right down the road from me. He runs his lab—like I said, the Huberman lab—up at Stanford.
We’ve got a lot to talk about, so thanks for being here, Andrew. And I appreciate the personal visit
Andrew: Well thanks for having me here. I’ve heard a lot about you and your program here and I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Mark: Yeah likewise. As you know you know Unbeatable Mind and my background as a SEAL, and as a yogi, and as a martial artist is really the subjective side of neuroscience. Like I really approach things through trial and error. Through experimentation. And relying on the word of people who’ve been doing breathing techniques, and visualization, and meditation. And also my SEAL training and candidates who have succeeded.
And I always find it fascinating when someone comes from the opposite side of the spectrum. The objective perspective. To say what is really happening in the brain when you do these things. Or how can we combine you know objective and subjective, or east and west, to create a better or fuller picture.
But before we get into like details, tell us about yourself. Like where’d you grow up? What were some of the influences in your life that led you kind of on the path you are today?
Andrew. So I was actually born in Stanford Hospital. My dad’s from South America, my mom’s from the East Coast. They moved to the area long before there was Internet or Silicon Valley. And when it was a reasonably priced place to live for most people. That’s why they landed there.
My dad was and is a scientist. Is the theoretical physicist. There wasn’t much physics in South America, no opportunities for physicists, so actually he came to the United States on a naval scholarship.
Mark. So did he have to work for the Navy?
Andrew. He’s done some work in contract with the military, but he eventually became a particle physicist. He was involved in the early development of chaos theory. Yeah, so I grew up…
Mark. So you had some brains in your family
Andrew: I had some brains in my family. And my mom’s a children’s book writer and so you know growing up I would say from zero to about 12, I had a pretty normal childhood. From the standpoint of, you know, growing up playing with kids down the street. Everything was kind of typical American household.
And I had a lot of influence in terms of thinking about science and the world. And so I can remember a conversation with my dad. He used to walk me down the street on my way to kindergarten. And then he would let me go at a certain point because I used to pick up this young lady, also a kindergartener, to go to school. And he I think he said something like “you don’t want me there when you pick her up. It’s good if you just take her on your own.” he’s an old-fashioned guy being Argentine.
And I remember asking him and we both remember the conversation, so I don’t think we’re confabulating here, but I said “what do you do?”
And he said “trying to figure out how the universe works.”
And I said “do you like it?”
And he said—I’ll never forget his answer—he said, “For me, it’s like the same feeling that you have when it’s your birthday the next day. That’s how I feel every single day when I go to work.”
And I thought “wow. I like that…” yeah, I could relate to the feeling. And he was wise enough to tell me about the feeling because as opposed to giving me a bunch of details about what he did which I wouldn’t understand.
And so I said “okay, well I want to do that.”
And he also had the wisdom to say “actually, you don’t want to do physics. Because by the time you’re old enough to do physics, most of the major problems are going to be worked out.” and I said…
Mark. Do you think he was right?
Andrew. (laughing) He insisted… I have physics colleagues that might disagree.
Mark. That might be a myopic point of view, right?
Andrew. I think he felt like that there’s a Golden Age and a golden opportunity to get into science. And I’ll talk about that a little bit in terms of my neuroscience career, because I feel blessed enough to have entered neuroscience very young. And I really felt like I came into it at the best time in terms of tools in relationships…
Mark. And also, I see what he’s saying, in terms of like having a broad profound impact on the body of knowledge. as opposed to like when it gets more and more refined and you just study more narrow and narrow things. Once the field gets fully fleshed out so to speak…
Andrew. Yeah, if you want to crack into new problems that people haven’t had access to. I don’t really like the phrase low-hanging fruit, but in some sense low-hanging fruit.
And so I said, “Well what should I do then?”
And he said, “Well we don’t know much about the brain.”
And I said, “okay, well I’ll do that.” and so I remember that conversation…
Mark. So that was when you’re a teenager?
Andrew. I was six when that when we had that conversation.
Mark. No kidding.
Andrew: yeah. And I’ve always been very curious about the world. And I love animals. I think animal movement in particular. But animal cognition has a lot to teach us about how the brain works. And kind of its fundamentals. And we talk about that in terms of, you know… we love to think about the human animal so much in terms of our brain machinery and what makes us so advanced. But you know a lot of what drives us are more primitive circuitries that animals can tell us a lot about because each one represents a kind of extreme form of those circuitries.
In any event, so that was an early event that I remember well. And then for better for worse. Probably a little bit of both from about 12 to 19 I was actually a pretty troubled kid. My parents had a very high conflict divorce. And at that time there weren’t that many divorced families. You know, back then they called them “broken homes.” now you never hear that phrase, right?
And it was just one of these circumstances where I went from a lot of structure to very little structure. So actually spent very little time in high school. I was not a very good student. I got into a lot of fights. I was a pretty wild kid.
I fell deeply into the skateboarding community. Which was a great thing for me at the time. Actually, some of the guys that I knew back then have gone on to have tremendous careers in skateboarding and things related to it.
But there was really no parental oversight. I was never really into drugs and alcohol. Never really liked that. But I definitely had a lot of aggression. I had a lot of intensity and I didn’t know where to put it. So it was skateboarding and then again in fights and we were kind of…
We were feral kids. And so you know we basically just kind of ran ourselves and you know…
Mark. You had brothers and sisters?
Andrew. I had an older sister. but mainly I was hanging around…. you know skateboarding is an interesting sport because you get kids… you go to a skate park and you get kids that are like 6 and 7 and 8 and 9, hanging out with full-grown adults.
Andrew. And so I was exposed to a lot in those years. And it was a small community then… and so I say for better or worse, because I feel really blessed to have had that kind of freedom. And exposure.
So I started spending a lot of time in San Francisco. Hung out with a lot of guys that who grew up a lot harder than I did. Saw a lot of drugs. Saw a lot of violence. I had a good friend get killed. I had a good friend commit suicide. A good friend do enough methamphetamine to go schizophrenic.
So I was exposed to a lot of kind of hardship
Mark. I can see that being the good side, right? I mean as hard as it was, you got the school of hard knocks early in your life
Mark. The other thing I might point out is, now knowing what we know about how the brain develops for a teenage brain to be doing skateboarding and all of that complex dynamic balancing and constant movement and pushing the envelope of what the body can do was probably pretty extraordinary, you know I mean?
Mark. I don’t know if you could ever like reflect back and how your brain would have developed if you hadn’t done that, you know?
Andrew. Yeah it’s interesting. working you know… in some ways it has a lot of similarities to science in the sense that you know you I got comfortable working very hard at one thing over and over and over and over.
Andrew. And there was some social reinforcement for getting it right. And it was a lot of fun. And it hurt. And I’m comfortable with pain. I understood the relationship between effort and pain and outcomes pretty early on.
And so I continued that for a while but then it became clear to me that I wasn’t gonna be a professional skateboarder. I wasn’t gonna do much.
And at that at that time I had my first girlfriend and she made the good decision to go off to college so she went off to UC Santa Barbara. Where I realized that if I didn’t get down there I was gonna lose her. So I actually camped out in the parking lot outside her dorm because I was a year behind her in school. Hung out.
And at that time I had pretty much dropped skateboarding and I gotten into Muay Thai kickboxing.
Andrew. I really liked the martial arts. I needed something to put my aggression and my energy into. And Muay Thai showed up in my life and so started doing Thai boxing and loved that. Went off to school in Santa Barbara. Somehow—I have no idea how—but I took the SAT and I managed to get in. probably some early schooling helped me there with kind of the basics…
Mark. Did you graduate from high school?
Andrew. I did graduate high school. Not with high honors. You know actually I showed up, at graduation a lot of people were like “what are you doing here?”
But went down to Santa Barbara and my first year was a total disaster. People were partying hard. I was just totally distracted by the social component and still getting into fights and just really, just kind of a mess.
And so it was January 4th, 1994—I remember very well—I got into a fight with a bunch of guys. It was totally pointless. It was one of those things… like most street violence, it could be avoided. I mean, they initiated it, but there was a there was an out and I didn’t take it. and I remember walking back to the place where I was staying at that time—I was delivering bagels, living with a pet ferret in this like squat of a place because I had learned in those years why pay rent when you can just stay in an empty place? I’d become pretty street smart.
Andrew. But that day I realized that you know “okay, I’m 19 years old. This is not going anywhere. You know, sooner or later I’m gonna end up dead or in jail.”
And so what I did is I moved home, put myself into Community College. I didn’t quit Santa Barbara, I took a leave of absence which is different. Moved home. Went to Community College. I consider briefly becoming a firefighter because I liked physical engagement. I think physical engagement is really key still for me now in terms of kind of anchoring and practices.
But I just… I made this decision I said “okay, I don’t care what it is, but I’m gonna do something in academics. Because I think my body might not keep up over time. I don’t know if I can ever become a professional athlete. But I think I have a pretty good mind. And I was blessed with that by virtue of maybe some genetics and some early upbringing and I’m gonna give it a go.”
And so I went from basically like a straight C student to a straight A student. I went back to Santa Barbara. I lived alone and for me it was weight training, running, and studying. And I set my goals then, and I wrote them down as a PhD at 30. I wanted to be a professor by time I was 35. And I want a 10 year by the time I was 40.
You know I’m happy to say made those marks. Not without a lot of not without a lot of commitment and work and sacrifice. But I had so much fun and then…
Mark. And naturally studying brain… that came from your father and that early childhood stuff.
Understanding How the Brain Works
Andrew. Yeah. So, you know, I’ve committed my adult professional life to trying to understand how the brain works. How it can change. And then in more recent years, I decided, “look, I think academic papers and publications and coming up through the ranks is great. But there’s a lot that neuroscience has to provide the general public. How can I educate the general public about those things? And also start to connect with people that are familiar with practices that can make us better?”
Much in the same way that people can augment their physical body and health—there are ways to make your mind better. And so this is an especially suitable podcast to be discussing this…
Andrew. So I made… I have a couple friends I’m close to who were in the SEAL team community. Some friends in the martial arts community. People in the art community. You know, I think there’s a lot to learn from every—I don’t want call them subcultures—but from these micro-tribes and tribes. And some of those more clandestine tribes, as you know, have real gifts to offer the general public in the form of things that are not just information but are actionable. And I think the mind is still to me the most exciting and important problem that for me to work on anyway.
And anyway that’s the arc of the story.
Mark. The mind is everything, right? Everything that we create in the world comes from the mind. First we think it… we see it, think it, and then we create it.
You just described basically the whole rationale behind my program Unbeatable Mind. I mean, I started training SEAL candidates in 2007 and, I don’t know if you know this but I’m it’s interesting to talk about.
I was very much… because of my experience in SEAL training, because my deep immersion in Zen and the martial arts—and I would do these like long retreats at the Zen mountain monastery where we’d mix hardcore karate training with Zen monks you know sitting us down for hours a day. I had a profound transformation through those immersive environments.
And so when I started training the SEALs, at first I was doing it on a government contract and that was they wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do. And fortuitously I got that contract stolen from me by Blackwater. Billion-dollar company.
And so I said well I’m gonna start training people you know just privately and people who want to pay. You know, are okay to pay. That was the foundation of SEALFIT.
And then I said “I really want to create kind of an American warrior-monk Academy and so I launched a 30-day SEALFIT Academy. And people were coming and living with me. Only like four or five or six at a time initially.
And so for 30 days I would train from you know 5:00 in the morning until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Sometimes around the clock. And we would cap it off with what’s now the 50 hour Kokoro camp which is like a Hell Week simulation.
And these individuals were just going through this and crazy transformation, like physical studs, and totally focused, and they’re all going through BUD/S and just dominating, right? 90% success rate.
Mark. Well during this period you can under…the physical part was pretty easy. I put together elements of CrossFit and strength training and Navy SEAL style training. And I said, “What do these guys need to do to be prepared for combat? Let’s prepare for combat. If they’re prepared for that then BUD/S will be easy.” So that became the SEALFIT operator WODS.
But then I said “well, where do I have the draw for the mental training?” because the SEALs didn’t do mental training, believe it not it. It just kind of happened. They had one class for me, when I went through BUD/S, on the big four. And it was interesting, but they didn’t teach us how to do it.
And so I said “well, where else have I gotten this training?” I said “well, I got it from Nakamura and the martial arts. And I’ve gotten it from yoga. And I’ve practiced this stuff for years on my own. So this is what it’s going to be and so I built Unbeatable Mind and it was all basically coddled together from practices that have been around for thousands of years.
So the information for how to develop the mind is old, you know what I mean? It’s old. The whole science of yoga. Tibetan Buddhism, Zazen Buddhism, all this is all about mental development.
Mark. and now we…you know, people think it’s some mystery and so I kind of like to take the Fu out of the Kung-Fu and just strip it from all that cultural bullshit and just offer it up in simple practices like the box breathing we talked about.
Science and Practice
Mark. So anyways, I don’t know why I needed to go into that history lesson there. But I thought it’d be informative like that’s where I’m fascinated. But like I said earlier before we started, I don’t really have much and what’s happening in neuroscience. Besides what I’ve read and podcasts with folks.
So I guess bringing it back to you, what is the sweet spot for you in terms of how you can educate the public on a way that they’ll accept it. Besides just “hey Mark Divine’s a Navy SEAL and if he says it works, it must work,” right? Because for me that’s gotten me so far but…
Andrew. You guys have a lot of credibility.
Mark. We have a lot of creds, but we need the science behind it. So what’s the sweet spot in terms of educating the public about how to improve their brain’s functioning and health and whatnot?
Andrew. Yeah, I mean one of my main directives for my life at this point is to try and educate people about what we do know about how the brain works. Because I won’t claim to know everything about how the brain works, certainly. And we don’t as a field yet know. I mean, it is extremely mysterious still.
Mark. And when we’re talking about the brain, you mean the biological organ of the brain? Or you are you talking about the mind?
Andrew. Yeah, probably the proper way to phrase it would be the nervous system. Because that would include the brain and body…
Mark. Brain and body.
Andrew. And then of course… and all the things that interface with the nervous system… like the gut and the vascular system. So the whole self really.
Mark. So do you believe that the body is the mind? The whole body? And the brain would be the executive governor agent?
Andrew. Yes, except that I prefer to just think about as the nervous system. Because you know, for instance there’s… and some people are now hearing more about things like polyvagal theory… and I know the vagus…
So I teach neuroanatomy to medical students and have here a long time on San Diego at Stanford. And if I were to pull out the vagus nerve from a human and placed it on the table in front of us you would be blown away by how extensive this thing is. It’s a superhighway. And the idea that the vagus nerve is only parasympathetic, sort of more only on the, you know, quote-unquote “calming” end of the nervous system… is just false. It’s got sympathetic branches. It goes everywhere from up near the ears to enervating all these internal organs. It’s like its own…
Mark. And the Vagus nerve goes down the front of the body right? It’s not related to the spinal nervous system.
Andrew. Not intricately, no. and so it has so many branches with so many connections that you could almost think of it as its own main branch of the nervous system. So we have central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, there’s enteric nervous system which is the gut presenting when your gut is full.
Mark. And these all relate with the vagus nerve that’s the heart-mind and the gut-mind is what we’ve been… at least, what I’ve been intuiting in the research. That communicates with the brain through the vagus system?
Andrew. That’s right. That’s right. and so, you know, my lab these days is working a lot on how peripheral states—meaning breathing and heart rate and levels of autonomic arousal—interface with how the brain proper… the part that’s in the skull… is working to influence decision making under threat and things of that sort. We could talk about that…
Mark. Before we go there, is there any condition where an individual would be cut off from their vagus nervous system? Just like you know you say a spinal injury we were talking about my friend Dr. Jon Atwater who has a spinal cord injury. So he’s obviously cut off from some of the functioning of his…
Andrew. It’s an interesting question. I’m not aware of any. I mean the vagus nerve like most peripherally located nerves will regenerate. So brain and spinal cord central nervous system won’t regenerate after injury. There’s some stem-cell addition. There’s some capacity for regeneration, but by and large it doesn’t regenerate on its own.
Whereas the peripheral nervous system, if you cut a peripheral nerve it regrows at a very predictable rate of about a millimeter per day.
Andrew. The exception to that would be cold-blooded vertebrates like fish and frogs. You can basically take out an eye—which is part of the central nervous system—cut the optic nerve, stick in a new eye, and it’ll regrow. So the central nervous system of cold-blooded vertebrates regenerates like gangbusters. We don’t. Nobody knows why. Lot of programs looking at that.
So one of my main directives is to try and educate the public about what is the basic kind of structure of the nervous system as it matters for them? And then also to illustrate some key points about the brain and how it works?
So for instance a lot of people like to think in terms of lizard brain versus more cognitive brain. That’s fine. And they like to think in terms of like okay the amygdala is fear. One thing I’d really like to get across—I’ll just use opportunity as a point to get it across—is that the brain doesn’t work that way. The way the brain works is a lot like a song on a piano you would never say that one key, say, you know d-flat, is the song. Just like you wouldn’t say that the amygdala is fear. The amygdala is one component of the fear response. It’s really a process, not an event.
Mark. The amygdala is just the mechanism that senses good versus bad.
Andrew. That’s right. So amygdala… probably the best way to describe the amygdala’s role is not as a fear station, but one involved in threat detection. so this is a safe environment—especially with the crowd that’s located in this building—but if someone threatening were to walk through the door we would orient to that and assess it and the amygdala is going to be activated under those circumstances.
But the actual quote-unquote “fear response” is harbored in a different set of structures things like the stria terminalis—the names don’t matter. That another thing I’m trying to do, is kind of demystify that the fact that the naming actually means anything. These are just structures that were named because neuroanatomist stumbled on them and they needed a common language. So I’ll try to use as few acronyms as possible. I’ll try and use as little mysterious language as possible.
so I think that if people understood that every thought, every feeling, every behavior was actually the reflection of dynamics that is lots of brain areas becoming active activated in sequence, they might—my hope is that they might start to think about their thoughts differently. So, you know, a thought I like to think of is just kind of like a pop up when you don’t have a good filter on an internet connection, right?
And they really don’t have any meaning. It could be spontaneous firing of some key on the piano, so to speak, or some neural no structure in the head.
So when you start thinking about what should be driving your behavior or decision making, you want to be very selective about what’s coming through. And I think that’s the kind of mindfulness that we that’s vaguely discussed. You know, mindfulness… we haven’t placed a clear definition on mindfulness for the public. That’s something else I’d like to do. Flow, mindfulness those are great terms for conversation, but putting a sharper definition on them is important.
So the opposite of mindfulness would be mindlessness and I can’t measure that. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a useful term but I think to me mindfulness is this ability to realize that you’re internal dialogue or thoughts, if you will, or feelings, that they have value but not all their value is created equal.
And I think once somebody starts to do that and starts to think about their brain as an organ which isn’t perfect but is designed to do certain things and understand what’s designed for…
Mark. Not only is it not perfect, but it’s seriously biased
Andrew. It’s seriously biased. That’s right. Then I think you can operate from a place of more control and anyway that’s… those are two of the major directives. The other one is really about plasticity. I’d love for people to understand better about what the brain’s—I haven’t found a way to say this yet, but I’ve been searching for one without making it rhyme—but their capacity for plasticity is really immense but it’s very different than the kinds of things that allowed people to shape themselves when they were children. As an adult you have the ability to script your own neurology and be truly whoever you want to be in terms of personality, behavior and feelings, but it takes some real work.
And the question is what is that work? And you’re obviously developing programs and have developed programs to do and complete that work. And how does the general population access that?
Mark. Right. You brought up so many interesting things. Let me start with the last one. So I agree with you a hundred percent, like you can create whatever outcome you want you know within the boundaries of your genetics and epigenetics right? So you can if you want to completely transform who you are. If you want to learn something radically new, like if I wanted to go master rock climbing… I’m not probably at this age gonna climb Half Dome, you know, without ropes or you know I mean…
Andrew. You might
Mark. (laughing) Maybe. You never know. But the important thing there is to choose wisely right? Because there’s only so much time and if you choose something that it’s not in alignment with something you’re passionate about or something that you know is gonna be meaningful to you then you’re wasting your time.
and I have this… where I’m going with this is I have a little bit of problem with the hacking community even though I’m you know I’m an investor in Neurohacker like I know you are. But I’ve always been teaching people that if you want to change your life, transform yourself, then you need to practice. And that practice has a daily methodology to it, right? And it’s got to be consistent, it’s got to be repetitive, you got to be disciplined with it.
And at first it doesn’t seem easy, but then slowly it becomes joyful. Until all of a sudden you’ve become that which you’ve chosen to be your destiny.
And I think the hacking community has missed that and they’re just looking for quick fixes. it’s almost like, you know, take this pill… do this breathing exercise and some of it… you know, breathing exercise we’ll get into that you know I don’t want to go down this rabbit hole too much but some of them can be downright dangerous.
Andrew. Yeah absolutely.
Mark. You know and I mean? And not everyone should be doing Wim Hof or whatever. You know I mean?
Outside-in Versus Inside-out
Andrew. Absolutely. I think that… so one thing I’ve been trying to do in recent years is I’ve been on what I call sort of a listening tour of what’s out there and trying to place some structure on it in order to make better decisions for myself and the practices that I undertake. And also try and help evolve some of the language and direction around this. I can already sense that we’re aligned in in this idea that you know you have to be considerate of where you’re trying to get to right what you’re doing.
so a distinction that I’ve come up with recently, and I’m certain I’m not the first to come up with this, but the way I like to think about things is anytime someone’s talking about a practice or a or a tool or a pill or whatever it is… to think about tools for augmenting or changing the mind that are either inside out or outside in.
And so coffee, as I’m drinking now, is an outside-in tool. I want to get a bit of an autonomic arousal lift so I do something or ingest something. Great.
But there are other tools that are inside out which is… we could do a breathing protocol or I could just close my eyes and think about something that really excites me. And I can start generating shifts in my nervous system that are equally powerful, right?
Neither one is good or bad. It’s just a question of when you elect to use one or the other right.
And I do think and I’ll risk saying that individuals who have a lot of inside out tools and know how to access them in real time are more powerful individuals. Because they don’t need stuff and they know they don’t need stuff, so if they’re drinking coffee, that’s great they can still enjoy that. It’s not about being some sort of austere monk, but they know and I actually would love… I risk saying, you know, real confidence is knowing that you can handle yourself in a variety… in spite of circumstances, right?
And so it’s interesting… you know, I have a couple close friends—as I mentioned—from the team’s community and we don’t talk a lot about the work that you guys did, obviously you guys don’t talk about for good reason.
But I think that what’s interesting is that many of them—perhaps all of them—have a tremendous number of inside-out tools at their disposal. I know people outside the teams community that have inside-out tools at their disposal. And they acquire a different approach to life.
Also, because—like in science—the military is deeply steeped in protocol. And the idea that you have to crawl then walk then run. I’m not gonna walk someone into my lab and say “okay, let’s publish a paper in Nature.”
You say “let’s come up with a great problem and let’s brainstorm it.” and then you know you iterate through a number of different steps that sometimes goes three years, you know? The rewards come very seldom right? And most people won’t even recognize those rewards. So there are some similarities there.
But inside-out tools I think are extremely valuable. Outside-in tools are extremely valuable. The biohacking community has been mainly focused on consumer products that are outside-in.
Andrew. And they have their place, but I think that ultimately it’ll be the people who really think deeply about evolving these inside-out practices—like yourself. I’d like to someday include myself in that camp, but for now I’ve mainly been trying to figure out what’s out there. And there are tremendous tools—as you mentioned—that go back thousands of years and so, that’s a key distinction and that’s one that I just like to offer up.
Mark. I love that I would… and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. the way I look at it is some of these outside-in tools for the layperson who doesn’t have experience with the inside-out or didn’t have a Zen master, like I did… they’re are a heck of a great way to begin the process, but if that’s all there is, then they can become a crutch.
And the problem with that is when the shit happens—which it always does—your crutch isn’t going to be there for you. And if you can’t activate the mental process internally then you’re kind of lost.
Andrew. you mentioned something that I’m intrigued by, especially a lot lately, was the idea that I think people assume that big things are gonna come from big changes, but I’m starting to pay more attention to the literature and some of the more evolving research around dopamine reward for small incremental changes. so in addition to believing—and this is just my belief—that people that have a lot of access to inside-out tools are quote-unquote more powerful individuals in life or can steer their life in the directions they want, I also feel that the dopamine reward system can come from external sources, right? People, applause, social engagement. Those kinds they’re all very important. Tribal connection is very important. Social engagement’s very important.
But there are people who are very good at self-rewarding without announcing it to anybody. And if you can move small steps… if you make small steps in the direction that you want to go. And you self-reward even just by telling yourself “good job. I’m doing well. I’m not failing.” or “I’m failing, but I’m gonna fail better.” whatever language you want to use, the self-reward mechanism is something that I think hasn’t been discussed much. And is actually the most powerful prism we have to evolve ourselves.
Because—as you mentioned—when the stress response hits… I would say every practice is great but show me how someone handles it when their pulse rate is 150. You can meditate all day, but then when you’re stuck in the freeway and you get that text message that says something that’s really disturbing or troubling or emergency, that’s the test, right?
Mark. it’s interesting because one of the first things we do with the SEAL candidates is say you can’t regulate your psychology until you regulate your physiology. Because the physiology would just send your psychology out of whack, you know I mean? So that arousal control, primarily through breathing, but also through the internal dialogue is critical. And then, it’s the internal dialogue that gets your mind under control and framed in a positive you know that’s self-reward like you talked about.
And then you’ve started to create the conditions to where you can make better decisions it’s pretty interesting right? There is a there’s a distinct process right? And so part of the teaching of the public is, you know, you don’t go from zero to hero, you’re not gonna immediately go from crisis to mindfulness. First, we do this to regulate the physiology, to trigger the autonomic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. And then we do this to begin to shift from fear to courage from negative to positive. And then we’ll do this to begin to open the space, to be able to see things more clearly and that’s that flow state. And to make much better decisions in that in that crisis. And that can all be trained. Which is a beautiful thing, you know? I say we have these skills we call the Big Four and we train them. And when you train them it becomes an automatic flow activator. You just start doing the process, boom, boom, boom. And then boom, you’re in flow state. It’s powerful.
Mark. That was a little advertisement there by the way.
Andrew. No it’s great.
Mark. Unbeatable Mind works.
Andrew. No it’s great. I mean, I think the idea of breaking down a task into a smaller set of steps is fundamental. You see this across disciplines—whether sport or military or elite military or academic. and then… so I guess one thing that I’d like to offer up is this idea that you know there’s this kind of weird shame around self-rewarding because we think that people, you know… it’s kind of shameful to say “oh, I did such a great job because I pointed my running shoes in the direction of the door in the morning.”
But that’s actually probably what you should be doing. You have to tell anybody. This stuff can all be covert.
Mark. It’s like McRaven said, “Make your bed. It feels good.” Applaud yourself.
Andrew. That’s right. And it’s in the direction you want to go and so iterating that over, and over, and over. I always say people that can convert stress and thought into task completion are remarkable people.
I see this in my in my laboratory right? I have a graduate student right now—who incidentally is working on fear and courage—and she’s remarkable. And she’s remarkable in her ability to show up in lab, and regardless of what’s going on, to move in to task completion and to continue doing that until she has to go off and complete her next task. She has this ability to just kind of set the horizon at whatever she can control. Complete that move to the next thing.
And it’s funny, she’s actually probably the one person in my lab—including me—who’s not tethered to a lot of social media and distractions. And so that might be a component. It might be chicken/egg here, so we don’t know what’s what. But I think that micro-rewards… micro finishing lines, and being able to establish those for oneself… it’s something we’re not trained in as young people. Maybe the skateboarding thing, I learned a little bit of that because you try, try, try—slam, slam, slam, and then make it, you know?
And I do think that a big reward at the end of something… you have to be working in service to or in pursuit of something big. That’s the purpose part. But I think in recent years there’s been a lot out there… I’m a big believer in the kind of “why” stuff and purpose and mission. But we focus so much on that, that I think we’ve moved away in this culture around personal evolution from trying to understand how to get more out of the micro increments.
Andrew. Now as simple as just telling yourself inside “good job.” and you think, “well that’s kind of silly. What is that worth?” well it’s worth what you didn’t say in exchange for that. That you’re wasting your time or whatever it is. You know, every positive thought is a replacement right?
So this isn’t just motivational stuff your neurology… you can’t really attend to more than two things at once, so I’ve always thought “okay, I’m not gonna suppress negative thinking. It’s never gonna work for me. So can I use it as a vessel right? You take it for a ride or it can take you for a ride. And I think that’s… we’re talking kind of abstract terms here, but the deeper neurology to support this is in the form of the stress response in reward mechanisms. And these are primitive, hardwired systems in the brains of all animals, and you can imagine… so let’s just pretend that we were a small, foraging, doglike creature. Without a whole lot of opportunity to plan past 5, 10 minutes—or a day.
Let’s give the dog some benefit. I like dogs so they could plan for a day. Dinner tonight. So that animal is gonna start foraging and looking for what it needs. And when it finds it, where it gets on a scent, you can absolutely bet that it’s gonna reward itself. or it will be self rewarded internally without consciously realizing “oh, I’m on the right track.” it’s not gonna say “I’m on the right track, but maybe I’m not gonna find what I need.” it’s gonna continue to hone its exploration, so that eventually when it arrives at the food or the kill that it needs, or the water that it needs, or the mate that it needs… there’s the big payoff in the form of food or mating or kill or whatever it is that that animal cares about.
And so the dopamine reward system is kind of getting pulsed all along internally and then there’s the big bolus of reward at the end.
Mark. You just described a large percentage of our population, by the way. Those who are stuck in survival mode right? Around the world. It’s not unlike that.
Andrew. That’s right and there are opportunities for dopamine rewards everywhere in our environment and so I think even every day… likes on Instagram there’s nothing sinister about likes on Instagram. But you have to ask yourself are you foraging for those?
Mark. It’s an external micro-reward.
Andrew. That’s right.
I was gonna ask you about that cause they’re starting to be a lot of research now on the addictive quality of our devices. Whether you’re cruising social media on your computer, but most people now on your smartphones. And my son is, you know, got stuck fortunately he didn’t grow up with it he didn’t have it until… because he was born in 99… So he didn’t have it until as I eight or nine. So I think his brain had some grounding and you know that alternate universe that you and I grew up in. but now he’s completely stuck on the damn thing yeah
Andrew. Steve Jobs, who was local to me growing up, used to talk about you know why he would wear the same clothes every day.it was because he felt like he had a limited number of sort of decision-making units and so that just kind of took care of that maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but that’s what he said. Makes sense to me.
I think I’d like to suggest the idea that we have a limited number of focus units per day, as well. so the ability to kind of set a goal and then accomplish that goal and then move the horizon to a new goal is something that we do visually… so 40% of our brain, as humans, is visual… and the visual system, every time…
Mark. Does that include visualization?
Andrew. That includes visualization and kind of associative areas.
Mark. Okay. So imagery and processing external images through our eyes, plus internal imaging.
Andrew. Right. And all sorts of things are happening subconsciously. like emotions of others, and kind of conditions or spatial units… like what the layout of this room is something that my brain has made sense of without me consciously really right thinking about too much.
So we’re such visually driven animals. And so every time you orient, or what we call foveate where you take the foveae, which is the high acuity area of your eyes, and you move them to a particular location in space. There’s an arousal that’s associated with that. An autonomic arousal or vigilance. And there’s some costs to that.
It’s not bad. I don’t say cost in that it’s depleting you. But it’s there are a fixed number of units…
Mark. It’s an energy drain.
Andrew. It’s energy. And you don’t think about it, because it’s like the penny slots, right you’re just kind of dumping pennies and you pray. You know, you do that long enough and you’re gonna be out of you of your ration of money. And so you have your ration of energy units. But the ability to do this is actually fundamental to all animal’s evolution and survival.
So if you look at a lion, for instance, most of the time they lay around during the day. They’re in a very parasympathetic state. And their gaze is not fixated on anything in particular. They’re licking themselves. They’re sleeping. They’re kind of…
Now at some point during the day, or week, they decide to hunt. And at that point, everything changes about their physiology. And they start to anchor their vision in what’s called a vergence eye-movement, where their eyes now move together. They foveate to a particular location in space. And now they have to make some very careful space-time assessments about how fast animals are moving. How fast they’re moving. Their degree of camouflage. They’re using theory of mind to think “how visible am I by that other animal?”
So they’re now thinking for the other animal. A very intense set of operations.
Then they go out, they hopefully get their kill. They eat, and then they go back to this parasympathetic state.
humans on the other hand, even though we have this ability to transition between these more panoramic vision type relaxed modes and foveated goal direction modes… the phone in particular, but all day long we’re in these foveated, attention consuming modes. And this is something my lab is actually working on.
In contrast to the lion there are animals… all grazing animals… which essentially just graze for grass. They have panoramic vision to detect predators, if they were to show up. But an animal like a cow or a sheep or a goat is essentially a lawnmower… and want to take away from their… with a heartbeat. I mean, I don’t want to take away from their other you know wonderful… I love animals of all kinds.
But they’re grazing, grazing, grazing and all they have to worry about is if there’s a threat. They’re so placid, that if one of the members of their species is picked off by us or by a lion, they go right back to grazing. They’re not traumatized. And they’re so placid and they’re always in panoramic vision. And so one thing we’ve been experimenting with in the lab is the extent to which being in panoramic mode allows you to relax your autonomic nervous system very quickly. And when you’re in foveated mode you’re in kind of a vigilance state. and so the phone is… it’s a new invention for humankind in which rather than driving and listening to music and going into panoramic vision—which is what happens when you drive—you’re working purely on peripheral vision—which incidentally is faster processing—you can detect things coming in much faster.
Mark. More information.
Andrew. Boxers learn to relax and not get fixated on the guy’s shoulder, or the guy’s feet, or the guy’s chest or anything, because you can actually start to see things coming in and kind of an arc-like motion. You shift into what’s called the magna-cellar system which is much faster, bigger pipes, faster communication, more or less in the nervous system. Bigger axons. Faster electrical communication.
When I foveate, I’m looking at details, I’m starting to process. It’s very costly. and the phone and reading your phone is… and we’re gonna have data on this soon, so this is still kind of in the mode of hypothesis and speculation… but the phone is draining your attentional resources every time you look at it and read. And we didn’t evolve to do this which do not say that it’s bad, but some people have a lot more attentional capacity than others. Now the thing that resets your, kind of, attentional unit is very clear. And that’s sleep.
And what’s interesting about sleep is during sleep not only is there plasticity and learning, but sleep is the one time in which your space time relationships are completely untethered. If we were in a dream right now and one of your old SEAL team buddies walked in through the door, and then my dog walked in, we could have a conversation about that. Wouldn’t be weird. It’s like a psychedelic trip in real time.
But it’s the space-time fluidity. There’s something about sleep that allows us to anchor our ability to set goals, micro-increment, micro-reward, work toward purpose. And I find it very interesting so much of the early SEAL team screening process is… yes it’s physical, right? But from what I understand—and I’ve never gone through it or been there—but there are guys who show up who can do an immense number of pull-ups, push-ups. These are physical specimens that are way beyond the norm or the mean. But, ultimately what starts to cull people—and there are multiple things that cull people for my understanding—is sleep deprivation. Where you take a normal function human being and they fall apart. And so a lot of what you’re screening for in a process like that is who can maintain this ability to set a horizon. Move toward it complete. Then go into panoramic vision. Figure out “what’s required with me?” find a new fixation point. Complete.
You’re just describing the life process in kind of a microcosm. Whereas if you’re only in panoramic mode, you’re never gonna survive, because you’re never gonna set a goal and go. This is the “chill-out” phenomenon. It’s great, but you have to balance that with the hyper-focus.
So it’s the ability tether—or toggle rather—back and forth between hyper-focus and panoramic life, if you will, that really I think makes people effective or hyper-effective.
Mark. I love that.
Andrew. And I think it can be trained up.
Mark. It totally could be.
Andrew. I think the training… I think the screening process selects for people that are have a ton of natural ability for that, but as your training program suggests in the higher numbers of people then get through, it’s something that can be learned.
Mark. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew. And I’m very interested at how neuroscience can help contribute to—not only that for purposes of military—but also for the general public, because I think the people don’t suffer from lack of motivation necessarily. I think it’s just that their energy is just poorly distributed.
Mark. Yeah, and research on willpower is basically saying that as well. As you make decisions during the day, your willpower… and basically what they’re saying is the energy that your brain is using is tiring you out. And you make poorer decisions toward the end of the day
Andrew. So every time I look at my phone, I try and ask myself, “am I gaining something or giving something up.” maybe it’s neutral. And the phone is here to stay. I mean it’s…
Mark. For sure. It’s just how we interact with it right? I’m like you. I’m trying to, like, reorganize my life around how often do I need… do I even need to bring this with me, you know what I mean?
It can do so much that we’ve allowed it to do that stuff… that now we need it all day long, because it’s our banking, it’s our email, it’s our texting, it’s this… and phone. So maybe we need to untether some of those things and just leave the phone at home so it doesn’t distract us and degrade our performance.
I did want to mention that in my book “The Way the SEAL,” I have a whole section on training relaxed gaze and focused gaze and I relate the story of as a SEAL patrol that’s patrolling along in the dark toward a target. And they’re all in relaxed gaze or it’s just soft, and especially at night, obviously, you have to use your peripheral vision. Peripheral vision is relaxed gaze. Night walking is relaxed gaze. And it’s just basically attention is turned inward. The energy is flowing inward, it’s sucking in information—like you said. I love the language you use—it’s processing very fast.
And the imprints are looking for pattern, so your brain is looking for patterns. And for the SEAL, those patterns are recognizable, until they’re not. And as soon as they’re not and that could be a twig snapping over here. Or a sound of a round being chambered.
Then they snap immediately into focused gaze, right? Which you called foveal—I love that.
Why do we always have to come up with weird words for things in the medical community? Like, why can’t we just call it focused?
Andrew. Well it’s interesting, things are named mainly on structure, not what the structure does. Which is unfortunate.
I think there’s a great opportunity to evolve the nomenclature around neuroscience in the years to come. I’d like to be a part of that. Insofar as it serves the audience right?
Because neuroscientists being able to talk to other neuroscientists is useful. But the general public also given that most people are taxpayer dollars paid…
Mark. Most people aren’t going to pick up a book neuroscience.
Andrew. That’s right.
Mark. Like, “I don’t understand this.”
Andrew. That’s right, and I think changing the language is something that is important or making it accessible.
Mark. Yeah. That’s interesting I love that. I love that. And it can be trained. You don’t have to join the SEAL teams to train focused and relaxed gaze. And there’s great benefit.
You know, think about as a leader being able to really zero in on a task or you know another person’s issues to help them. But then to be able to, like, scan and just start to feel into what’s happening. Let’s say you’re in a board meeting or you’re giving a speech even. I mean, you can back and forth. Shifting.
Andrew. Yeah. I find I get a lot of questions about neuroscience and interfacing of the public. And one of the ones I get more often than not is what do I think about this idea that there are hidden capacities within us? For some reason we’re intrigued by stories like “oh this person had a stroke and then they could play the piano.”
and I think one of the great capacities that we all harbor in us and a lot of people have accessed these, but many more haven’t—is this ability to set a goal on a micro-scale, accomplish that goal, and move to the next thing.
It just it hurts a little bit. I think… and I’m not the first to say this. But things like confusion and strain, and effort, that’s actually your brain trying out different configurations of firing to see what works. It’s not supposed to feel good.
So I think as a culture, there’s more and more… certainly in the fitness culture there’s this idea that kind of growth is at the edge, it’s in those final reps, it’s in those final miles or steps that you really grow.
But I think the same is true for mental operations. I love the idea of a flow state and moving into things where things are seamless, and fast, and wonderful. but I can honest some of the hardest mental work I’ve ever done then is the work 2 days later you get the insight or you get the understanding. I think most people don’t like that feeling. And yet we all crave growth and so I think looking at the stress process as a point of growth is something that I think is starting to take hold more.
On the idea of stress I just was reminded… I sometimes joke about the wellness community not to poke fun at it, but to kind of prompt its evolution, and what I mean by that… so I feel like there’s kind of three major approaches to stress. One is it can hijack you. Nobody wants that. So there’s no there are no books out there on how to how to get hijacked by stressed more often. That’s not what anyone wants. That we all seem to be decent enough at that naturally.
Mark. (laughing) That’s an opportunity.
Andrew. That’s an opportunity, right. And then there’s the opportunity to learn how to tamp down stress. And that’s where most of the literature and information and is out there, right now. Learning how to how to control the stress response. I think that there’s value in that.
Andrew. And then there’s this third category which I call adaptive apathy which is the learning how to how to not care. Which is a different approach, but probably not a good one.
But then there’s this fourth category that I’m very intrigued by. I’m feeling you’re in this category. And it’s a much rarer one, which are the people who have realized that with stress, there’s an opportunity to excel beyond their existing capacity. That there comes a point in which not stressing is not an option. Because the stress response is actually something to grab onto and ride to higher levels of reform.
Mark. Stress itself is just stress. You have you-stress and you have distress. we want to get away from distress and we want to you know get toward you-stress which is the type of stress where you control the response to it, and you use it—like you said—to bring you to a higher state of awareness, or growth, or experience.
So I think you’re right. That’s one of our key trainings. The stress itself is just… it is what it is. There’s always going to be something that can trigger stress. It’s your response to that… whether you use that for growth or to go a little bit deeper into something. Or do you shy from it?
Human beings… we grow through challenge. We have to experience a little bit of suffering. If we don’t, then we experience a lot of suffering by letting the world just have its way with us.
Andrew. Yeah. I agree. And I think the kind of passivity that comes from just constantly seeking pleasure is really kind of… it’s insidious and then it inevitably leads people to be unhappy. and so we’re talking kind of in coarse terms about you know and I’ve been very struck by the extent to which physical practices—at least in my life and in a lot of my observation—has been the best entry point to mental practices. and there’s one reason I like talking to the fitness and some people in the military community—is that they’ve already embraced the idea that they’re trying to get better, and they’re looking for things to get better.
Now this ability to kind of set goals, micro-reward and head towards greater rewards is the formula for plasticity. It is what the brain needs to do, as for any species, in order to know how to get wins in the future. and I think that most people—if you’re lucky enough to grow up with a little bit of hardship, and things mostly okay, or even a lot of hardship—you get to the point in life where if you survive your teens and 20s, where you get very good at doing that in a very restricted and narrow corridor of challenges.
And this I see across all domains I see it in… And there are exceptions of course… but I see it in people in the military, civilians, business people, men, women… doesn’t matter. Myself included—I’m not unique in this regard. We get very good at learning how to do certain things well, and a lot of things so-so.
What’s intriguing to me is that the process that can be used to learn lots of other things… or any other thing, rather… or get good at something, or setting new purpose, is exactly the same. It’s this idea of defining the end goal. And if you don’t know, at least having enough trust that you’re moving in the proper direction. And then this micro-… and what I’m calling micro-rewards, micro-self-rewards. Leading to some bigger, larger reward.
And what’s interesting is that the kind of failures of a lot of people—there’s some very public figures right now that I won’t name—you look at how could they be so effective in one domain of life and such a colossal failure in another? Or so colossal bizarre in another?
And I think it’s because, this process… we’re a lot like other animals, where we get very good at one or two things and not good at a lot of other things. But our human capacity lets us be good at a lot of things. So what I love about the kinds of programs that you’ve developed, and that I think are getting extracted from a number of different sources. And hopefully will be formalized for the general public—I think they should be teaching the stuff in schools—if I had known this stuff when I was in elementary school or when the brain is exceptionally plastic. We can actually learn a process a set of operations.
Just like learning chin-ups—there’s some skill to learning pull-ups or chin-ups, but really the more important thing is not about pulling yourself above the bar. To be able to do that over and over. It’s about “well can you climb a tree with that?” okay, can you understand something about physical effort that can then be translated to running. Or translated to reading. Can you start to look at the commonalities between those things?
It almost sounds kind of trivial, but in the end it’s the core operations of the brain that are important.
So a lot’s been made in recently about connect domes. Like this connects to that. There’s trillions of neurons. The more important thing to understand about the brain, is it works in algorithms. there are there are mathematical formulas which we don’t yet understand as a field that the brain computes about space and time, and self, and other, and empathy. Which are immensely complicated, but they translate across domains, so that you can go in—especially with your training—into an environment and assess that environment. Assess that environment regardless of who the players are, and make adaptive decisions about it.
That’s an algorithm. And so what I said earlier about… I think that’s the sense of self-assuredness and confidence that people want.
The more narrow your abilities are the more scared you should be about how you’re gonna function in life. And yet we’ve sort of trained ourselves not just to be distracted by technology, but we tend to be hyper-productive in other… to me the most dangerous situation is to be hyper productive, income-earning, and kind of good at one thing. And then broadly distracted, and kind of… a lot of noise and chatter about everything else. Because that to me is a very, very poorly directed life.
Mark. Yeah. I agree.
Andrew. You need that component of success, but then at some point to realize yourself I think and I think we’re missing out on a lot of potential in the world because we haven’t learned what the core operations are. And I don’t claim to know them, but I think they have something to do with understanding how one as an individual through self-reflection sets goals. What holds them back?
I’ve spent half a day thinking about my own procrastination. Which sounds kind of like academic, idiot’s, nightmare thing.
Mark. (laughing) Procrastinating thinking about procrastination.
Andrew. But actually, by the end of that day, I had a short list of the things that kind of limit my ability to move forward. And a small list of things that allow me to move forward. And gradually was able to kind of unbolt myself from that.
So yeah I don’t think there’s any replacement for hard mental work. The good news is, it doesn’t last that long.
Andrew. Anyway, that was a little bit of a riff, but I wanted to make sure that got out there.
Mark. So to pick up on that riff, we talk a lot about integration. And so, you know, my philosophy is that the human being is a body-mind-spirit system, right? It’s a very complex system and a lot of things going. A lot of algorithms going on.
But you can’t divorce that, ultimately, and this is what we’ve done in our society you know we do a little physical training. We used to do it through PE, now we don’t. So some people are fortunate, because they have some aptitude in that area, and then they get into sports whatever, and they experience the benefits.
But a large swath of society doesn’t. So then they get disconnected from the body. Well that removes at least one-third of the equation, right there.
We get strong cognitively and intellectually through our academic process, but even that’s incomplete, because we’re not training the whole mind, the whole brain. And we’re certainly not training the heart-mind, the belly-mind, we’re not training as an integrated whole. We’re just talking about memory and consuming information which really limits us.
So that means the second part which we’re actually strong in, is in complete.
and then the third part, you know, spirituality or spiritual strength or working with Qi or energy or you know life force, through breathing practices, through meditation, through visualization, through spiritual practices which are human practices—have been stripped out of that. And we’ve been led to believe that spirituality is basically do I go to church? And am I a good person? It’s the moral aspect—the moral side and the structural side. So that third aspect of being human has been stripped of the most powerful components.
So in order to solve this problem we have to reintegrate. In order to reintegrate we have to look at the human being as a whole body-mind-spirit system. So the way we do that is to say “okay there’s a physical component. There’s the mental component. There’s the emotional component, which is actually part of the mental, but, you know, we want to separate it to get people to understand it better.
Then there’s the intuitional component. Which is like the real subtle aspect of your mind. Learning to really experience what the messages of your gut, and your biome, and the entire nervous system and the vagal system. What’s that telling you? What’s the information mean? How do we process it?
Our belly and our heart don’t speak to us in you know symbolic language. It speaks to us through imagery. Speaks to us through sensations and through feelings, gut reactions and whatnot.
And then the last part we don’t use the term spiritual because I don’t want people to confuse it with religion. But how do we find deep purpose and connect to our whole mind? So the fifth is really more of an outcome as well as some practices.
And so if you start… if anyone listen to this, they’ve probably heard me talk about the five mountains. You start to practice every one of these or you have disciplines around each one of these five mountains. And then you do them together every day. So your workout becomes a five mountain training plan, right?
Where you link a very important purpose to the training. You begin the training by where the breath practice which is going to… breath is the bridge between all three of these, the body, mind and spirit, so the breath is going to train your physiology. Balance your physiology. It’s going to get you clear in your mind and start training you… what I call the perceiving mind, as opposed to the cognitive mind.
And it’s going to connect you to the deep wellspring of energy that lies… “Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere.” now we visualize the workout. Which is beginning to train the intuitive mind, right? And we anchor our workout to the emotional outcomes that we want right? Success, greater physical health, looking better in our bathing suit this summer… all that kind of stuff.
And in that way we can take a simple thing, which used to be just going to the gym, and turn it into a transformative practice. An integrated transformative practice. And over time what happens is physical improves, the mental improves, the emotional improves, the intuitive improves, the Kokoro heart-mind in action, spiritual line improve. And instead of being gravely dysfunctional human beings where we’re strong in one and weak on all the others—like you described. We start to level up.
And then all these start to… your whole body mind system starts to work in a much more evolved and refined fashion. Which is experienced as better decisions, more peace of mind, contentment, overall systemic health.
I mean, it’s just so simple, yet so profound. And it’s hard to study for a scientist it’s hard to break it down and study right because there’s so much going on there.
Andrew. Right. Yeah, there’s a lot going on there. And, you know, I’m struck by how it’s part of a these are things that are accessible on a daily level. I was born and raised and live in the land of retreats. We have amazing places where people can leave… and these exist elsewhere too right? Where you can leave for two weeks and get total decompress. So the whole notion of doing… of working like crazy and then resting like crazy to me it just seems nuts. To me the much more sane and useful practices are gonna be the ones that you can implement daily. And you just described how you know you can incorporate the mental into the physical and even some other components as well.
I think that there isn’t a lot of you… you know, if I have one wish it would be that just as we have physical education classes—or at least they used to—in elementary school and high school and middle school. That some scientifically grounded self-reflection, self-directed plasticity tools would be taught in schools.
Because then you would essentially generate an entirely new cohort of people that had an awareness. I think it’s starting, and I think that will happen. I think that, if I may, there’s a concept which as you were telling me this it kind of comes up. I don’t think that there’s any specific lab result that we can tie to the holistic practices that you guys have developed.
But one thing that’s interesting, is when you start to think about the human capacity… the human brain’s capacity to set notions of time. So when we talk about purpose or a goal or what’s the meaning of life? What you’re really doing is you’re starting to dilate and contract your notion of time.
So in sleep, space and time are totally fluid. Anything can happen, right? Abe Lincoln can walk in the room and you won’t think it’s strange. So the way I think about the mind is the following—imagine a kind of a glass sphere and that’s you. And I believe that you’re always to some extent focused on your own self.
And then there’s another sphere which is your second point of focus, and I believe that it’s very hard to have more than two points of focus. I don’t think we can have three points of focus.
And that second point of focus… maybe, maybe some… maybe you can… but for sake of discussion, the second point of focus, like the coffee mug or you or our environment. Or we can focus on something totally different like a concept, or the future, or the past. And those two things are tethered to one another, because my physiology is going to react to whatever it is that I visualize and see.
Now that tether is can be set at whatever distance I want. so you and I—if we really want it, and it would be meaningless—but we could set the tethers that we’re both concentrating on the number of dots on this coffee cup and counting them and creating meaning on them etcetera.
While we’re doing that we’re not thinking outside the space. We’re in the immediate space-time environment. And we’re anchored to it. That kind of process is very important for task implementation. If I want to do something, I need to be very focused—I think you described this in your book as the front-sight focus, right? Did I get that right?
Andrew. And you have to be very focused on the task at hand, and that horizon point. But then at some point in order to be effective, you have to be able to loosen that tether, dilate out your focus, and then pick the next point to orient to.
Repeating a little bit of what I said earlier—but that ability to reset the tether and then focus on an additional focus point is extremely important in being a functional human being.
Now if I dilate out my concept of… the reason this has to do with time, is the moment that I make that focus outside our immediate environment… the brain is starting to think about contingencies in a different kind of time reference. Like, “what’s the scope of my life? Where’s my meaning come from?”
Those are great thoughts to have, but if you become anchored in those thoughts too long, you’ll never actually complete the things that are required in order to go anywhere. Just as if I’m too focused on what’s right in front of me, I’ll never actually stay in touch with the bigger picture.
And so the kind of—as you describe these practices that you’ve developed what I’m struck by is that the workout, if you will, that you describe is incorporating a lot of different time reference elements. So the breathing I always think of as kind of the second hand on our life. It brings you into the here and now.
Being in the here and now is great. Unless you’re depressed.
Mark. The here and now is timeless by the way.
Andrew. It’s timeless.
Mark. Until you get back into your cognitive mind. The cognitive mind is always gonna be linear, right? So you’re gonna have the sense of past and future. The present is… like you said—the breath can bring you into the present moment. And being radically focused in the present moment it’s hard to think. Cause thinking gets us back into time.
Andrew. That’s right.
Mark. That’s fascinating. But you can still be… if you’ve trained…and this kind of brings up what we were talking before we started… if you’ve trained your body relentlessly, then your body is able to spontaneously act in the present moment, without the cognitive capacity being switched on. Do you agree with that?
Andrew. I completely agree.
Mark. Which is where you get the flow.
Andrew. That’s right. And so I think that setting these points of focus at any one location is not really the key. The key is to… you want to be in dynamic control of the tether. What I mean by that is the human being who can move their point of focus at will. And sometimes focus on self, sometimes focus on outside, sometimes connected to both simultaneously. And constantly thinking about where they’re placing their focus, or even letting the tether go.
I like the concept of micro-recovery. As I walk between buildings and meetings, I intentionally let the tether go. because if I’m looking at my phone, or I’m thinking about what I’m gonna do in the meeting, I’m missing out on the opportunity to kind of micro-recover and I be better prepared when I show up.
Mark. Mm-hmm. We teach that in a workout. You put the kettlebell down, you’re not thinking, you’re not planning you’re not strategizing. You just soften your gaze. Start breathing through your nose. And even just one or two seconds you can have a lot more recovery mentally and emotionally and physically.
Andrew. Yeah. And so I think… so I guess this is all to say that if there’s a take away protocol, that maybe the listeners or the viewers would like to think about, it would be starting to cultivate their own internal practice around where is their focus and how effective are they at moving that focus, from the inside out alright? And I feel like we set up a lot of our life conditions around trying to do this well without realizing what we’re doing. We try and get a good night’s sleep so that we can do this well. We try and eat right and consume caffeine in the proper ratio, so that we can do this well.
And all that’s fine and good, but what I love about the practices that you’ve developed and that other… I guess a lot of some of that probably comes from the work in the teams and other communities… that it’s really about taking internal control of that process. and I would almost say layer that on to a little bit of what we were discussing earlier, which is every time you can do that, even for a moment, to reward yourself in the form of self-satisfaction that you know a thought where that means you’re you are navigating in the most adaptive way through your life.
It doesn’t mean you’re cut off and strictly goal-oriented and non-empathic. The opposite. Sometimes in conversation the best thing to be is empathic. Other times it’s just to listen, right?
So I’m very struck by all the language that’s been used in the psychology and wellness culture to describe things that I think are very useful. The question is when and how and what’s the algorithm? So I was always struck by these sayings like absence makes the heart grow fonder. Yeah? Well, I’ve also heard out of sight out of mind. So which one is it?
It’s both right? It’s the ability to move through grief by focusing on something else. And it’s the ability move through grief by feeling grief intensely. The question is can you toggle back and forth as necessary to be an effective human being.
And so you look there are entire books, there are entire programs, there are retreats, there are whole concepts built around doing one or the other. And I love the integrative process that you’ve developed here, because it’s really about that dynamic control. And what it takes to be effective in essentially any mental or physical environment.
And so that’s what I mean when I talk about an algorithm. As opposed to a set of protocols.
So of course ultimately the listeners might be thinking “okay. That all sounds fine, but how do I do it?
Andrew. Okay, so your programs would be one example. Or learning better concentration is one. But also learning how to let go of concentration and learning how to relax on demand is another. And that’s something that can be practiced and cultivated.
The brain was designed to do this. We evolved the machinery. And it’s embedded in us. And it was designed for a good purpose.
It’s just that most animals are perfectly fine with a couple core operations and they’re good. You know, my bulldog, Costello, I take care of the rest. He doesn’t have to worry about it.
Whereas we worry constantly and that worry I think was designed to get us to try and optimize. The problem is we’re not optimizing.