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James Altucher Talks Business and Overcoming

By June 11, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

“If you think about it really, who are we as individuals or humans? We’re not our money, obviously. We’re not our clothes, we’re not our possessions. But even deeper, we’re not really our personality.” – James Altucher

Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of  Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.

James Altucher(@altucher) is a well-known business personality. He started off in the creative industries, and is an author and expert on entrepreneurship and investing. He has written many books, including The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness. Today he talks with Mark about coming back repeatedly to succeed at business.

Learn how:

  • James had skills in the ‘90s that very few others had, but he would have done better with an actual product.
  • On writing, you should be afraid of the reaction when you publish. That’s how you know it’s a new idea or new writing.
  • To fulfill the four core values every day: physical, emotional, creative, and spiritual. They all go together and you can’t have one without the others.

Listen to this episode to get more insight on how to reinvent yourself and create your future

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Listeners to the podcast, can save by using the code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 20% off the regular price of the PowerDot system.

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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. I am super stoked today to welcome James Altucher on the show. I’m going to tell you more about James, and man, I’m really excited to have this conversation with him. We have so much in common and so much that’s different about us. That’s just going to be a really fascinating conversation.

But before I go back deeper into James’ background, just to remind you, if you haven’t heard I released a book called “Staring Down the Wolf” on March 2nd. Of course, it got completely devoured by the news cycle with COVID-19, and so I haven’t been able to really do much PR around it, which is kind of interesting, but that’s okay. It just is what it is.

The book is very timely because it really is um speaking to how to stare down your fear to develop courageous leadership, and to unlock the potential of your team. And I’ve gotten some phenomenal feedback on it.

You can learn more at, and there is also some free video training there so go check it out. “Staring Down the Wolf.” It might be the tool you need right now as we’re dealing with COVID-19. The real pandemic. And the government’s response – the “scamdemic.”

James: I agree with that. That’s a great word.

Mark: Thanks, James, you can have it. No extra charge.

By the way, James and I have not met in person, but I’m very familiar with James’ work. I actually get your newsletter, James and I’ll tell you how that came about. James is the author of “Choose Yourself” which is self-published and sold well over a million copies.

The subtitle’s “Power of No.” Which is a topic near and dear to me, since I was one of those co-dependents who say yes to way too many things. Oh, “Power of No” is a separate book, “Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth” and “Reinvent Yourself.”

Gosh, you’ve written 20 books? Holy shit.

James: Yeah. And I always swear to myself, I’m never going to write another book and then I write another book. That’s like that’s like you with black-belts…

Mark: (laughing) You’re right. I’m getting another one right now, because I can’t stop.

You got a huge podcast and blog at You founded more than 20 companies.

I got some catching up to do. I’ve written five books and I’ve founded five companies. I’m just getting warmed up, dude. You’re showing me that there’s a lot more possible.

James: Probably you have a better track record than mine though.

Mark: Maybe, I don’t know. You know and you went to school at upstate New York. It was a Cornell undergrad or graduate?

James: Yeah, undergrad.

Mark: Yeah, I went to Colgate. Right around the corner.

Anyways so thanks for being on the show I know you’re running…

James: Also, Mark, you’ve been teacher trained in Ashtanga yoga. I’ve been to my Mysore a whole bunch of times doing Ashtanga yoga.

Mark: Have you really?

James: Yeah, yeah. Did you ever get trained down there?

Mark: No, but my teacher was Tim Miller. The first American certified by Pattabhi Jois.

James: Oh yeah and in… what is it…? In La Jolla, or in Encinitas there’s the… I’ve been there when Tim’s there and Pattabhi Jois I guess is the older brother of Sharath

Mark: Right he’s still here. I have not met him, but I did meet Pattabhi Jois when he came too. He’s an interesting character.

Tim just retired from teaching. He had some health issues. He was just a phenomenal teacher. So I never… you know, it’s always been a dream to get to India to do some actual yoga training, but I’ve never made it over there.

Although yoga is a big part of my life. It’s great. How long have you been a practitioner?

James: Well, I was doing it probably from 2010 till about 2015. My wife was a teacher, but then… you know, she’s not my wife anymore…

Mark: (laughing) There is that… extrinsically motivated.

James: I haven’t done a yoga bend since.

Mark: Got it. That’s hilarious.

But the principles are with you wherever you go.

James: Absolutely.

Mark: There’s so much to talk about. I don’t know where to start.

How about just give us… I kind of do this with a lot of my guests… I want to know kind of what was the foundational period of your life like? Like, what was it like growing up for you. Where’d you grow up?

You look like you’re a New Yorker or from that east coast corridor… but you know where’d you grow up? And what were your parents like? And how did you start… like, what was the big “a-ha” moment for you?

James: You know, it’s funny you say I look like a New Yorker, because I remember one time I was playing poker in a casino and it was in Las Vegas or wherever and everybody at the table just started calling me “New York” without knowing where… like, that was my nickname instantly… New York. Even though I hadn’t talked to anybody. They just thought I was from New York.

Mark: Well, I lived in New York for four years and you have kind of… the pace that you talk, and kind of your accent a little bit… you just kind of look like a New Yorker.

Are you? Am I right, or am I wrong?

James: Yeah, yeah. I’m in the middle of New York City right now. Although you know it’s interesting because I lived right next to the world trade center during 9/11. I was at the world trade center in the morning of 9/11. And I lived on Wall Street during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Now New York City is considered the capital of the world for coronavirus. We have the most cases… you know, hospitalizations, deaths whatever.

I’m kind of sick of New York right now. I think three times in a row being at ground zero… I don’t need to be the greatest generation, I need to just relax a little bit…

Mark: It doesn’t seem fair. You know, I agree. Maybe I heard someone else say that. I was like, “yeah, you’re right. 9/11, 2008 and now this. Like, New York has gotten smacked.

Not to mention the flood, right? With that big Floyd Stoney something? That was kind of a kind of a beat down.

James: Yeah, I mean you know… and it’s funny, because you know I wish actually 20 years ago I had people like you, and other people I know. Other people who have been high performance, really disciplined, organized… you’ve been able to command elite units, and, you know, do things that are remarkable.

And 20 years ago I had sold my first company, I had made a lot of money and then somehow or other, I just lost all discipline. I spent all my money, I gambled it away, I invested in other internet… I completely cashed out of an internet company, and then I decided like an idiot “oh well, I’m just going to put it all back into investing in internet companies.”

And then the internet bubble crashed, and I went totally broke. I went from you know generations of money to zero. I remember one time I checked my ATM account – and I had 143 dollars left in my account. After having just cashed out a lot of money.

And I had one kid – I had another kid on the way. I was losing my home, because I was right next to where the world trade center was. And so I was in the crime scene, my house. And so nobody was even allowed to visit my house. I couldn’t sell my house. And I couldn’t afford the mortgage.

And then I was so just in despair and depressed from everything that was happening not only in in the city at the time, but just in my personal life and my financial life – I felt like I would never recover. I felt like I had won the lottery, and then I lost it.

And then I finally eventually came back, built another business, sold that. And then I went broke completely again. And I’m like “how could this happen to me again?”

Mark: (laughing) But that’s like every – unless you’re just freaking darn lucky – like, every super successful person I’ve ever met or talked to has had to learn this lesson several times over. You know, I’ve gotten kicked in the balls several times, and had…

My issue is usually getting it stolen from me, right?

James: How do you get it how do you get it stolen from you? Tell me?

Mark: By trusting the wrong people. So I had a huge contract – well, that wasn’t so much trust. That was just flat-out fraud. You’ve heard of the company Blackwater?

James: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah, billion dollar company. Erik Prince, he’s in the news quite a bit. Interesting cat. Former Navy SEAL. And I had legitimately won this contract to set up a nationwide recruiting and mentoring program for navy seal candidates. Like, that’s a big freaking deal, you know? Mentoring the future warriors of our most elite spec ops.

Well, Erik Prince was really pissed. Because this little tiny upstart company out of nowhere – Encinitas – beat Blackwater out, right? The 100 pounder gorilla in government contracting for you know spec ops type things.

So, I heard he was pissed and that he was coming after us. And he did. Like he literally wielded his little influence machine and somehow got the contract thrown out. I was a sub to the prime – the prime got investigated for being too large to even bid on the contract, and I guess right in the time frame they kind of clicked over.

Next thing you know, the contract gets thrown out and re-bid. And Blackwater wins it. And they wouldn’t even give me a – what do you call it? A review, or kind of a debrief.

And when they finally, legally, were required. We held their feet to the fire. The contracting shop said well “Blackwater’s staffing plan was superior to yours.” And yet we had set up the whole thing and just kicked ass. And the next day Blackwater hired every single one of my guys.

So it was what they call bait and switch. And I lost a 10 million dollar contract that would have been huge for us. But it was the right thing to happen to me, because I did not belong in that world. Did not belong in government contracting.

Had I stayed there, James, I would never have developed SEALfit. Never would have written these books. Never would have gotten into corporate training. The shit happens for a reason, you know what I mean? It really does.

But like, let me ask you, at the time that this was happening, you didn’t know what the future had in store. You probably were thinking like every day, “Man, I got this contract. I’m gonna make millions. It’s going to be so great for my business, my family, the people I like to help. I’m going to be able to share what I have.”

And then when it doesn’t come through, you don’t yet know the future. How did you bridge the gap? So I had the core practice… and that was the final time by the way. I mean I’ve gotten hit pretty hard some other times, and I’ve had some smaller ones since. But every time I learn a little bit more and I look back and I’m like “oh yeah, that was why it happened.” And I commit to never making that mistake again.

But since then, I had to go back to my core training that I did before I joined the seals. And that was on the bench – meditation and imagery. And before I was all pissed, like I was ready to go fight Blackwater and challenge this decision and I had many people telling me I should do that, because it was obvious fraud.

And I just paused. I just pressed the pause button. I said let me just reflect on this and I don’t care if it takes a week. In fact, the president of Blackwater was ferociously trying to reach me because I know that he wanted to buy me out of the non-compete I had with all my guys. And he probably would have offered me a half a million dollars or something.

And I just didn’t have the heart to take his phone calls. I didn’t want his money.

So, I just sat and meditated on it for a while. Said “I’m not going to make any decision until I have some clarity.” And what that silence – instead of like spinning around, I finally was able to kind of settle into it and just ask “is this my future? Is government contracting my future? Is fighting this my future?”

And I kept getting the intuitive hit that no, this was not my future. It just didn’t feel right. And that this was a blessing in disguise.

So it took me about a week to figure that out. And then I released all my guys – said “go work with Blackwater. They’re going to treat you well, I’m sure.”

And within three months I had launched SEALfit after that. Because that freed me up. Like my mind – by hanging on to all that energy – all the possibility of money – all that momentum, by letting it go “boom” suddenly it was like I just erased the whiteboard. And then I could look at it through fresh eyes.

That experience occur to you, when you’ve had some of these?

James: Yeah. I mean, I think I went through an 11-year period where I was just miserable. Because, I think what happened was, I lost all this money – and look I was very happy with the money. At least I thought I was…

Mark: There’s nothing wrong with money, right? Money helps us do good things.

James: Yeah, and I’m not a big spender. I don’t really buy anything. But I wanted to I don’t know… money became the goal, rather than just a byproduct of pursuing what I valued. So when I made the money.

I was really into the rise of the internet. So in the 90s I just loved this new – I thought it was going to be a new artistic creative medium. So I was working for HBO at the time. I was doing creative stuff for them.

But I also had these computer skills. So I knew how to make a website. And maybe there was like five of us in New York City who knew how to make websites.

Mark: This was the mid-90s at the time?

James: Yeah, like ’95, ’96. And I’d been using the internet since the 80s and the web since essentially it started like in you know ’92.

And so I had these skills and I was able to build a company specializing in building websites for entertainment companies. I didn’t really enjoy business, but there was this huge demand and I was a believer. I really had this vision that every company was going to need a website.

I didn’t know anything at all about business. I made lots of mistakes, but back then – even if you made every mistake in the book – you would still make money if you had these skills and this vision.

Mark: Right. Did you take investment money on?

James: No, I didn’t take any investment money on. I was profitable from day one. I mean, that’s part of the problem, actually. That was a period where you probably should have taken investment money on and built a product rather than deliver a service.

I always was taught “oh be profitable. Don’t lose money.” But this was a period where you made more money, the more money you lost. And so when I sold the company, I still sold it for a lot of money, but it was based on my earnings, rather than on a product that I had developed. Even though I was a software guy. I did develop many products to help me provide the services, I provided.

But so I wasn’t a good businessman and I made this money and that made me think “oh, I’m a genius. I can now invest.”

Even though I knew nothing about anything in terms of business or investing at the time. Now it’s much later. But I lost this money and then I spent the next 10 years doing nothing but trying to get this money back. And just focusing on money as your goal is such a depressing goal. I mean, I was constantly – I mean I hate to say it, but particularly when I was at my low point – you know, the three or four times I was like dead broke after having money I would always be suicidal. But fortunately I had two kids and I didn’t know how to… there was one point I wanted to figure out how could I kill myself without hurting myself. Because I didn’t want to hurt myself.

Mark: (laughing) Sorry, that’s not funny. But it is sort of funny.

James: No, but it’s true and it turns out there’s no way.

Mark: I don’t think there is. That’d be an interesting thought.

James: No, because no matter what you do either you’re going to wake up with like a lot of damage, there’s a chance. Or you’re going to hurt yourself really badly.

But then the other thing is I wanted to figure out you know I had a life insurance policy I figured my babies were not old enough to remember me, but there’s still there was all these laws you know that you can’t kill yourself… again, I’m sorry to get so morbid.

Mark: (laughing) Dude, I think every successful person who has lost millions and is staring down the barrel like that has probably thought “what the eff am I doing?” Right?

James: Oh my god it was… but then it happened again and again, because every time I was pursuing money as the goal it would keep happening. And then finally I was just like “screw it. What are my values?” Like I always wanted to be in… I started off in working at HBO in the entertainment industry. I was a writer.

And so I took a big step back and focused on what I valued. It might not even be what made me money, but I focused on what I valued and I made money in other in ways that were a little bit simpler than starting a company. You know, I became a much better investor, and I figured out the investing style that suited my personality.

And so I started writing about and being vulnerable and admitting like… “Yeah, you might have seen me on CNBC a bunch of times… but this is actually how I got my start. I went broke, and then I had to force myself to learn investing. But then I went broke again – and I had to do it again and again.”

So people were in shock. Like, “you’re not allowed to admit this. You’re not allowed to say that”

But the more they would say, that the more I would write even worse things about myself.

Mark: Right.

Always Getting up Again


Mark: By the way, I love that about you. And in the book that I just put out “staring down the wolf,” I have these exemplars for how these great leaders are fulfilling these – what I call these seven commitments that forge elite teams – courage, trust, respect, growth, resilience, alignment and excellence.

And then I share my disasters for how not to do it, right? Like, how I didn’t stare down my fear and move courageously to confront my partners in the Coronado Brewing Company. And how I fell down.

And it was so liberating and scary. And so I was thinking about you actually when I heard you were going to do this podcast – like, wow, that’s a muscle too isn’t it? Like to develop the muscle to be honest about the fact that we’re humans, and humans are flawed. Everybody, right?

And so I think that’s one of the next frontiers in leadership. You want to become a good leader, admit you’re not perfect and go out and work on your emotional bullshit.

James: Well I think that’s why I said earlier – I wish someone like you had told me this back in 2000 or 2001 or 2002…

Mark: (laughing) I’m not sure I could have…

James: But you’re right, because there’s two things that come up in your story that I was just thinking… one is I don’t publish something now unless I’m afraid of what people will think of me. So if somebody is like “oh, I’m going to write this really great thing. And I’m going to take this part out because I don’t want people to think I’m a loser or whatever.”

Then I guarantee you it’s horrible writing. Because then they’re just in their comfort zone. What it tells me – if you’re not afraid to publish something it means somebody has already written it before. And that’s why you’re not afraid if I write “oh, here’s the 10 tips to be the greatest millionaire ever.” All right “have gratitude every day” and you don’t tell your own stories with that, someone’s written it. A million times. Someone’s written it.

If you tell your own stories, that’s your fingerprint your writing then is like a fingerprint of your mind. And it’s unique and you’re the only one who has it and if it’s strong and if you’ve learned your lessons, it’s going to have a unique perspective that people are going to are going to want to pay attention to.

The other thing is, is that vulnerability equals freedom. So when I finally started admitting just like I’m sure for you, when I finally started admitting “hey, these bad things happened to me 10 years ago, 20 years ago… 3 years ago, 2 years ago… today.

Then if someone else brought it up to me… if someone said “hey, aren’t you that guy that lost everything? Why should I…?” Blah-blah-blah.

And I’m like “yeah, I already wrote about this. You can’t phase me. Like you’re not taking me down, you’re just repeating what I have already said a million times.”

So you have a freedom to move around that I remember when I first went broke, I was so ashamed. Like, I had to put my apartment up for sale – this was right before 9/11 – it couldn’t sell after 9/11.

I put my apartment up for sale and one of my business partners came up to me and he said “hey, I saw your apartment in the newspaper up for sale.”

And I’m like “oh, that’s impossible. That’s a mistake.” And like clearly someone had to pay for an ad in the newspaper to sell my apartment.

He’s just kind of like “okay.” He just sort of like squinted at me he’s like “okay.” But he knew I was just lying. But I was so ashamed of saying the truth.

But then there was one time… and this is going to reflect that experience you had when you meditated. So I started writing about these tools I ended up using to bounce back. And how it had started working for me. I started modeling what worked for me whenever I was on the way up and what was I not doing on the way down?

Mark: So you started a process of self-reflection through journaling? Is that kind of your meditative practice?

James: Yeah. Journaling. Although I had the unfortunate habit of I always published whatever I journaled. I couldn’t keep anything to myself.

Mark: (laughing) Well, that holds you accountable, right? At least? To put it out there.

James: Right. That’s really true because… and this will sound simplistic compared to your seven steps, but I realized that on the way up I was always paying attention to my physical health, my emotional health – meaning was I only spending time with people I loved, and who loved me.

Was I spending time on my creative health every day? So coming up with ideas or writing or doing something creative every day.

Was I spending time on my spiritual health? Which doesn’t mean, you know… it just means releasing control of the things I can’t control. Like not trying to control the things I can’t control.

So those four things. Physical, emotional, creative, spiritual health. Was I just doing that every day? I always would do that on the way up, when I reflected back.

And then on the way down, I always had this tendency “oh, I made it again. I don’t have to do this anymore.” And then I would always lose it. So there was one time I was on the set… so many things happened… but I started writing about this and it resonated with people. And I would write about it in the context of my stories.

And so there was one time a few years after this where… and I was starting to build up a good career as a writer and my investing… I was bouncing back. I was doing well.

And I had this one opportunity where I was on the board of this company, and I was given a lot of shares of the company. And my shares at one point were worth nine million dollars. So this was like an incredible thing. And I remember I was on the set of the TV show “Billions,” which I knew the writers and it was before they were even on Showtime. They were just uh shooting the pilot – the very first pilot.

And I get this phone call… I get this text message “hey, board meeting in 15 minutes.”

And I’m thinking to myself “oh man, this is going to be great. We probably sold the company, and my 9 million is going to turn into 50. And it’s going to be great.”

So I get on the phone and all the board members are on the phone call – some of whom I had brought onto the board and they say “listen, our largest shareholder and the chairman of the company owes 90 million dollars to the IRS and we’re in default of our agreements with Wells Fargo. And they’re shutting down the company. They’re taking all the pieces of the company and selling them off within the next 24 hours. And there’s nothing we can do. We’re about to be locked out of the offices.”

And I kept trying to come up… at this point I was an idea machine, so I was coming up with idea after idea after idea. Like, “I’ll buy it.” Or “I’ll find the sellers of all the pieces of the company.” Or let’s raise money or let’s borrow money to pay back Wells Fargo.

I was coming up with all these ideas and they’re like “no, no.” James. James, sorry. It’s done, it’s done. Oh, here they are now. We’re getting locked out this second.”

Mark: Wow.

James: And so they went to zero…

Mark: It’s kind of like something you see on “Billions,” right?

James: Exactly. I told them the story later.

And what happened was is like I get off the phone and there’s another nine hours left of shooting this episode. I’m out in the middle of nowhere while they’re shooting “Billions.” And I was thinking to myself “you know, I can either go home and like cry for the rest of the day. And then not sleep, because I’ll be anxious about money, and worried, and everything.”

“Or here I am on the set of this like great TV show. I could just enjoy myself and I could put into practice all the things I keep writing about. Like, this is that moment that I’ve been writing about. Now I can see if I can really put this into my life in an extreme circumstance.”

And I did and – just like you – it got me back clarity instantly. And I was able to function, and later on the writers told me – when I told the story to them, they told me “oh, my gosh. You were even more energetic in the afternoon, asking questions to the director. Talking to the actors. Learning everything. We couldn’t tell anything was wrong.”

And I had a great day. And you know, it was a shame about what happened, but I was able to more quickly bounce back and become anti-fragile instead of kind of struggling along.

Mark: Yeah, none of that shit ultimately – when we figure that out – nothing that we build, nothing that we do truly defines us, right? It’s a story, right? It’s a story, it’s interesting… we can be proud or disgusted by the stuff that we do. But none of it truly defines our ultimate self.

And I think that’s why I love your four things. You know, physical, and emotional, and creative, and spiritual. Because that spiritual piece… if you can connect to that and always keep that front and center. As your center post.

Then businesses come and go. Wealth comes and goes. COVID-19 turns into COVID 22.

And none of it defines us, right? You just kind of ride the wave. In control of what you can control, which is your attitude, basically. Your emotional state and your attitude and your spiritual center.

James: I mean, that’s a really great point, because if you think about it, who are we really as individuals or humans. We’re not our money, obviously. We’re not our clothes. We’re not our possessions.

But even deeper, we’re not really our personality. Because I could be upset one day, because maybe I didn’t eat well or sleep well… whatever.

And then the next day, I could be in a better mood or more energetic. And so there’s even something deeper there that helps us figure out and moderate what our personality is. There’s a core.

And so whether it’s those seven steps that you have or whether it’s this core – what I call my daily practice of physical, emotional, creative, spiritual – these things keep whatever it is at the core strong, so that it’s much easier later to modulate the outward effecting things, like the personality, and your relationships with others, and your communication to others. And your trustworthiness and honesty and so on.

Mark: Right. Yeah, and when you build that those strengths in those areas – the physical is so that your body can be an effective vessel. You know, we’re kind of renting it, right? For this lifetime.

You wouldn’t like go out and just crash a rental car on purpose, right? So you want to take care of it, if you’re a good person. You take care of rented property. So take care of your body so you have a strong vehicle to carry you all the way through. And you’re not going to be decrepit and hurt.

You know, I relate this back to COVID. I understand – and I say this not in any way to not acknowledge that people are suffering – especially in your hometown – but most of the people who are suffering were unwell, unhealthy. Right?

Diabetes is the big killer. Diabetes kills a lot of people. When you combine a little COVID flu in there, it kills them faster. It’s really hard to say that, but it’s true, right?

So the disease can be warded off through just a very simple daily habituation around movement, exercise, sleep and nutrition. And that’s what you’re talking about – physical health. Just simple things.

If everyone did that – if we really emphasized that, if we promoted it through our media and through our culture. And if we rewarded it with a health system – instead of a sick system – wow. What a change we could make just in that physical.

But then the physical becomes the emotional, because if your body is all wracked and ravaged… then guess what? Your emotional energy is not going to be able to flow. So what might be a temporary spike in anger, could turn into weeks of rage. Which is going to turn into disease. Which is going to turn into cancer, you know what I mean?

So the physical and the mental and the emotional are all linked.

And then guess what? If you’re all broken down and unhealthy and unhappy and depressed you’re not going to be creative, are you? So your creative outlet stops. So they’re all linked.

James: Right, they’re totally linked. You know, a lot of times I’ll give a talk and someone will ask me “what’s the most important of the physical, emotional, creative, spiritual?” And they would always say “is it the creative? Like, how do I come up with great business ideas?”

I’m like “listen, let me tell you – if you’re sick in bed, you’re not going to be creative. If you’re having arguments with your spouse, or having an angry divorce or whatever… you’re not going to be creative. If you can’t let go of the things you can’t control, you’re not going to be creative.”

So you need three legs of a chair to sit, but it still won’t be comfortable. You need four legs to really be able to sit comfortably. And it’s all four legs build that foundation.

And I always try to express… because I don’t work out every day, I try to eat pretty well… but I’m not a black belt in eight different martial arts. So people look at me and they say “oh well, the physical he’s just saying that. It’s not really his lifestyle.”

But it is. You got to start with – it’s like you said, the body we’re just renting it. And if I don’t take care of it – I’m 52 years old – if I don’t take care of it, I’m not going to have much longer of really active energetic life. Physical life, emotional life, and creative life, and then spiritual life. Because I’ll be too racked up in disease and health issues.

But you’re right with the coronavirus… like Spain, for instance, they’ve been on lockdown for eight or nine weeks. And today was the first day I think they were letting little kids out of their homes for the first time in eight weeks. And I’m thinking “man, that is such a shame,” because these little kids – they weren’t getting it in the first place. Or at least they were asymptomatic and not really transmitting as much as the media would let you believe. And if you’re a kid, your immune system depends on going outside and getting vitamin d and moving. Our entire brain is wired to get sunshine in the morning. And that’s how you get dopamine released, and how you get energy…

Mark: Right.

James: Shame what’s happened around the world. And it’s been media and politically run.

Mark: Absolutely.



Mark: Yeah, that’s why I was just semi-jokingly calling it “scamdemic,” being the reaction. Even in our little town of Encinitas, we had like 34 known cases. Nobody seriously ill.

We’re like a ridiculously healthy town. Like the yoga capital of the world, the surfing capital of the west coast and we live on the beach, right? My wife and I. And we literally in our community have private stairs to the beach.

They closed them. Until yesterday, we couldn’t step foot on the beach. And yet the liquor stores, and tobacco, and weed and everything is an essential business. I’m like “wait a minute.”

And the kids are all locked down like you said like Spain… don’t make any sense. Why would you penalize the very things we need for our immune system, for our health, and for our happiness? And to feel good about ourselves and put everybody on lockdown.

And yet you’re promoting things that are going to lead to problems if you’re on lockdown. If everyone’s stocking up on alcohol – don’t get me wrong, we did too. Because it was kind of like a party at first, but that got old really quick, right?

Anyways, the knee-jerk reaction shows a severe lack of wisdom and self-control in all of the leadership. And I’m not going to put the medical in there, because I think the first responders are really working their asses off.

But most political government bureaucracy has just lost it in this country.

James: I know.

Mark: I’m just so disappointed, and I’d love to talk to you about that, because everyone thinks “I can’t wait ‘til things get back to normal.”

I’m like “I don’t want things to go back to normal.” You know what I mean?

James: Yeah.

Mark: Normal wasn’t working in my opinion.

James: It wasn’t, and look it kind of led unfortunately to this situation. And we’ll see what happens, but I kind of… you always have to sort of catch yourself and remind yourself to get back into the discipline. So when this… when the lockdown first happened, I was convinced it was wrong.

I also was trying to cling to certainty, and I needed instead… I’ve already expressed… this is my thinking then… I’ve already expressed my feelings on the data. I’ve accurately and rationally presented it in videos and articles. But now I need to take a step back and I need to learn to deal with the uncertainty that nobody’s really going to pay attention to me.

Mark: (laughing) Right.

James: And that’s important too, or else I’m going to be very unhappy. And so I switched… I started doing more content based on “okay, well, here’s how you live with uncertainty. And here are the business models that might work after this is over. But they might not either, because we also don’t know really what the new abnormal is going to look like. It’s very uncertain at this point too.

So I had to myself lean into… you know, acknowledge that there’s going to be uncertainty here. And lean into it and be comfortable with it. Because again, the brain doesn’t like uncertainty. Uncertainty makes that fight or flight instinct trigger. And we just sit looking at the computer, while our brain is saying “run.” And we don’t.

And so you have to find ways of dealing with that uncertainty in our society. Because you can’t run.

And that’s what I did.

Mark: Right, and that’s interesting, because I had a similar thing… I mean, I haven’t really opined much on it although it’s fun to get in these conversations about it. I’m worried about the suicide and the unintended consequences of all the economic turmoil that’s been created.

And of course I’m obviously not the first person to think that or just to be worried about it.

We have a foundation to help vets overcome or to ward off the suicide – eventually eliminate suicide in vets. Because, you know, 22 vets a day committing suicide. It’s unconscionable to me.

And now they’re even suffering worse, because the fear is rampant – like you said – and many of these vets were on the edge financially, anyways. And to suddenly lose a job or to have their business get squashed – god knows what’s going to happen to the suicide rates.

James: I know and so this is one of those things that are being unsaid, which is you can’t get data on this. You know, it’s suicides, it’s domestic abuse, it’s child abuse it’s what’s called collateral fatality…

So let’s say you had… let’s say someone has stage three liver cancer and they have monthly tests to see if they’ve gone into stage four, which is terminal. They haven’t been able to get those tests the past two months.

Mark: Right.

James: So there’s gonna be deaths from that over the next year or so. And it’s really a shame, but again even that – like even me asking out loud like “why isn’t anybody talking about this?” Or saying it in the media or the government or whatever – I have no control, because I sort of had to take a step back and say “what am I going to try to accomplish?”

Well, I think what I’m going to try to accomplish is helping people feel calm and forward-thinking and what can they do now. And not rile people up about… because I would start posting well the Indiana hotline used to get a thousand – mental health hotline – used to get a thousand calls a day. Now it gets 25 000 calls a day.

So there’s all this data that’s circumstantial about the suicides that are going to happen or are happening… but it’s pointless to… it’s okay you and me talking about it on this podcast, but like for me to say it every day…

Mark: Yeah, yeah. I agree with that

James: You know, I couldn’t do it anymore. Instead I say “look, here’s a way to write a book. Here’s how I write a book.” Or “here’s”… I try to focus on other things for improvement.

Mark: And that’s one of the best ways to overcome anxiety. Is to do something productive and healthy for yourself, like journaling or reading a good book. Or writing or creative…

You know… I’m not an expert in a lot of things, but I am an expert in teaching people how to navigate VUCA, right? Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity. I’ve been doing it since probably 2005 when I launched SEALfit. And so I’ve been asked to do a lot of that, and interestingly enough – kind of pursuant to our conversation right here is – one of the things that can really help people in navigating VUCA is to maintain a much broader perspective, and situational awareness.

So it’s the skill that I teach seal candidates is to be able to laser focus in on their task, mission… you know, one thing that they got to do right now.

But not lose the forest for the trees. And so people say “okay, well how do we maintain situational awareness? Obviously reading is one thing. Talking to experts, like you’ve done. Or listening to experts on podcasts. And just soaking it up.

Not trying to firm up your already established position, but just constantly scanning for information and letting that right brain just create new patterns. That’ll be there for you when you’re ready to make a decision. This is one of the ways that we really tap our intuition.

And so I say “okay, listen. Do not watch network news. But do scan the headlines once or twice a day and just play opposite day with the headlines. So the headlines say one thing and you say “what’s the exact opposite?” And then you know that your answer lies somewhere in between. And that’s a little information for your brain to just log and then when the time comes for you to make a decision, you’ve got a lot more data sets to work with. And your intuition will be a lot stronger on things.

James: That reminds me of two things – one is, I always think to myself “if I’m gonna argue with someone who disagrees with me, I should know their position well enough that I could argue their side better than them.”

Mark: That’s great.

James: So this way I could know when they’re messing up their own argument. And it gives me a) some compassion for their side and b) I could usually find some diplomacy or something in the middle that we can agree on.

But this is a frustrating time, though – because people are so emotional. Like if you say the economy needs to reopen – people will say “oh, you want your grandma to die??”

Mark: Right.

James: I don’t think I said that, but I don’t know where you would get that, but two out of 100 000 elderly people die from this, so I clearly don’t want anybody to die… but anyway, it is one of those things that’s very frustrating. Because you could look at any headline. And looking at the headlines…

I looked at one today where I actually made the mistake of clicking on it. “The CDC chief said the second wave of the coronavirus will likely be much more damaging than this first wave.”

So I said, “Oh, that seems odd.” So I clicked on it and the only quote from the CDC chief was there’s a possibility that if this comes back when the flu’s around it will be very complicated to diagnose. That’s the only thing he said.

Mark: Really.

James: How they got that headline from that quote…

Mark: Right. I tell you what, man. I tell you that the media does a lot of damage with that spurious attitude. You know, that’s a whole different discussion.

James: I’ll tell you one media story though.

Mark: Okay.

James: I used to appear a lot on news shows for a bunch of networks, but mostly CNBC. And one time they invited me backstage to see how the sauce was made and stuff. And they’re doing all their things. And the main executive producer leans over to me and he says at one point “we’re just trying to fill the space between ads.” I’m thinking to myself, this is the main, prime-time show on a network that millions of people depend on for their financial news. And they’re just trying to do whatever it is to get people either fearful or greedy, to connect the ads.

Mark: Totally. And they know well that the brain has that negativity bias. It’s five times more geared to look for and latch onto negative information and negative emotions than it is positive. That’s pretty fascinating.

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