“When I’m writing the book, I know I’m giving it 100%, my all. I take it all very seriously. I have to. To turn out a book a year and have them be ones that people can’t wait to read the next one.” — Brad Thor
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Brad Thor (@BradThor) is a well-known novelist who has written 18 extremely successful thrillers. His most recent book, coming out July 3rd, is called “Spymaster.” His main character is a SEAL and he’s immersed himself in the world of Special Operations to make sure that his books are accurate. Mark and Brad talk about the difficulties of writing, the value of Stoicism and a more optimistic approach to current politics.
- Brad’s rituals to keep himself motivated to write the next book
- Participation in the Red Cell to imagine upcoming threats to the United States
- Making sure that you can put this political era in proper perspective so you can appreciate everything about America
Find out how Brad maintains an unbeatable attitude so that he can keep writing new books every year.
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Hey folks. This is Mark divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks for joining me today. Super-stoked you found time in your busy day to listen to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. We have a wide variety of guests, and today’s guest is a little different and going to be really, really interesting to talk to. It’s Brad Thor, who’s written 18 novels. He’s known as the master of thrillers. And his protagonist is a Navy SEAL who saves the world again and again.
Anyways, I’ll introduce Brad a little bit more in a bit. Before we get started, as many of you know, I am really trying very hard to raise awareness and money. And to directly help veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. In particular, those who are suicidal.
It is a big problem. And we know suicide’s been in the news quite a bit. It’s an epidemic. It’s a real problem. We gotta do something to help. What I can do is raise money and awareness. I’ve committed to do 100,000 burpees this year. I’ve asked a team… I’ve challenged a team to join me to do 22 million burpees. And that number is because it’s ridiculous, it’s an outsized challenge. It’ scary. And it’s motivating. And it’s gonna suck.
However, I’ve got about 140 people who have joined me already. We’ve already got close to 10 million of those burpees in the bag. Fully committed. We’ve already raised 125,000 dollars. So we’re practically half way there. It’s incredible.
I’ve passed 50,000 burpees. Started January 1st, I do 300 a day. And man, what an interesting process that’s been. My goal is 100,000. I’ll hit that by the end of November. I’m not going to stop until December 31st.
I know we can do this. Now we’ve had football teams join us, and do like max burpees in a few hours. We’ve got people just donating as a sponsor to my team, or you could start your own team.
Check it out. We’ll do some other cool things during the year, but if you want to do the real suck, just choose a number of burpees and go do them for us. Burpeesforvets.com is where the information is. Help us help them. They suffered for us, so let’s suffer a little bit for them.
The other thing I want to talk about real briefly is my new book… my new I should say, edition… of my bestseller “The Way of the SEAL,” is out. And I’m really, really stoked about this. I’m actually… I was really proud of the original edition, but I’m even more proud of this.
It is really good. I’ve added 2 new chapters that are really relevant for leaders. One is called “Leading in Accelerating Times.” And the other is called “The Secret of Elite Teams.” I’ve updated the book. I’ve added some new stories. I’ve added key takeaways at the end.
It’s now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc., etc. And if you order it… if you’re interested and want to get some copies, go to our site. Wayoftheseal.com. And you can order books in bulk for pretty decent discounts. I’ll sign them all.
I’m waiting for someone to do the 100… order 100. Cause I’ll also do a Zoom call with you and your team.
And we also have a free workbook. Like a PDF workbook with all the exercises in the book. This has been extremely useful for a lot of people to learn how to think. And how to lead like an elite warrior. And many of you know that this is really the leadership application of my Unbeatable Mind principles that we teach in our Unbeatable Mind training. Online training and our 3 day academy. And our inner circle coaching program.
Okay, so check that out. wayoftheseal.com.
Now, Brad Thor. Brad is huge bestselling author. His first book he wrote in 2002. It’s called “Lions of Lucerne.” He wrote a book called “The First Commandment.” “The Last Patriot.” His new book is called “Spymaster.” It’s out July 3rd. You can pre-order at Amazon today.
Like I say, he’s written 18 of these political, espionage type thrillers. He’s shadowed black ops troops in Afghanistan. He was part of Homeland Security’s Red Cell. This guy’s the real deal.
Lives in Nashville and father, husband–all around great guy. Trains his ass off. Has a bunch of friends who are in the teams and in Spec Ops. And we’re going to have an amazing talk.
And I have a little confession to make. And I told Brad this. Because I am recording this intro after the show because I forgot to press the darn record button. For the first 5 minutes of our conversation.
I know, I laugh, but what a dunce. Sometimes, you know, I even amaze myself. So we’re going to cut into the conversation where Brad is basically saying “Hey, the mind’s a terrible thing to waste.” And that is so true.
So don’t waste your mind. Let’s listen to Brad and I have an amazing conversation about a lot of things. Including politics, and the whole… what’s happening in the world today. The future. The process of writing. What it was like in Afghanistan. All sorts of cool thing, so…
Here’s Brad. Hooyah.
Brad Thor: My favorite slogan is the United Negro College Foundation slogan, which is “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” And I switched it to, “A Mind is a terrible thing.” Period.
Because I think we’ve all got that little voice in our heads that can talk us out of doing things. For risk of embarrassment, failure. “What if this doesn’t work?”
And that was me. And I shipped my laptop back to the United States and I traveled with the money I had saved. I didn’t write anymore.
Came back and continued to avoid being an author. I actually launched a television show on public television. A travel show.
I thought seeing the world… my dad saw the world with the Marine Corps. My mom saw it with TWA. I had that bug. And I thought seeing the world made me a better American. Because I got to realize how incredibly fortunate I am to live in the greatest country in the history of the world. It’s brought more peace, more prosperity. It’s done more to elevate people out of poverty.
I mean, the United States is really an aberration. In fact, a buddy of mine, Jonah Goldberg, has got a book out right now called “Suicide of the West.” And he talks about how the last 300 years are just nothing like anything in human history. How the force of ideas has moved us from grinding poverty and death–either in warfare, or from some gut-wrenching disease–into incredibly long life-spans. This is the best time ever on this planet to be alive.
Mark: Right. The best of times and the worst of times.
Brad: Exactly. And my kids have picked up on what I say… they hear me say a lot in interviews… which is… What’s the old Chinese curse? May you live in Interesting times.
Mark: Right. I love that.
Brad: So I pitched this show to public television. It was avoidance behavior on my part. I was a chicken. I was running away from doing what I feel… I really believe that that which you’re most destined to do in life is the thing you’re most afraid of.
And so I did the show on public television. It was incredibly hard, cause you had to raise the money for it and everything. I loved my job. I loved putting on this TV show called “Traveling Lite.”
And after two seasons, I got married. And on my Honeymoon, my wife asked me, “On your deathbed, what would you regret never having done?”
And before I could grab the words out of the air and shove them right back into my big fat mouth, I told her. “Writing a book and getting it published.”
She said, “Fine. When we get home you gotta make that… Start spending 2 hours a day protected time. No phone, no Internet. You’re gonna make that happen.”
And that was really the genesis.
Mark: No kidding.
Brad: Yeah, that was it.
Mark: Wow, man. Your Wife was a real instigator. Good for her.
Brad: I’m very, very fortunate. Without that push, Mark? I don’t know that I would have done it.
Mark: Yeah. So you’ve written 18 thrillers, or 18 non-fiction works. What was the first one? That first one you wrote that she kind of kicked you in the butt to do? What was that about?
Brad: So they’re all fiction. I’ve done 18 of them. And the first one is called “The Lions of Lucerne.” And that introduces my main character, Navy SEAL Scot Harvath who attracted the attention of the Secret Service while as part of a protective detail for the president when the president was near the water. Had kind of foiled something and the Secret Service says, “You know what? We really need somebody to come over to the White House and help us with our counter terrorism stuff. You’ve seen it up close. Come on over.”
Harvath does that. Goes to work for the president. Ends up becoming his kind of “Go-to” guy but not after something terrible in “The Lions of Lucerne” happens and Harvath has to unravel it and recover the president.
Mark: And so what’s the difference between that first book you did, and the 18th book which is “Spymaster.” How is your process changed? Obviously, you’re probably a lot more confident.
Brad: Oh no. I’m going to shock you here. So first of all, the feeling of writing the end… completing… Getting to the climax of “The Lions of Lucerne,” my first novel. I’ve gotta imagine it’s the feeling that somebody gets climbing their first mountain. Running their first marathon. It was an incredible feeling. I would never go to my deathbed wondering what my life might have been like if I had just summoned up the self-discipline to sit down and write a novel. Because it really is seat of pants to seat of chair.
So that feeling is great. It always feels great to finish a book, but it’s that first one was incredible. Because it really was a watershed moment in my life.
You’d think it would get easier… and it does not get easier. In fact, maybe it’s my good Midwestern work ethic, but I raised the bar higher for myself every single time I write one of these things. Because I think I owe it to the people who read them. Those are my bosses. They’re my customers, but they’re the people I work for.
And I kind of caught a conversation he was having back and forth with somebody else just saying, “You know, everybody… Freddie Forsyth and LeCarré and Clancy… they peaked at some point. But I’m not seeing it. Thor really does push himself. He doesn’t rest on his laurels.”
It’s probably one of the most flattering things in my what? 20 years of being at this. It’s probably one of the nicest things that’s ever been said about my writing.
Mark: Yeah. That is pretty neat.
You know, but a lot of people think, “Okay, you’re a fiction writer. You probably just sit down and kind of imagine this scenario. Visualize it. And then you structure it, and then you just start writing.”
That’s not the case, is it? You go out and get dirty and you have to like… you’re out in the field. You’re studying these guys in the real world. And getting ideas that way, right?
Brad: Absolutely. And there’s a set of rules. So just because I’m in the fiction realm doesn’t mean that I’m not constrained by certain realities. So what you did by helping the romance author, I couldn’t do what I do without people that I can ping. And I know some pretty neat guys from the teams that are always available to me. Some people from the Intelligence world. Some of the unit guys.
I mean, people in a bunch of different places. And I joke… I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing. “Bag of Bones” is one of my favorite books that he wrote. I think I like it cause it’s got an author as the protagonist.
But I tell people that I don’t want to say Stephen King’s got it easier than I do, because I’ve never walked a mile in his shoes. But Stephen King can invent the entire world that he’s writing about.
I can’t, all right? So I have to… because I’m gonna hear from guys like you. I don’t ever want to do your podcast or somebody else’s and they say, “God. Why did you have that SEAL team carrying those weapons? They would never carry those?” Or, “that’s not how we would make an entry into a building.”
So I actually… having not been a SEAL, I have to double, triple, quadruple check every single thing I put in the books. Because it has to be authentic.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Have you ever been critiqued for getting things too close to the truth? For giving away secrets… I know you’re not, but…
Brad: Yes. So, but that happens before it gets published. So I always make sure that if I’ve been talking to somebody about a subject… Or I’ve been talking to a group of people about a certain subject that I go back to them and let them see the manuscript. Because sometimes people will tell me point A and they’ll tell me point C, and I’ll invent point B. And point B is way too close to the truth.
And I’ve had people ask me before either don’t put my name in the book, because they’re going to figure out I told you. Or better yet, that should entirely be changed. Don’t want to ruin your story, but you can’t let that piece of information out.
So I would never a) want to endanger anyone who’s down-range. National security.
And I also wouldn’t want to poison the well with people who help me, with these books. So if somebody says, that’s gotta be out, it comes out.
Mark: Mm-hmm. It comes out.
Telling the Future
Have you ever had a situation that you concocted come true in real life? As if someone was reading your book, and like, “Hey, that’s a good idea. I’m a terrorist. I’m gonna do that.”
Brad: You know what? I have had a couple of things come true. I did a whole thing about Abu Nidal. Who was really terrorist number one before Osama Bin Laden showed up. And as that came out, the Iraqis announce that they’ve found him, and that he had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head 3 times. It’s probably the only suicide in history where somebody shot themselves in the head 3 times.
Mark: (laughing) That’s hilarious. “Oh, that first time wasn’t good enough. Let me try it again.”
Brad: Yeah. “Let me just make sure I’m dead. I hate… whatever you do, don’t underdo it.”
So that was one. I was talking to the head of security for American Airlines as 9/11 happened. About a hijacking. And I mean, it was like the week of… or just leading up to 9/11. And I remember saying to my wife, “You better start baking cookies. Cause I know the FBI’s going to show up here. Asking why was I doing all this research, and asking questions.”
And the head of security at American Airlines was fantastic. But he wasn’t giving me any information. We had a mutual friend, and he’s like, “You know what? You’re the author. Make it up. I’m not going to give you any ideas on how to hijack our aircraft.”
So that’s just a couple of things. When we traded Bowe Bergdahl for the prisoners down at Guantanamo Bay, I had opened one of my books with a prisoner exchange, and I had said, “Okay, we’re going to trade 5 prisoners.” Which was exactly the amount of prisoners we traded for Bowe Bergdahl.
I could have said 6, I could have said 4. I chose 5, to trade for a guy. And that’s exactly what we ended up trading for Bergdahl.
So sometimes it’s dumb luck. Just mixed with paying close attention to the news. And history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.
Mark: It sure does. Now do you try to kind of track current events pretty closely? Or do you just create stuff out of thin air that wouldn’t really have any relation to current events?
Brad: I track them. I’m a real voracious consumer of news. So a buddy of mine said that a… and I believe it was actually Brad Meltzer… who’s a great author. After you’ve read all my books, I highly recommend Brad Meltzer. He’s got a great sense of humor. We tease each other a lot.
But Meltzer had said that a thriller writer’s job is to beat the headlines. And I think that’s true. That’s one of the hallmarks of my books. A lot of the stuff you’ll read about in the books, you’ll hear about within the year or within 2 years happening.
You’ll go, “God, that guy Thor was ahead of the curve.” But the stories themselves are all meant to stand the test of time, too. So there’ll be pieces where you can say, “Wow, he called it before it happened.”
But you can go back and read “Lions of Lucerne,” my first book now, that came out in 2002. And it’s evergreen. It’s like it’s happening today.
Mark: That’s cool. I love that.
Do you find a lot of people who find you… pick up “Spymasters” and end up going back to the beginning and reading the whole…? Is it like a series? Cause your author kind of threads through. So you must kind of develop a relationship with him as a reader.
Brad: You do. But the great things is my book are meant to be stand-alones. Early on in my career, my editor had said, “Listen, the last thing you want is for somebody to walk into their local bookstore and see your fifth book there. But they can’t start with that 5th book, cause they haven’t read the other 4. Don’t do that. Make sure that every book stands alone. And if there’s anything you need to know about the main character, it’s said within a couple of sentences at some point early on in the book.”
So if you haven’t read one of my thrillers before… go ahead and start with “Spymaster.” It’s the most current. And hopefully I will have hooked you, and you’ll want to go back and read the previous ones cause you enjoyed the main character so much. And you want to see what brought him up to that point.
Mark: Right. That’s interesting.
Now I mentioned earlier, but you like to get out in the field and observe real-world guys and girls doing their work. What are some of the coolest and/or most dangerous things that you’ve been involved in in this type of active research that you do?
Brad: Well, probably the most dangerous was several years ago I’d gone to Afghanistan. So I think that was 2008 when I was in Afghanistan. So that’s more than several, now… that’s 10 years ago.
And it was… didn’t have any contacts so there was nobody shooting at us. Heard plenty of people shooting, but nobody shooting directly at us. It was a fascinating experience. We went in thin skinned vehicles. Sometimes in local garb. Visited a lot of villages, but not a single one that we weren’t invited in by the village elders so that we were protected by the Pashtunwali. That code that they would fight to the death to protect us.
Mark: Right. Saved Marcus Lutrell, right?
Brad: Right. They Hollywooded up the ending there, in the movie. But, yeah, in the book, when they put Marcus in the cave and kept bringing back that stank Pepsi bottle filled with water. That Marcus tried to destroy, bury, hide. And they kept finding that Pepsi bottle and bringing it back to him. Filled with just some rank water.
But they saved his life and it’s a great story. That book… it’s an amazing book. Pete Berg did a great job with the movie I think. It was pretty powerful, pretty amazing. I still rewatch it to this day. And it’s a pretty neat thing.
I count that among one of the coolest experiences of my life–not only meeting Marcus, but becoming friends with him.
Mark: That’s neat. So how long were you in Afghanistan? Were you embedded with this Spec Ops team? Or how did that work?
Brad: So this wasn’t a Spec Ops team. I’m limited what I can say. These were not active guys. These were guys that let’s just say had interesting military careers and now work for a particular agency that’ll remain nameless.
So their thing was, “Hey, Thor. We’re fans of your work. We’re doing this particular thing over here. You’re welcome to come with us. You can’t sue the government if anything happens to you. Grow a beard. That’d be the biggest thing we’d ask you to do.”
It’s funny, I flew into Kabul from… first flew to Dubai, and their thing was put on some 50 SPF and sit out by the pool, try to get readjusted to the time change. And then took this crappy old Russian airplane from Dubai to Kabul. And it’s funny… and I’m going to give you a little bit of an off-color remark. But you’re a SEAL. You’ve heard much worse, and I’m sure your audience has too.
But got off the plane, and hit the tarmac in Kabul. Didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to a war-zone before. And I knew Kabul was kind of where we were going to stage and then we were going to leave and go out to Jalalabad and some other places. And about I don’t know… 24, 36 hours in the guy who had all the medical experience on the team just said, “Hey, I’m going to check you in. See how you’re doing. And I just want to make sure you’re doing okay. Everything’s good. You’re able to get some sleep and how do you feel, just over all.”
And I said, “Do you know priapism is?”
And he looked at me, goes “Priapism? You mean an erection that won’t go down?”
And I said, “Yeah. I can’t wait to get out into the field.” Stupid comment but it got some chuckles.
It wasn’t till the end of my 2 weeks over there that I found out that they had booked me a hotel room in Kabul. Because if I had chickened out or showed any sign that I wasn’t going to be able to handle it, they were going to park me in a hotel for the 2 weeks that they were there, and then collect me at the end. And fly back to Dubai with me.
Mark: (laughing) That’s funny.
Brad: So it was a pretty neat experience. I enjoyed all the Afghan people I met. Had some of the best fried chicken ever in Jalalabad. Probably cost this family a month’s wages. But it was good. I learned the difference between capital T Taliban, and lower-case t taliban. Just like people that have to align with the Crips or the Bloods just to stay alive in areas of LA.
So it was a good experience. I’m glad to have had it. Great guys that I went there with. And like I said, thin-skinned vehicles. They took my sunglasses as soon as I landed. They said, “Nothing marks you from a distance as a Westerner like a pair of sunglasses.”
But what was amazing to me is these guys have their Cat Cards and all that kind of stuff. And we’d roll onto US military base and I’ve got my 511s on and stuff like that. And the beard.
Everybody just assumed you were supposed to be there. Bunch of white guys with beards and a ton of guns in the car. And stuff like that. “Come on in.” It was amazing.
Mark: (laughing) Wild, Wild West.
Brad: That’s what it was like. I mean it really, really was.
Afghanistan and Red Cell
Mark: Yeah. That’s wild. I actually never went to Afghanistan. I spent time in Iraq. But man, those early days in Afghanistan and Iraq were just mayhem. And the contractors… Blackwater got in a lot of trouble obviously. Because the rules of engagement were just really slippery for the contractors. There were a lot tighter for the military guys. And I had a good friend, Scott Helveston, who was with Blackwater who was killed in Fallujah. With 3 other guys. They were just on kind of a convoy run. They weren’t really there to do anything dangerous.
But, man. It’s sketchy. You don’t want to be unsupported over there, that’s for sure.
Brad: No. And that was the big thing that kind of my guys had said. They said, “We’re going to go into Indian country. And we’re not saying there isn’t a cavalry, but we’re saying that it could take a little time to get the cavalry here, and that kind of stuff. So if we tell you you gotta duck, you gotta duck. Do what we say, and all that kind of stuff. And we’ve got no problem, we know you know firearms and all that kind of stuff. But none of us have trained with you before.
‘So if we pile out of the car, you’re not getting out with us. We don’t want that. We don’t want to have we all go left cause we know what doing, and you, Thor, the author, go right and cause something stupid to happen.” So they’re like, you know, “It’s gotta be the end of the world if we need your finger on a trigger in this fight.”
But by the same token, they were like, “No, no. We get it. We’re happy with you having firearms. Just understand that if we get contact, we’re going to tell you exactly what to do and you need to obey everything quickly. We’re not going to tell you twice. So keep your ears open.
Mark: Yeah. That makes sense.
You were part of the Red Cell program at the Homeland Security Department. Tell us what that is about. I remember Dick Marcinko’s book “Red Cell,” and the Red Cell they ran out of the SEAL Team formerly known as “Six.”
Brad: (laughing) I love the name changes. You know, its combat applications group over at the unit. It’s “The Unit.” It’s Delta force. It’s SEAL team six. It’s DEVGRU.
So Red Cell, for those of your listeners that don’t know, is kind of a group that will test things. That’ll look for weaknesses. Whether it’s physical, security weaknesses like Marcinko and his guys used to try to hit different bases to see if we had the tools and kind of the mindset of the bad guys or terrorists could we breach this US military installation.
What Homeland Security did… And I have to tell you, as a small government guy, I didn’t think the answer to 9/11 and the failures of bureaucracy was to set up more bureaucracy. I just didn’t like the idea. The creation of Homeland Security from the get-go.
But my mind changed when I got called up and asked to join this thing at DHS called the “Analytic Red Cell unit.”
Which the idea was the federal government realized before the 9/11 commission, that the attacks had happened on September 11th because of a failure of imagination on the part of the US government. It’s just this “beltway think.” It’s fighting in the rear-view mirror. Everything’s going to look like it always has.
And they said, “You know what? We realize we made a big mistake. So let’s bring in some non-DC, non-military, non-law enforcement, non-Intel guys who are creative. And see what they think about the threats ahead. And let’s also cede the conversations when we need some creative thinking based on snatches of intelligence we may have picked up. Where we heard about this, we heard about that, but we have no idea if they’re connected.”
“Hey, Brad Thor, Brad Meltzer, Michael Bey–who did the Benghazi movie and the Transformers movies–were part of it. What would you guys do with this stuff? Or what would you do with that stuff? Or if you wanted to hit this target? Or what targets are you worried about?”
You also asked me earlier, Mark, about my books and did anything come true. There was one thing that I had done in the Red Cell program. And I said, “This is something we have to watch out for, and figure out how to defend against, because the bad guys are going to figure it out very soon.” And they did.
And I called my guy at DHS and said, “Okay, this is all over the news. This attack. Can I say that we discussed this in the Red Cell?”
And he said, “Absolutely not.” I like to tell people that it was the Los Vegas of government programs. What happens in the Red Cell stays in the Red Cell. I couldn’t even take any of it and put it in my books.
This was… my dad, the Marine… this was my way of being of service to my country without being asked to pick up a rifle and walk into battle.
Mark: Yeah. What’s neat about that is that normally the people inside the rooms having those conversations are the operatives. And the planners. And a lot of times, they’re inside the bottle. They can’t read the label, kind of thing. They have those biases and the blind spots.
So by bringing in creative thinkers like Hollywood producers and authors… I could see how that would stir things up a little bit.
Brad: You’re right. Those guys that are in there they do have that issue. It’s kind of tough to pick your head up long enough to really take a slow, big full 360 and look. But every alphabet in the soup was in that room. And there were a lot of operators, although they weren’t saying where they were coming from. They were definitely Tier 1 guys that were sitting in these things, helping to facilitate the conversations as well.
So it was a really good mix of people. And I hope that what we did… and you could still be called today. Once you’re in, you’re in. They could still pick up the phone and call you.
But I hope that what we contributed helped make the country safer. That was why we all did it. Cause none of us took a penny for doing it.
Mark: Yeah. How long were you involved in that effort?
Brad: It’s been ongoing.
Mark: Oh, no kidding. So it’s something that’s episodic. It wasn’t like a job you had for a year.
Brad: No you get called back. I got called by one of the facilitators who like what I had done, and said, “Listen, there’s something going on at the Pentagon. And we’d like to get your read on some of this stuff. Would you be willing to do it in addition to DHS? Would you do some stuff for the Pentagon?”
I was like, “Absolutely.”
Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s cool.
So let’s shift focus on kind of your professional success and what is it that drives you? And how do you stay motivated?
I mean, I am an author as well. I’ve written 4 books. I just finished my 5th. And it’s hard… I agree with you, it’s super hard work. Each one seems like it’s harder than the last one.
How do you do it? How do you stay motivated? And what drives you?
Brad: I gotta be honest. I have an incredible fear of failure. It is not an option I’m willing to entertain. If I don’t write, my family doesn’t eat. So I look at it that seriously.
I’ve got fans that wait… plan their vacations around the release of the book every year. It’s an incredible…
Mark: (laughing) So you’ve set it up so that you’re going to put a book out every year? You tell them what the release date is in advance? Boy that puts a little fire under your… motivator.
Brad: We do, yeah. The release date is decided before the book is even completely turned in. So it’s a big responsibility, but I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am. And to attempt to phone it in, and give a halfhearted effort to the people who have been so good to me, and have supported me. My readers. The people I work for.
It’s not the right thing to do. That is dishonest. I will never phone it in. I’ll go drive a cab before I’ll phone it in. You don’t do that to your customers. And your employers.
But for me, I love it. It is… this is really the thing that I feel I was born to do. I’ve got a recently retired SEAL buddy of mine who writes under the name of Jack Carr. He wrote a debut thriller called “The Terminal List.” It was fantastic. It’s been out for a few months. Really, really great first effort.
And I joke with him, because he said he always wanted to be a Navy SEAL and an author. And I said, “Well, that’s where you’re smarter than I am. Because I wanted to be an author and a Navy SEAL. You did it in the right order. I can’t go be a SEAL now. So all I got is the writing.”
So I love it. It’s hard. But I wouldn’t have it, Mark, any other way. Because if it was easy, it would be boring. And the challenge of it and it getting harder is what lights me up.
It’s really hard. A lot of that is self-imposed, but man, I love it.
I really… there’s times I hate it. Dorothy parker said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
Mark: I can see that. Yeah.
So clearly, with the 18 books you had, I’m sure that they’ve all… in retrospect, they’re all successful. But I’m inclined to think you’ve had some doozies where you fell flat on your face. Or you considered “I could have done better.”
You know, if you’re human, you’ve failed. And what were those like for you, and how did you pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and learn from it?
Brad: Well, you know, it’s interesting… I’ll give you an example that’ll tie into this. So I’ve done a lot of television. A lot of punditry and things like that. Fox and CNN and MSNBC and PBS. And when I first started doing these remotes from a satellite studio in Chicago, I would cram every piece of information in my head that I possibly could for these 3 to 5 minute segments.
And I would wrap up 3 to 5 minutes. The producer would say in my ear, “You were fantastic. Thank you. We can’t wait to have you back on.”
And I would pull the earpiece out after saying Thank you, and I’d be like, “No. I sucked. I did a terrible job.” and that was because I didn’t vomit up every piece of information I had memorized. If I didn’t get it all out there… I mean, the GDP of Micronesia. Just stupid stuff. That’s the Midwesterner in me. That’s the son of a Marine. Always be prepared. Do your homework.
F. Lee Bailey, the attorney, used to say “I didn’t always have the strongest case, but I always the best prepared. And that’s why I would win.”
And I pour my heart into each one of these books. There’s always some interesting fact or area or narrative in the book that I wanted to know more about. That I’m really excited to weave into the story.
With each book, I’ve busted my butt. I could go back and read all my previous books and tweak sentences. And maybe change how they were written.
But the substance of the books themselves, I would not go back and change. Because with every single one, I knew I did my best. Because I always ask myself this one question–“Is this book good enough to get me a publishing contract if nobody knew who I was? If this was my very first book, could I get picked up by somebody?” Like–who I’ve been with my entire career, Simon and Schuster. And that’s the level that I set for myself. I may personally feel like, “Wow. I could done better. I coulda done better.”
But that’s always in hindsight. When I’m writing the book, I know I’m giving it my 100%, my all.
And my family will tell you, for how long I disappear to write them up in my office. That I take it all very seriously. I have to turn out a book a year and have them be ones that people can’t wait to read the next one.
Mark: Have you ever considered self-publishing?
Brad: No. I just don’t see the… I’ve known some people who have tried it. Stephen King even went away, tried it, and came back to traditional publishing. I just don’t see it. I lament that neighborhood bookstores have kind of been edged out. There’s still some great independents and things like that. And you’ve still got Barnes & Noble.
But no, self-publishing has never been something that I’ve considered. I’ve got a great team that I work with at Simon & Schuster, and I’ve been very happy as an author with them. Just signed a new contract, actually.
Mark: Nice. Well, that makes sense. If you’ve got a good thing going, don’t mess it up. Self-publishing could really throw a wrench in your relationship with them. I could see that.
Brad: Yeah, it’s funny. To that end, Burt Lance, who had been the director of OMB under Jimmy Carter had an expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Mark: Right. Absolutely.
So in order for you to kind of maintain peak state flow state, creativity all that, what do you do every day to be able to perform? What are your daily habits and rituals?
Brad: So I know you’ve had my buddy Ryan Holiday as a guest before.
Mark: Oh yeah. Ryan’s great.
Brad: Ryan is the guy that introduced me to the Stoics. So my day… trying to be in peak physical condition is a big part of everything. I’ll wreck my diet every once in a while. Or I’ll have, you know, 1 too many cocktails and then it just crushes me the next day. Because I’m off the diet and I’m looking for tons of carbs and sugar and all this kind of stuff. And my brain doesn’t work right. And I went out and did an evening of self-sabotage.
But physical conditioning is very important to me. There’s a lot of guys that I’m around and they’re Tier 1 guys, and they’re in fantastic shape. And you just can’t help but want to hold yourself to that standard. By being around… if you’re around people like that, you realize that if you’re not taking care of your body, that’s a big opportunity to invest in your success that you’re missing out.
So there’s the physical stuff. And I start each day with… Ryan’s got the book of Stoic meditations. So he’s got the 360… I think he did 66 of them. But it’s really neat to read those, one-a-day. Whether it’s Marcus Aurelius or somebody else. And kind of Ryan’s take on how it applies to modern life.
And that grounds me for the day. The big thing though, that I’m really trying to do is dial back the social media stuff. It is the biggest waste of time. Particularly Twitter. It such a suck of time…
Mark: (laughing) I don’t do any of that myself, by the way. I’ve got a team that handles it for me. So I haven’t touched Facebook or Twitter.
Brad: You’re smart. Bad news.
Mark: People think all these things are coming out from me. But I don’t actually post. And I rarely look at it. I haven’t looked at Facebook in months.
So yeah. I’m with you on that. It can be such a time suck.
Brad: It’s also unhealthy mentally. So no matter what I say, 50% of the people following me are going to be pissed off. 50% are going to be happy.
I did something after the Washington Correspondents Dinner where I said… and again, I’m not a pro-Trump guy, but I thought Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed incredible grace and dignity and professionalism. And I just did a compliment. I said, “You were really the picture of professionalism. To sit on the stage and take what you took.”
And I had a lot of people say that was a nice thing to say. And then “Oh, she’s a propagandist. And shame on you, you’re as bad as she is.”
And I’m like, you know… That was kind of the end of it. It’s funny Noah Rothman who works at Commentary magazine was on Morning Joe the Monday after the White House Correspondents Dinner and he said he’d been on vacation and had deleted the Twitter app from his phone. And he said, Sunday night when he got home from vacation, he got on Twitter and he said it was like walking into a bar in the middle of a bar fight. That it was insane. And he turned, hit the door and walked back out.
I think social media in particular to say things that they wouldn’t have courage to walk up to you on the street and say to your face.
Brad: And it’s just not healthy. My kids, thank God, are not on it. So it’s not healthy for adults either. So I find the more time I spend away from it, the clearer my thinking gets. The better my mood.
I know Clooney doesn’t do it. Clooney’s pretty smart cause Clooney’s a drinker. And he says the last things he needs is to say something stupid and wake up the next morning and find out it’s gone all around the world. And he’s… everybody’s firing him. Nobody wants to work with him anymore.
So the older I get the more I like my bourbon. I’m thinking that’s probably… The Clooney rule is probably a pretty good one. Just don’t get on at all.
Mark: Yeah, I like that. I had a SEAL leader once tell me, “If what you’re about to do won’t pass the New York Times test”–meaning that if you don’t want to read about yourself in the new York Times Monday morning–“then don’t do it.”
Brad: I’ve heard a thing very similar which is you should live your life so that if anything about it gets published in the New York Times, you won’t be embarrassed. So that’s the same thing. It’s a great maxim.
Mark: New York Times rule. Everyone should live by that.
That is awesome.
Politics and the Future
Mark: So one of the things… we’re getting kind of near the end here… long in the tooth. But I’m a big… I love looking into the future. I love studying technology and geopolitics and politics and you don’t talk about it that much, but I’m just really interested in it.
And I know you are as well. And that you’re..,. As part of your writing process, you have to see into the future to some degree. To visualize different outcomes. What could be.
What do you see happening with our current political mess or chaos and the dysfunctional government and this crush of technology that’s coming on us? And artificial intelligence and all that? What’s your vision of the future, Brad?
Brad: Well, I’ll tell you, probably one of the best books I’ve read recently… and I’m also done with it… is Jon Meacham’s “The Soul of America.” and this idea that as dire as everything looks right now, every generation has had stuff where they’d thought it’s so bad. “I wish we could go back to the way it was.”
Mark: True that.
Brad: Life involves change and the Buddha said that stress and suffering come from trying to avoid change. You can’t avoid it. The only people that can are in the cemetery.
So it’s going to come. And you have to decide… my mom used to say, “You can’t always choose the situation you find yourself in. But you can choose how you react to it.”
So it can be… as we said at the beginning of this podcast… the best of times, the worst of times. It’s really up to you.
And back to Jonah Goldberg’s book “Suicide of the West,” we are living in the best of times. There’s some stuff that sucks, and we’ve got tribal politics and the rise of populism and nationalism. There’s a lot of echoes of the 1920s with the protectionism. We’re coming up in September… September 30th will be the 80 year anniversary of the Munich Pact, where the Brits, the French and Mussolini got together with Hitler and gave away a slice of Czechoslovakia which really started things just racing toward World War 2. We’ve got Putin in the Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. We had promised the Ukrainians after the collapse of the Soviet Union that if they gave us the nukes that remained behind–there was a 3rd of the Soviet arsenal was in the Ukraine–we’d make sure that nobody ever invaded them. Took any of their territory.
And what do we do? We let it happen. So there’s a lot of echoes of the 1920s, 1930s going on right now. I’m particularly focused on the Baltics. That’s what “Spymaster” deals with a little bit. About if you had a recalcitrant US president that didn’t want to get involved in full-fledged military conflicts overseas, what steps might he take to avoid them? How many rules would you be willing to break to prevent an Article 5 sort of a thing? Would you send out a team of Tier 1 guys to shake things up and stop a war before it could start?
So I think DC will straighten itself out. I’m concerned cause we swing back and forth. We never really find the center politically. So we go from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. I don’t know what the next thing will be… whether it’s in 2020 or the next election after that.
You know, I’m glad that votes count, though. I’m glad that the middle class… working men and women in this country who feel they’re not being heard… can vote. And that’s what it’s about. If you don’t like the president…
I just got back from London with my family. And I like taking the Black cabs because you get some really cool…
Mark: Super-colorful. Yeah.
Brad: Super-colorful people driving those.
Mark: They’re like historians…
Brad: They’re incredible. And I was asking about Trump’s proposed state visit. Because Trump wants the full deal. He wants the gilded carriage and a visit with the Queen. And Theresa May‘s trying to keep him out in the countryside, because they’re all so worried about protests.
And all of these Black cab drivers–even if they didn’t like Trump’s style–I was so impressed. They were like, “He’s a duly elected, democratic leader. He is entitled to the kind of state visit that Macron would get, that an Italian Prime Minister would get… Anybody. He’s entitled to that.”
And I thought we could all learn a little bit from that. You might not like the outcome, but you have to respect the process.
Mark: Absolutely. And everyone’s so focused on the personality instead of the actions. And they get wrapped up in the Tweet storms, and it’s all surface chop. Underneath the country’s humming along and there’s actually from my perspective… and I’m not a fan of Trump’s style at all either. And I wasn’t a fan of Barack Obama’s style. I thought he was a real pacifist and just weak leader.
But underneath we got a lot of smart people who are helping to make decisions and I like some of the stuff I see. I like some of the deregulation. I don’t want it all to go away, but I like some of it that’s overly burdensome. That kind of came on in the prior 8 years. And the economy seems to be humming along. The main problem is what we talked about earlier, is debt. People just are ignoring the debt crisis and that’s the next bubble that’s about to burst, I think.
Brad: Well, I’ll tell you, that is a problem, the debt crisis. And I agree with you. I’m not a fan of Trump’s style. And that’s what drives me around the bend is I just think that leadership involves a lot more than sitting behind the resolute desk at 1600 and Tweeting.
I think that in the wake, as we record this, of the North Korean summit–the summit with the North Koreans, with Kim Jong Un and Singapore–a lot of people–particularly journalists–are missing the concept of face. So they’re all “Oh, how could Trump compliment him,” and all this kind of stuff. The guy’s a horrific, horrific dictator. I don’t think a lot of the stuff that Trump has said about him, should have been said about him.
But nothing else has worked before, right? And if you don’t even take into consideration the Asian concept of face and how certain compliments and things can help move things along. I think that they could save themselves a lot of aggravation by not wetting the bed.
Let’s see what happens. Let’s see if Kim Jong Un… we have no reason to trust the North Koreans. They have consistently done this kind of stuff and lied.
So… but I think people are every day there’s some other outrage coming out of the White House or somewhere in DC. Now the IG report is out about Hilary and the emails and how the FBI handled it. We’re going to drive ourselves crazy. We’re all going to go into an early grave and so…
I don’t want to say you shouldn’t pay attention, you shouldn’t be involved in the process because that’s bad stewardship. But this is uncharted territory, here. So like my mom said, “You can’t always choose the situation you find yourself in. But you can choose how you’re going to react to it.”
And that applies to how you react to all these political firestorms that seem to be… it’s like a kajillion wildfires and they’re just… there’s going to be one every day. So get up, put your boots on, and put a smile on your face and hit it as hard as you can. Take care of yourself, your family.
Stay tuned in, comment, talk to people. Be a good steward of your country. Be a good American. And just know that we got elections coming up. If you don’t like things, you can change them.
But to fret about what hasn’t happened yet is such… I think it was Thomas Jefferson that said grab life by the smooth handle and that 99% of what we worry about never comes to pass.
Mark: Right. That’s so true. You know, it’s interesting also to note that one of the reasons that we have all this technology and 150 news stations 24/7 is because of the incredible wealth and prosperity of this nation. We have a lot of resources which means that there’s a lot of opportunity to get news. Which means you got technologists like the founders of Twitter and Zuckerberg–Facebook–who can create in a free and prosperous environment really cool tools that have some unintended consequences. But underneath all that, I love what you said earlier, we are in the most prosperous time ever.
But also history has these cycles. And you look back and there’s economic cycles, there’s political cycles, generational cycles. And we’re in this kind of like, 4th turning. That’s the cycle where there’s a lot of chaos and violence. Every 80 to 100 years.
So to expect that, you know? But don’t get caught up in it. Like you said, don’t run your life in fear. Feed the Courage Wolf, and stay focused on your mission, and have an Unbeatable Mind.
Brad: Amen. That really is… it is your choice. It really is. And to freak out about stuff and it’s just… this is the big thing I’m focused on right now. And I could leave you, Mark, and your listeners with where I am…
I gave a speech for the Boy Scouts. Where I said that Boy Scout values are American values. I talked about how much we’ve been able to do in this nation… When you think about the founding of America. The Roman Empire had far more riches, far more resources and far more men to create manpower than we did here in the 13 original colonies. But look what we did in such a short amount of time. We unleashed the creative individual as Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address. We unleashed the individual as never has been done before in history.
And the thing that I say every day… so I told you I worked out in the morning. I read one of the daily motivations out of Ryan Holiday’s book about the Stoics. But the thing I do before my feet even hit the floor from my bed. When my eyes open, I remind myself that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. Chief among them being Life, Liberty and here’s the important one for me… the pursuit of Happiness.
Happiness is a choice. And I remind myself of that every morning before I get out of bed that if I am not choosing to be happy, choosing to pursue happiness… that doesn’t mean that I’m a lay about and I’m drunk all day, and chasing women and trying to keep it away from my wife. No.
But happiness is a mindset. And we have had people fight, die, be injured horrifically. That’s one of the rights they were helping to preserve for us. It’s your duty as an American to pursue happiness every single day. And if you do that, you’re going to have a lot of success.
Mark: Yeah, and the victims mistake that. They think happiness is a right. It’s not. It’s a pursuit. And in order to pursue happiness, you gotta learn some fundamental, basic, universal life skills, you know? About goodness, and how to control your mind and not react like you said to every word. How to feed courage and not fear. How to smile and have a handshake. And how to learn to deal with other people’s opinions and perspectives that may be in conflict with yours. Gracefully, without demonizing them.
Brad: Well, you spoke about… before we even started… about the 22 vets a day that are committing suicide. And your campaign for the 22 million burpees.
In the wake of Kate Spade committing suicide and Anthony Bourdain committing suicide, Brit Hume of Fox news put out a Tweet. And I wish I could remember exactly what it said… because I did a screen cap of it. Brit’s son had committed suicide. And Brit put out a picture that had a phrase in it that said, “Every single person you meet is wrestling with an incredible, incredible problem that you have no idea they’re wrestling with. So therefore be kind to everyone.”
I’m butchering what it was. It was so beautiful and so eloquent. But that’s also part of being happy. Is not being a victim. Not being perpetually angry and taking everything as an insult.
But saying every single person you meet, you’ve got a chance to make their life better. Even if it’s just by smiling at them. Everybody’s got something that their going through that you wouldn’t trade your bad stuff for theirs. So if you can help make somebody’s life easier with a smile? Gosh what an ROI on just a smile you might get.
Mark: Unbelievable. I agree with you 100%. One of my morning ritual is to… I got a whole process I go through of course. And my listeners know a lot about that. I call it my morning ritual.
But I have a bunch of things that I read. They’re in my iPhone notebook. I read about my passion and my purpose. Just to remind me of my mission and all that.
But I also have this favorite… it’s called a Sutra from Patanjali’s yoga sutras. But it’s related to what we’re talking about. And it’s just such incredibly good advice. And we’ll kind of like end on this, but it goes like this–
“Be friendly toward the happy. Compassionate to the unhappy. Be joyful to the virtuous. And ignore or deal with if necessary the wicked.” isn’t that awesome
Brad: Perfect. That is awesome. That is a very good and thought provoking note upon which to end this excellent discussion.
Mark: No doubt. This has been tremendous, Brad. I really, really appreciate your time. I can’t wait to read the “Spymaster.” That comes out July 3rd it looks like?
Mark: It’s probably available for pre-order at Amazon right now I’m sure, cause I know that’s how they do things.
Brad: It is indeed. Yup.
Mark: People can find you just with a simple Google search. What’s your primary website?
Brad: So my primary website is my name. Bradthor.com.
Mark: Okay. Check it out. And let’s go support… I already forgot his name… Don’t tell me, don’t tell me… Scot Harvath. My Navy SEAL teammate. Go support Scot Harvath. Saving the world once again.
Brad: (laughing) You got it.
Mark: That is awesome. Brad thank so much. Reach out if we can help you out at all. Appreciate all you do, buddy.
Brad: You’re a good man. Stay in the fight. Thank you.
Mark: I will. Thank you very much. Hooyah.
All right, folks. That was the Unbeatable Mind podcast with Brad Thor. Check out his 18… soon to be 19, then 20. I don’t think he’s ever going to stop. This guy might write 100 books. That would be quite a challenge.
So check out his newest thriller called “Spymaster” but all the way back to “Lions of Lucerne.” I remember hearing about that. I’m going to go back and check that out.
And also let’s support him in all he’s doing. So go check out his website bradthor.com.
And as usual, thank so much for your time and attention today. Like I said, I don’t take it lightly. I’ll keep doing my work, if you do yours. So stay focused, train hard, and develop that Unbeatable Mind.