“I learned to very humbly sit back, look at the challenge, and say to myself ‘I welcome the pain. Bring it on.’” – Don Mann
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Don Mann (@donmannnavyseal) is an extraordinary adventurer, speaker and author. He is also a retired SEAL. His most recent book is “Reaching Beyond Boundaries: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Achieving Everything You’ve Ever Imagined.” Today, he and Mark talk about dealing with pain, setting goals, and the mindset necessary for extreme endeavor.
- Don has learned to let the body rather than the mind deal with pain.
- Focus on your goal rather than the pain you’re experiencing to get there.
- Turn previous macro-goals into micro-goals for new macros
It’s valuable to set goals high so that you can “stretch” for them. Listen to this episode to get insight into how to manage pain effectively to get what you want.
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Hi folks. Welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome to this show, where I’ll be interviewing my friend Navy SEAL Don Mann. We’re gonna have a fantastic conversation about things that are definitely important to you – such as overcoming fear, difference between good pain versus bad pain, how to use pain to develop yourself, to get out of your comfort zone. Understanding where the line is.
How do you face danger? How do you cultivate a balanced ego, and be more courageous in life while still being a good person? Discipline. Testing yourself with hard physical challenges. And chasing your demons.
I mean, there’s so much that I want to talk to Don… We’ve had him on the show before. He’s one of my favorite Navy SEALs. I love Don.
But anyways before I introduce Don and we start our chat – let me remind you that if you listen to this podcast on other stations besides iTunes then it really would be helpful to rate it at those platforms. We have over 500 five-star reviews at iTunes. Which makes the podcast one of their top shows, actually, which is pretty cool. But now it’s available at Google Play and Stitcher and SoundCloud and Pandora. And I think even iHeartRadio, and there might be others. But those are relatively new editions and so if you listen on one of those platforms help other people find it by rating it. So thanks very much.
Also I’ve been saying this recently, but I wanted to get the word out – we have completely redone our Unbeatable Mind online training – like, radically overhauled it. It’s definitely 100 percent better than it was. And it was already an outstanding program – over ten thousand folks had gone through it and been transformed…
But it’s completely new. So much better all new content that I’ve personally rewritten all new videos that myself and Catherine our Kokoro yoga teacher and a couple others have contributed fantastic stuff. So unbeatablesite.wpengine.com. Check it out. If you want to relook at that or look at that for the first time. Hooyah.
All right. I mentioned Don Mann is a teammate, a former SEAL Team six commando – wrote the book on SEAL Team 6 actually – I’m not kidding – he’s got a best-seller called “Inside SEAL Team 6” which is his view of his time there. Great read.
He’s also a big pioneer in adventure racing and a world-class competitor himself. I remember back in the day when Don had created the Beast of the East and watching Mark Burnett essentially bury the company when he scheduled his Eco-Challenges on the same weekends. Maybe we’ll talk about that.
Don is an inveterate author and constantly recreating himself. Just awesome guy. He’s written 18 books. If you go to his website usfrogmen.com and look at his bio it goes for like 18 pages or something like that. It’s incredible.
Don, you’re awesome buddy. Thanks for being here. How’s things going?
Don: Oh Mark, it’s really good to be talking to you again. It’s been a long time. And it’s great you’re doing. I’m doing fine, thanks. Thanks for having me on the show.
Mark: Now you just mentioned to me that you got back from a reality TV show where you paddled with four other SpecOps guys for 750 miles. It’s called “The Brigade.” what’s up with that? Are you never gonna have enough of those events? You’ve done like a thousand of them, haven’t you?
Don: But you know, Mark, this one it was actually not even… There were two of us in the military… Former military…
Mark: That right? Okay.
Don: Gave me a call and they said “would you like to try out for this 2,700 mile paddle?” and I said “you know I’m 61 years old?”
They said “yeah, we know you are.” so I went through the steps and I passed the test and I went up to Canada. And they brought it from 2,700 miles down to 750, but it was a great, great gut-check as we say in the teams. And it was a… Just lost 19 pounds doing it and with five Canadians, and 5 Americans it was a blast. I loved it.
Mark: It sounds fun. You know, it’s not your normal weight loss program. But it definitely would work for most people, right?
Don: Yeah. We were starving.
Mark: I’m curious, you’ve done so many of these – do you ever learn anything new? Or is it just the same experience over and over?
Don: You know, Mark, just this last one I learned quite a few things. Because I was older than all of their parents. So I was a different generation…
Mark: Did they treat you as their dad or grandpa?
Don: Not so much. I think we all got along as peers, pretty much. But I learned what this newer generation is like. And I really haven’t had a lot of close work with the younger generation, day in and day out, for weeks on end. And we learn an appreciation… Although they’re so much different than our generation. I learned a great appreciation for the younger generation. So I like that a lot.
And I saw that people who aren’t in the military, with the mindset that you and I have and that we’ve had all our lives… That even if you don’t have that mindset other people can appear differently, they can look differently, they can not have much of what appears to be a structure to their life. But things can still work. And that was eye-opening to me.
Mark: Yeah. I’ve seen that a lot with our Kokoro camp. I mean, some of our strongest candidates have been civilians. And some of our weakest have been Navy SEAL candidates. It’s pretty fascinating.
What was – do you think – the biggest difference between our generation versus that younger generation? For those who like to do these hard physical challenges – like, what was a big character difference?
Don: For “The Brigade,” my mindset was “okay, we get up at 04:30. We make sure camp is cleaned up. We have the boat ready. We get our PFDs on. We do the map study. And we go.”
The other nine felt like “yeah, let’s get up when we can. And we’ll get to it. And yeah, we got to look at that map at some point too.” and it was odd to me. My lower lip was all bitten up, because I tried my best not to say too much. But it still worked. Somehow.
Mark: (laughing) probably because you were doing the map study, because you were up at 4:30 doing all that stuff.
Interesting. Oh what fun.
Let’s go back a little bit. Can you give us a sense for your earliest days and what life was like growing up? Here’s something that I just want to touch on right up front, because you and I have a lot in common. You know, I… Retrospectively the older I get and the more perspective I have, I realize that I really went into this SEALs to kind of chase some demons away. You know, to change the story of my life, right? And to do something radically different. Because there was some underlying shit that I wasn’t comfortable with, or I didn’t feel good about the way I was raised.
What was your…? I’m only saying that to you, because I see something in you where you’re always chasing the next challenging thing. The next hard thing. It’s almost like you’re running from something. Or running to something. Like you’re chasing some demons of your own from your childhood. I just want to throw that out there. What’s your response to that?
Don: Oh, well, you know I grew up in a place – it looked like a nice neighborhood up in New England. And I hung out with just the guys and the girls who lived there. I didn’t go out looking for bad people to hang out with. But it just happened to be that everybody that I grew up with – 99% of everybody I grew up with, turned to crime and drugs and bad things.
Don: And I joined the Navy. My father instilled a sense of patriotism in us all. He was World War Two vet, and we always we always prayed. And we always gave allegiance to the flag. And God, country, family is how I was raised.
Although my friends were just going off the deep end.
Mark: Did you have any trouble in that regard? Like running into the law? Or drugs or alcohol? Or some of the common ills that youth fall into?
Don: I did. Yep. I’m not proud to say it, of course, but yeah. I used to like being chased by the police on a motorcycle. I liked… When I was a young kid, before I had a license I liked the adventure of being chased. And I did that quite a bit. And I spent a few nights here and there in jails and things like that. And drank too much. And just did things I shouldn’t have done.
And nothing terribly wrong, but things I wish… If I could turn back the clocks I wouldn’t have done any of those things.
Mark: Of course. Well, you know, they helped form who you are. And we can’t turn back the clock, so it’s part of your karmic debt you’re paying off.
Don: But I did realize though that I had this sense of energy. I had a lot of energy. And I needed to direct it somewhere. And at first I thought I would just be a cop, because then I can get to chase the bad guys. And you know…
Mark: (laughing) Chase the earlier version of yourself on that motorcycle…
Don: Yeah. And I went to school, and the police professor there said, “hey, if any you guys here want to join the police force, because you think you’re gonna do all these chases and all this. None of that’s gonna happen. You’re gonna be watching manhole covers at night, and directing traffic.”
And then I figured “Okay, now it’s time to join the military.” and I went to the Marines at first. And I think I met the only un-squared away Marine recruiter probably in the Marine Corps. And he was not impressive at all, for some reason.
Cause I didn’t know about the SEAL teams. Back then there was so little said about it. And I went next door and talked to the Navy recruiter and when he showed me the video of Navy SEALs that second, Mark, that changed my life that was all I wanted…
Mark: Was that the “Be Someone Special” video?
Don: That’s right. That was it.
Mark: That changed my life, too. Wasn’t that awesome?
Don: Oh yeah.
Mark: By the way, for those listening, you can still find that online. So if you go Google “be someone special navy recruiting video” or something like that, you can see what Don and I are talking about it. Was just this epically cool, but really you know like this CGI… It was really cheesy, but it was very cool. And they show all phases of SEAL training and they do a little mock mission. And when I watched… I watched it like 20 times – I was transfixed and that became the basis for my visualization about me becoming a SEAL. I think I’ve talked about that in one of my books.
Yeah I saw the guys doing pull-ups and push-ups and sit-ups… All these fit guys. And training and deploying all over the world. And being the most elite team in the world.
I was thinking there’s nothing in the world I want to do, but doing that. Jumping and skydiving and blowing things up. And I never, ever, ever looked back thinking that was something I probably shouldn’t have spent my whole career doing but I am so happy, and fortunate, and blessed that I found the teams. Or who knows I would’ve been in the jails and prisons and rehabs with my buddies.
Mark: You know, there’s a lot of team guys like that I think. Who just basically… That was it. And pain wasn’t an obstacle to them, because they grew up with it, you know? To some level. So it’s interesting to contemplate.
At any rate, so you went through what SEAL class? And what was your… Just let’s do a quick run through your SEAL career. And really notable cool things you did.
Don: Yeah I think I was a little bit after you. Went in initially and I had a serve time with the Marines, because I was a corpsman. And at that point they wanted only experienced corpsman in the teams. So I went in in ’77, did a tour with the Marines and ended up doing a deployment in Okinawa for thirteen months. Got out and went to BUD/S in class 120. And served SEAL team one, SEAL team two, SEAL Team six.
And then during the drug wars, I went down to Panama for four years during that ’89 to ’93. And went back to six. I came enlisted, then went warrant, and then retired as a Warrant Officer ’98.
Mark: Right on. Okay, so we overlapped. I actually didn’t get in until ’89, myself. So I didn’t go through training till I was 25… Turned 26 at BUD/S.
When you were down in Panama and working the drug-running stuff – what was the hairiest you did that you can talk about?
Don: Well you know there was this ship we captured, and everybody on it was killed, and we were just gonna get the remains and clean up the boat a little bit. It was still like a 25-foot boat. And everybody was killed on it. And the army had shot up a bunch of rockets and I killed everybody on board. And it was a terrible, terrible, terrible smell…
Mark: Not our army? The Columbian army…?
Don: Our army killed the enemy – Panamanian Defense Force – on it. So it was our army who did the… They won, but we had to go clean the boat up. And anyways, to make a long story short, I had to go underwater to check out the shaft and the screw in the hull to make sure it wasn’t damaged from the rocket shot at it.
And I told the master chief Matthew “if you need me just bang three times on the deck with something.” I started going down the ladder and he picked up something next to him and he banged three times on the deck, but what he picked up was an unexploded live rocket round that he didn’t know it was an unexploded live rocket round. The fins had come off.
And I didn’t see what he had in his hand but so anyways eight hours later that rocket round is used for sounding checks. And ends up thrown in a dumpster.
And I told my buddy – I told the guy I was working with – “let’s just stay in the tents. Let’s go in the tent tonight 9:00 p.m. You guys been working since like 2:00 a.m. Let’s take a break.”
In the meantime, a couple army guys walked over and they said they’re gonna start a War Museum and if they could have all the bloodied up uniforms and the Intel and stuff that we’re thrown in the garbage. And one of the guys said, “Yeah, they’re in that Dipsy dumpster. Right next to our tent.”
So one of the army guys jumped in there and that’s when the rocket round that was thrown in there earlier exploded.
Mark: Oh no.
Don: And he came out and he lost his eye and his hands and his leg and his… He had a thousand pieces of shrapnel in him. And I was probably 20 feet away when it happened. And we thought we were being attacked, so I just grabbed my weapon and my medical bag, and ran outside. And I saw garbage everywhere and a body. And I ran up – as a corpsman would do – ABCDE.
And he was still living. And I was able to get about 4,000 liters of ringers lactate in him. Stopped all the bleeding. And he started moving and talking. And he asked me why he couldn’t see and I didn’t want to tell him it was because he didn’t have his eyes anymore. I didn’t want to tell him he couldn’t feel cause he didn’t have his hand. He couldn’t feel his leg, it was blown off.
So anyways, I calmed things down. And he started joking around and he said, “Well at least if I still have my beep my wife will take me back. And he started joking around.
Anyways he went back home – he passed away on the helo a couple times – they brought him back to a couple times. And one of my best memories of Panama was working with this young captain. Because two years ago he called me up and we reunited and we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. And every year from this point on, we’re gonna have a meeting on the day of his accident. And he’s got a glass eye, prosthetic leg and a prosthetic hand. But we’ve become very, very close friends because of that incident.
And incidents like that – as bad as they are – he was relaxed, he knew it was war. And we became friends. And things like that is the best memories I have of Panama.
Mark: Holy crap. What a story. I’m never gonna go dumpster diving again.
Don: No. He thought it was a flashlight and went to pick it up. And he bent over then “boom” it went off right in front of him.
Mark: Unbelievable. Wow.
Don: And then doing all the drug searches on the canal. We did basically many hundreds of those. And I was there the night the four SEALs were killed. And I was on the water on the canal, and the gunfight took place on the runway. And we lost four SEALs. It was worst day ever for us all.
Mark: I remember that day very well actually, so it’s neat to know that you were down there. But I was actually at Officer Candidate School and we were having some dinner at some pizza restaurant. And the news was playing and all of a sudden they put up the images of the four SEALs killed, and one of them was a lieutenant Connor? Was that his name?
Don: Connors. Lieutenant Connors, yeah.
Mark: And I was like holy shit. That’s like that kid is me. You know what I mean? He went to like Bucknell or something. I went to Colgate and he had only been in for four years. I was just going in. I was like “that could be me.”
And it was the first time I like really thought about it. Like “holy shit. This is serious business, you know I mean? Better get my game face.
Don: I had two of the guys over afterwards. One of them – well both of them are very good friends. One was the other lieutenant was the AOIC, Mike Phelps. And then Carlos Melita. And Carlos was shot three times, and Mike was hiding behind him shooting. Using Carlos as a barricade basically. Although Carlos wasn’t dead, he was just wounded.
And another one of my favorite stories is they were both over at my house, and Mike said to Carlos “hey Carlos, I’m sorry. I thought you were dead. But I’m sorry.”
And anyways Carlos – I have so much respect for that man, because he hasn’t been able to move – he’s been in a wheelchair ever since – he can’t move from his sternum on down. And he’s going on to win five Iron Man’s in that wheelchair. And just climbed Kilimanjaro in the wheelchair. And actually got a text from him yesterday, but a few weeks ago he wrote to me and asked me if I can help him find some sponsors to go up to Everest in his wheelchair. That guy gets more places in a wheelchair than I think anybody I’ve ever known. And that’s a great comeback story from Panama. He’s inspired and helped so many other wounded people and military vets and just people who’ve lost limbs. He’s helped out thousands of people and since that day. Yeah.
Mark: That’s an inspiring story. I got a track you on this and see if he actually ends up going up Everest. I would love to be part of that expedition.
Don: Oh boy. You would love it.
Mark: That’s amazing. Wow.
Have you been up Everest?
Don: You know I went up there a few years ago. Everything in the world was coming my way, I thought. You know $93,000 trip I basically mortgaged everything I owned. A 70 day commitment.
But I was very, very fit and very strong and I got on a team with the world’s most experienced Sherpa – Ang Dorje Sherpa, who is “Into Thin Air” hero, and Lydia Bradey was on the team – first woman to summit Everest without oxygen – we had a strong team. And everybody was saying “my god, Don, you’re the oldest one here but you’re not having any issues at all.”
And once we got up on the icefall where the ladders are, where we climb the horizontal and the vertical ladders I lost my memory, I lost my color vision, I started choking, and I started exhaling fluids. My brain cavity and my lungs filled with fluids. It’s called high-altitude pulmonary edema and high-altitude cerebral edema. And I was drowning in my own lung fluid and New Zealand guys – the Kiwi – he saw I passed out up there and he got me. He says “Don, Don. You got to get down quickly. Get back to base camp.”
I didn’t know which way was down. And I put my hands on his shoulder and I used his oxygen mask. And I kept passing out on the way down. We got to this hundred foot ice cliff he said, “Can you rappel?”
I said, “of course I can rappel. I’ve rappelled all my life.” and I got the rope and I had my harness on, I was thinking, “my god, I forget how to rappel.” so I just wrapped the rope around my arm like five times and then went off the cliff and just released one loop at a time. And somehow made it down.
And I was just hours away from dying the doctors had said once I got back to Katmandu. And I’m still suffering – my lungs are still… They’re not a hundred percent yet. And I hope they will be.
When I came back it didn’t stop me at all. I would have gladly have done that again, because the last thing I want, Mark, and I know you think the same way… I didn’t want to go to my grave or my last days on earth saying “I wish I did this. I could have done that. I wish I had given that a shot.”
I gave it a shot. My body said no. But my mind didn’t say no. I was willing to keep going, but I had no other choice. And so I just rebound and came back with another goal.
Now I’m trying to hit 60 miles an hour on a bicycle. And I can do that on the flats. And that’s how I’m recovering.
60 at 60 was the goal. 60 miles an hour at 60 years old.
Mark: (laughing All right. You’re gonna get the Unbeatable Mind patch for the craziest stories ever. How many times you tried to kill yourself and survived?
Don: Well people say “60 at 60, that’s crazy.”
I said “it’s not nearly as crazy as 70 at 70.”
Mark: So the first benchmark is 60 at 60. How fast can you go right now? What’s your…?
Don: 50.2. I have a long ways to go.
Mark: So do you like dress up in those sleek little suits with a helmet that has the aerodynamic thing?
Don: Yeah, I’m pretty much in all suited up in funny-looking bike clothes while I do this.
Mark: (laughing) You don’t wear those clothes out in public, I’m sure.
Don: No, no. Public will not allow that.
Pain and Limits
Let’s talk about pain. You obviously know a lot about pain. But for those who are listening who shy from pain, you and I know that pain can be a great motivator. It can be… It’s our wisdom… We can use a lot of wisdom or pain in a wise way to develop ourselves and to overcome obstacles.
And sometimes the more pain we take on or allow into our lives the more it enriches our life. So that it’s just an interesting thing. Most people avoid it, right? It’s something you want to turn away from, so to speak. So what’s your take on pain?
Don: You know Mark, I am very fortunate that I’ve discovered a way to deal with pain at a young age. Because I think if I didn’t learn this philosophy I have… And you had the same philosophy, I don’t think I would have gotten anything significant done in my life and going to BUD/S, sitting there with all those intimidating BUD/S instructors, or looking at some big mountain – and you know I climbed 30 mountains to get ready for Everest – and doing even 500, 600 mile races, I knew they were all gonna be painful. And I learned to very humbly sit back, look at the challenge and say to myself “I welcome the pain. Bring it on. I want there to be pain.
Because when I’m in too much pain, I just pass out, and if that doesn’t… I did two Iron Man’s in one day and on the second Ironman I was at Mile 32 on the run and I passed out and I woke up and finished the two ironman’s that day. And I realized that point that all the other times in my life where I might have said “it’s too hard, it’s too challenging.” I have some lame excuse, so I’m feeling bad for myself… I was wrong, because if your body is in too much pain I learned that you’ll pass out and you’ll get the break you needed and you’ll get up and finish the chore. A saying we have in the teams and a lot of military units have it is “pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.”
I learned to recognize there’s more to it than just that. That there’s two types of pain and the temporary pain of discipline we all had to get through BUD/S and get through all the challenging things we’ve done in life. If we’re doing log PT and it hurts and it hurts really badly and you got splinters, and headaches, and sore back, and sore head. But if you have the temporary pain, you can put up with that temporary pain. You know that instructor will blow the whistle at some point go jump in the ocean you get a break. But if the guy next to you thinks some lame excuse like “it’s too hard. It’s too challenging. I gotta quit. I’m gonna go ring the bell.” for the rest of his life, he has a permanent pain of regret. And that permanent pain is so much worse than the temporary pain we’ve all gone through without quitting.
So I like that temporary pain. And really if I look at things – if it’s too much, I’m gonna give it all I have. If I don’t have what it takes out give it until I pass out. And then I’ll get the break I need I’ll continue on with the task. And I’m gonna live like that for the rest of my life. I know that.
Mark: Why not?
Don: That’s right.
Mark: You’ve done it for 60 years or 50 years. Why not just continue? It’s working for you. Pain is weakness leaving the body. You know what I love about this you’re saying I’m gonna get my limited brain out of the way, and let the wisdom of my body decide what’s enough, right? Because one of the things I’ve learned is that you’re capable of twenty times more at least. And it’s the wisdom of your body that you got to follow.
Because, you know, like in hell week we get stronger and stronger the more deep we get into the training of that week. Without any sleep. 24 hours a day, for six and a half days. Your brain is telling you can’t do this and there’s not a single medical doctor or scientist around who would say “yeah that’s good, your body’s…”
You know they’re gonna say your body’s gonna break down and you’re gonna be like an Auschwitz survivor by day four or something like that.
But the reality is you’re gonna be building muscle mass. You’re gonna be getting more alert. And the new reality sets in, so your body steps up.
But what you’re saying is when you do these like fun little double Ironmen, you know there’s a point where your body would say “okay Don: This is it. We’re just gonna hit the shutoff switch for a few hours to give you some time to recover. Because you’re too stupid to quit.” and then when you wake up you’ve got all this new energy. Like oh let me finish this race.
Don: Yep. Or at least the energy you need to finish it.
Mark: Right, right. That’s fascinating.
How do you get out of your head and let your body’s wisdom take over?
Don: One way that helps me is music. I really enjoy music. But I like that space when on a 50 mile run or something… The pain… It’s like flutter kicks. They hurt after you do so many, but if you do another hundred it doesn’t hurt any more, it just stays bad. And I like doing more. I don’t think it gets worse.
Mark: (laughing) There’s a point where it can’t get any worse. I might as well just suck it up. Embrace the suck and keep moving, right?
Don: I like that space there.
Mark: Yeah, I like that space too. And there’s a natural resistance level – there’s several resistance levels that you push through before you get to that spot. If you just push through. Keep going… Just some mantra… Like what mantra do you have when you hit those early resistance points?
Don: Well, for instance if I can answer that by looking at a running race. If we’re out in the woods doing a trail run – a 50-mile trail run – and I see somebody ahead of me I think I used to think “oh what am I doing? I don’t belong here. These guys are all faster and better than me. I don’t belong here.”
But once my mind started getting stronger then I started thinking “I do belong here. I could hang with these guys.” and then my mind got stronger than that and said, “I should be able to beat a lot of these guys.” then my mind would get stronger and I would start thinking haven’t started thinking “there’s no reason in the world any of these people should be able to beat me.”
So my body wasn’t necessarily getting stronger, but as my mind continued to get stronger – which can happen every single day of your life. Not necessarily body, but your mind. I started realizing like going back to the trail run – if I saw a person in front of me let me just go a little bit longer stride, a little bit faster pace, and let me beat this guy. And then I look at the next guy… And it kind of takes the pain and puts it secondary. And I just keep the goal in mind of trying to beat everybody. And like just being preoccupied with a goal and not being preoccupied with the pain. I know the pain’s there and it hurts but I just try not to focus on it.
Mark: Yeah. I love that. So that’s a key principle of mental toughness. You probably talk about that in your new book “Reaching Beyond Boundaries.” Take the focus off the pain. Cause if you focus on the pain, you’re just gonna get more pain, or you’re gonna experience more pain. And that takes temporary pain and it turns into suffering. And once you get into suffering – it’s kind of like you said – that long-term pain of regret is more like an underlying suffering. Person’s going about his – day in and day out – but underneath, subconsciously he’s suffering because of that regret.
Well in a long endurance race or a long challenge, if you keep focusing on the pain instead of the goal, the win, or the why – those are three other things that you can focus on in my opinion – then that temporary pain is just going to turn into suffering. And then it’s going to be hard to get out of that dark place.
Don: I like to look at other people like Reinhold Messner. I’ve done over a thousand competitions – he would look at my list and he would say, “Oh, that’s petty stuff. That’s you like hanging out running around in circles in a park.”
Because what he would do – and he’s the greatest Mountaineer of all time – and just recently they called him not only the greatest Mountaineer of all time, but now he’s gonna be recognized as most likely the greatest Mountaineer the world will ever know. And he would say, “Well, I’m going up alone. I’m taking that gear here. I’m going without oxygen I’m going alone. I’m gonna go climb that North Face of that mountain in the Himalayas. It’s never been climbed before in the winter. I should be back in a couple of months.”
And I believe that we all have what Reinhold Messner has, he just knows how to tap into it. And so if I’m doing this 50-mile run, a half a day workout or two day work out or something, it’s nothing compared to what people like he has done. And I just look at people who have done so much more than I’ve ever even thought about doing. And I look at them as examples of what people are capable of doing.
Mark: Yeah. That’s amazing. It can be very motivating, you know? And it helps us keep our ego in check, because you think you’re big bad Don Mann or I’m big bad Mark Divine, but then you look at other people out there doing these crazy and fun and challenging things you’re like “wow. That’s amazing.”
Don: The people I look up to, I pale in comparison to anything that those people have done.
Ego and Humility
Mark: Right. So that’s one way you keep your ego in check. What are some of the other ways that you practice humility, Don?
Don: Well, okay, like for the Ironman – you know doing an Ironman you all proud of yourself and all that – and I made that as a macro goal at one point that’s my macro-goal. My macro-goal before that was to run a marathon. Once I achieved that macro-goal, I brought the macro-goal down to the micro-goal status, and now the macro-goal is an Ironman. So 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run is now the numerical goal.
And I just use a little macro-goals that before that, make those micro-goals I had to achieve those to hit the next macro-goal.
So when I achieve that macro-goal of the Ironman, I was hoping that one of the first ones I wanted to break the Ironman champions’ course record of 11:44. So all I knew was I had to go non-stop and try to beat 11:44. And I didn’t have a clue what I was doing back then. But I did have a macro-goal, to finish the Ironman and to break 11:44. So on the bike ride I saw Gordon Haller up ahead of me I was thinking “oh my god that’s my hero right there. That’s Gordon Haller.”
And Gordon Haller – I had a poster of him in my bedroom, because he was the Ironman champion. And I actually passed him on the bike and I looked over him and very humbly I said to him I said “have a great race, champ.” and I passed him. I couldn’t believe I was even on the same road as he was.
So anyways, I got to pass him and then I was so fired up that I passed him and I wanted to win this Ironman. It was one of the first Hawaii Ironmans. And then they got my running shoes on. I was running as fast as I could go for a 26.2 mile run. And people saying “hey kid, you better slow down. You got a whole Ironman Triathlon ahead of you. You’ve got to finish up with a strong marathon. Don’t bonk out and go too fast in the marathon.”
So I was just passing all these people and then the crowd was screaming and yelling they go “watch out. The champ’s gonna beat you.”
And Gordon Haller was not trying to pass me. And I hadn’t been passed in the race at this point. We only had a couple miles to go and Gordon Haller passed me at the very end of the race. Only one who passed me.
And he came up to me and he hugged me. He said, “Don, thank you so much for pushing me.”
I said “oh my god. You’re my hero. You don’t know how much you pushed me all year long.”
And so that gave me a big, big, big boost, and broke his time of 11:44 with a – barely broke it with 11:41 – but then it have made me realize “wow if I could do one Ironman in a half a day that’s 11:41 – that’s less than a full day that’s only a half a day – I should be able to do two in one day.
Mark: Plenty of time left.
Don: Yeah. I met a micro-goal and the next macro-goal was two in one day. But I keep myself humble, because I did two in one day. So what? Because a lot of people have done three ironman’s, and a lot have done five and ten ironman’s. And just recently they had on 30X. 30 ironman’s in a row and so I look at people like that and that makes my double iron man look like a little mini micro-goal for those people.
And so I stay humble by looking at people who have done so much more than I’ve ever thought of.
Mark: Alright so we’ll do a podcast when you finally accomplish 30 ironman in a row. If I’m still podcasting by then. Maybe I could do like a hundred podcasts in a row, Geoff? Would that be a good macro-goal?
I mean I have to really embrace the suck for that… I’m just kidding.
That’s crazy – but crazy in a good way. You know what I’m saying…
Mark: What do you fear, Don? You got to fear something.
Don: You know, I’ve got two ridiculous fears. Once I almost drowned under a ship, and I fear someday I’m gonna be stuck underwater without air. Because it almost happened once.
And then I also fear I’m gonna choke on a fish bone or chicken bone for some reason.
Mark: (laughing) Okay, that goes in the random category.
Don: Yeah. I don’t fear death at all…
Mark: I wonder if that happened to you as a kid? That you just pre-memory, you know?
Don: One of my best friends died that way, and I think that’s what happened, you know? But I don’t really fear dying at all, because we’re all gonna die. I do like to say to people we are gonna die someday what I don’t want to do is let what we have inside of us die, before we die. And try to get as much out of life as possible.
And I also hope, in a selfish way – I don’t want some long, slow death or some disease or cancer or something… I want one last adrenaline rush and right back to the food chain with a lion attack or a bear attack or a shark attack or avalanche, or tidal wave. Just one big adrenaline rush and right back to the food chain.
So my family and friends don’t have to come visit some sick old guy in the hospital for whoever knows how long. I just want it to go quickly. And that’s my selfish way I wanna go.
Mark: I don’t think that’s selfish. I think that’s actually selfless, because you’re sparing everyone else the torturous old-age process that we have in the West.
I’m with you on that one. I don’t necessarily expect to or want to go out in an adrenaline rush thing… I prefer the martial or yogi approach of perfecting the body and then deciding when to leave it. And that is possible, but it’s very challenging. Because it takes a lot of training.
But that’s the path I’m taking and we’ll see if that works out. And we’ll check back in 100 years, 150 years, see if it works out.
People are gonna listen to this fuck are they talking about. It’s my podcast I can say what I want.
Mark: Don, let’s talk about your book “Reaching Beyond Boundaries.” that came out recently, right? Just February?
Don: It did. It just came out in February, yep.
Mark: And so give us the big idea and some of the principles that people could learn from it. To inspire them to go out and buy the book, of course.
Don: Thanks. I have written quite a few books, but I have to say this was by far my favorite book I’ve ever worked on. Because it’s a philosophy and a mindset that I believe in. And it develops – big help to the teams of course – helped instill all this into me.
And I do these talks around the country. And the talks are usually only an hour long. Actually I did one with Monica Lewinsky two weeks ago.
And so I’m always doing these talks, but what I always have to cut them short, because there’s only usually an hour to do them. So at one point in my life I wanted to expand more upon the mindset – combat mindset – we call it in the teams. And just having a strong mindset and I talked to bankers and lawyers and doctors. Anybody. The message works across the board, as you know.
But I wanted to get my full message out and it was so much fun doing it people like Gordon Haller, who I just talked about, the Ironman champion – he’s going to use it for his training of his students now. And I’ve been hearing from like people I’ve admired all my life endorsing the book and I just love doing it. And I like putting that philosophy out there.
And if it’s the last book I do I’m fine with that. Because that was my favorite.
Mark: Mm-hmm. What are some of the…? Like, the top three principles that you want to convey through the book?
Don: Well, for one, I know goal-setting is big in everybody’s life to some degree. But one of the things is I think it’s not a tragedy to set your goal up really, really high and not make it.
Like, for instance, for me – Everest. I set it up high, I wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world. I didn’t make it.
But all the mountains I did make on the way to Everest – you know Denali in Alaska and places like that – it still got me a lot further than if I didn’t have that goal. And it was beyond my means. But I think the real tragedy for most people is not that they set the goals too high and they don’t make it. After I got out of the teams I realized it seems like a large part of the population they set their goals low, and they achieve it. And they go home and they’re happy, and they think they’ve done a lot. And I think a lot of their life is unfulfilled. And they won’t reach the pinnacle of all they could have reached with that attitude.
That’s one of the things…
Mark: Right. They’re not setting those stretch goals and keep stretching the goal every time you set it.
Don: That’s right. And as a runner, we have these terms “conversational pace” and “race pace.” and go in a hotel and see people running or jogging on a treadmill and talking or watching the news or something.
But when you’re running at race pace you can’t afford to look over your shoulder and talk to somebody. Because you’re giving everything you have to go fast and far. And all your energy is going to moving forward. Not talking or hanging out with somebody. And I like to say at SEAL Teams, we often – especially nowadays – didn’t have the privilege or the opportunity to train at conversational pace. We had to train at race pace. And it’s painful, but you get to that mission or the objective or the macro-goal so much quicker at race pace.
Then you have to take a break. You’ll burn out if you go at race pace at everything in life. But if you have something seriously going after a mission or goal or objective going at a conversational pace you may never get there. And I like race pace until that’s accomplished. Then taking a step back and relaxing and then we set the goals for something bigger.
Mark: I love that. You know, CrossFit reinforced that in me, because the way I used to train was unless I was racing or training for a race or in the SEALs- when I got out of the SEALs, it was easy to just get into “hey, just go train and put in the time.” you know I mean? “Do the reps.”
And when I started doing Crossfit every workout or WOD was a race. And man you get like an intense workout in a very short period of time. And the results just blew away working out three times as long or just going through the pace, the motions.
So that was cool. It reminded me “oh yeah, that’s the way we trained in the teams.” and I’ve trained that way ever since. And that’s part of our SEALfit protocol.
So awesome. Anything else about the book? I can’t wait to read it. I’m gonna go grab a copy. I’m gonna go buy one today.
Don: What I did, Mark, I used sports as an analogy and the military. Like in the talks I do first thing I say is “I’m not trying to talk anybody into becoming a SEAL, or a mountain climber, or an adventure racer. But please just accept these stories and consider them as analogies for the point I’m trying to make.”
So the stories I use, they’re mainly of other people who I just look up to and I was able to capture what I think was a great lesson from the big things that they’ve accomplished.
And I took the lessons and put it like in almost a “what I learned from these people” type format.
Mark: I love that. So you’ve profiled other people. It wasn’t all of your awesome accomplishments.
Don: Yeah mine were this the smallest of the accomplishments in that book.
Mark: (laughing) That’s hard to believe. Unbelievable.
So what’s next for you? You just retired from your second service job. You know, first was in military, then you did some government work. Congratulations. Thank you for your service.
You’re not gonna go just play golf every day, obviously.
Don: No. What I’m gonna do – there’s 54 14,000 footers out in Colorado. The “14ers” they’re known as and my goal is to walk hike, run up each one of them and run down. I’ve done 20 of them. And I can go up to 14,000 feet without affecting my lungs. And if I just go up, touch it, and run down, I’m okay. So I’ve got 34 more of those to go.
And I have to hit 60 on this bicycle. And those are the two things I’m focusing on now. You know, there’ll be contract work that comes up here and there. But I’m not focusing on work…
Mark: I got a challenge for you – this is on my list to do this year or maybe the first quarter of next – 30 day silent retreat.
Don: A silent retreat?
Mark: Maybe we could do it together. What do you think?
Don: Oh boy. That’d be really interesting.
Mark: You think you could sit still for that long?
Don: You mean not move either.
Mark: Well, you get to move, but most of the time you’re sitting in meditation. But then you might be getting up and doing walking meditation. Obviously eating meals. But no talking.
Don: I could do the no talking bit.
Mark: Yeah, that wouldn’t be hard, cause you do that long periods of time. But it’s the part of not moving the body and not having that intense exercise which would be so different for us.
Don: Oh boy. That would be…
Mark: A lot of resistance would come up…
Don: I don’t know if I could do that.
Mark: Okay, well report back to me on that one after you think about it for a bit.
Mark: (laughing) It can’t all be hard, Don. Or maybe it can. Maybe it is.
Don: Sounds like it would be.
Mark: I try to do a combination of the hard and the soft. But I really respect you for your accomplishments.
Don: My feeling’s the same to you, Mark. Of all you’ve done. And all you do for people. I mean everybody has so much high regard for SEALfit and your books and your talks. I mean, I told you I referred somebody to you today. You are the guy if people want this type of good training with the SEAL mindset we can pass along to civilians and other military people – I always say you got to go see Mark Divine. He’s the guy. And yeah, it’s an honor to know you, Mark:
Mark: Yeah, ditto. I appreciate that. And I appreciate your time today, Don. What a fun conversation. I think everyone’s just gonna love this podcast.
And also you gonna want to read your book. So folks if you listening to this and you really enjoyed Don and his humility, and his just willingness to go tackle these insane challenges. And also, to give it up for all these other people who are doing it even beyond what Don and I can imagine – go buy “Reaching Beyond Boundaries” in Amazon or wherever.
I can’t wait to read it. In fact I’m gonna buy it right now. I use my Amazon app – I’m completely addicted to it. I buy a book every other day. So I’m gonna get yours and read it next weekend.
Don: Thanks Mark.
Mark: Hooyah. Thanks Don. Good luck and stay in touch, buddy.
Don: Okay. Thank you very much, Mark. Bye, bye.
Mark: All right. Take care now. Hooyah.
All right folks. Don Mann. Check out his book – well he’s got a ton of books – but “Reaching Beyond Boundaries” is the one that we’ve been talking about. But he’s also wrote “Inside SEAL team 6,” which is a great story. His life and missions with America’s elite warriors. And you can check out his website to learn more about him and what he’s up to at usfrogmen.com. Is that right?
Yeah you can just google Don Mann. How’s that sound? Pretty sure it’s usfrogmen.com. It’s a charity that he runs, so it might be .org. At any rate, awesome. Great conversation thanks for listening. Stay focused, train hard and set a stretch goal – do something really challenging next month. I challenge you to do that. Report back to us.
Okay until next time Hooyah.